Your Chickens in September [2014 Newsletter]

Baby Chicks in September? Seriously? And Lights for Hens

Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter, Sept 2014

News From the Farm

Baby chicks drinking near brooderWe’re in the busiest time of the year, but things are moving along pretty well. Our pastured pigs haven’t escaped for a while. Egg production is holding steady. The local predators seem to be finding their food elsewhere. The weather is hot and dry, and the grass is browning off, but this brief excursion from Western Oregon’s trademark “cool, damp, and green” is normal.

Baby Chicks in September? Seriously?

Everyone thinks of springtime when they think of brooding baby chicks, but fall is my personal favorite. It’s warmer and drier, and while things get colder and wetter as fall turns into winter, the baby chicks get older and hardier before the weather has time to get bad. September and October are both good times for brooding in most climates.

Why brood chicks in the fall?

If you normally brood only in the spring, it’s a way to brood twice as many chicks, or twice as many kinds of poultry, using the same equipment. If you raise egg-type chickens in the spring, you can raise broilers in the fall. Or ducks in the spring and chickens in the fall.

What kinds of chicks to brood

What kind of day-old chicks can you get in September and October? Commercial hybrids, mostly, though you never known until you contact the hatchery and see what they have available. That’s why we order ducklings, poults, and heritage-breed chicks in the spring; they’re available then. The rest of the year, we order commercial broiler and layer chicks.

This year, we’ll start our last batch of broiler chicks around October 1, so we can have fresh broilers at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market till it ends in late November. These pastured broilers always do great in the increasingly chilly late-fall weather, because they get big fast and their high metabolism keeps them comfortable even in pasture shelters.

We’ve raised pastured broilers right through the winter a couple of times, and it works fine if it doesn’t snow. If it does snow, it’s a real headache just getting feed out to them. We get meaningful amounts of snow about every other year, and that’s enough to take the shine off. We keep our broilers on a hill that’s always well-drained. On your bottom land, it would be too wet for broilers in the off-season.

For egg-type pullets, we’ll start them as late as Halloween. We keep them in the brooder house for as long as eight weeks, and by then they can withstand Oregon winters.

How to brood the chicks

I’ve written an entire book on brooding chicks (Success With Baby Chicks), with extensive chapters on off-season brooding, but the process is basically the same as spring brooding.

Some main points to keep in mind are:

  • Buy your chicks from a hatchery that’s been around a while and has a good reputation. We buy our pullets from Privett Hatchery in New Mexico and our broilers from Jenks Hatchery in Oregon.
  • Have the brooder area completely ready for the chicks before they arrive, and turn on the heat 24 hours in advance Don’t place baby chicks on cold, damp shavings.
  • Have a fresh bag of chick starter on hand. Baby chicks are too delicate for old feed, which may have lost vital nutrients or become musty.
  • Don’t try to mix chicks with older poultry. They need their own space until they’re mostly grown. (That’s why you need not one chicken coop, but at least two.

Lights for Hens

Why use artificial lighting for hens? It helps even out their egg production, so they lay pretty well over the winter. In years when we didn’t use lights, we’d often run out of eggs at the Farmer’s Market at 10:00 AM, sometimes even earlier, and that meant we disappointed more customers than we satisfied. That’s not a happy feeling!

The lights only increase the total number of eggs per year slightly, by less than 15%. The main effect is to encourage the hens to lay more eggs year-round. They’ll lay fewer in the spring to compensate.

Some people will try to convince you that using artificial lights on hens is like giving them 63 cups of coffee a day, not letting them sleep, and making them nervous and stressed all the time. That’s not hens, that’s us! When I go out to the chicken coops at night, when the lights are on, most of the hens are sleeping soundly on their perches. Makes me a little envious.

September 1 is the traditional time to start using lights, and April 1 is the traditional time to stop. Fourteen hours of light a day is the traditional amount. The big commercial guys use fancier algorithms than this, but if you don’t have thousands of hens, I doubt you’ll be able to tell the difference.

Last year we started using the new LED lamps, which I like better than the compact fluorescent bulbs because they’re not as fragile. We basically run many hundreds of feet of outdoor extension cords across the hen pasture, with lamps in every roosting house. Where cords connect together, we wrap the joint with electrical tape, and if necessary use a chunk of wood to keep the cord out of a puddle. This sounds pretty casual, but the connections are just as bright and clean at the end of the lighting season as they were at the beginning. In theory, we’d be okay with a 25-watt equivalent bulb for each 8×8-foot chicken coop, but we use 40-watt equivalent bulbs, just to be sure.

For more details about lighting, see this article I wrote way back when, in my March 2003 newsletter.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from July:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout
  2. Genetics of the Fowl by Frederick B. Hutt
  3. Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers’ Handbook by Robert Plamondon
  4. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  5. Company Coming by Ruth Stout

All of these are fine books (I publish books I believe in). If you’re like most readers of this newsletter, you’ll enjoy starting with Fresh-Air Poultry Houses and Success With Baby Chicks. These cover the basics of healthy, odor-free, high-quality chicken housing and zero-mortality chick brooding, respectively, and get rave reviews from readers.

I started Norton Creek Press in 2003 to bring the “lost secrets of the poultry masters” into print — techniques from the Golden Age of poultrykeeping, which ran from roughly 1900 to 1950. I’ve been adding an eclectic mix of non-poultry books as well. These include everything from my science fiction novel, One Survivor, to the true story of a Victorian lady’s trip up the Nile in the 1870s, A Thousand Miles up the Nile. See my complete list of titles at the bottom of this newsletter.

Recent Blog Posts

Posts on my farm blog since my last newsletter:

September To-Do List

September is one of the easiest months in the poultry calendar.

To-do items:

  • Start using artificial lights for consistent egg production. A bare bulb, equivalent to 60 watts for every 100 square feet of floor space, is plenty.
  • Brood fall chicks.
  • Repair roofing (winter is coming!).
  • House pullets (if you raised them on range).
  • Avoid overcrowding.
  • Cull molting hens. (Hens that start molting this early probably won’t start laying until spring. It would be cheaper and better to make chicken and dumplings out of them and replace them with baby chicks.)
  • Begin artificial lighting. (Traditionally, providing a day length of 14 hours between September 1 andMarch 31.)
  • Cull any poor pullets.
  • Provide additional ventilation. (Always, always, always provide more ventilation than seems necessary.
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather.
  • Remove soiled litter. (If using deep litter, shovel some of it out to make room for the additional litter you’ll add over the winter, but only if it looks like the litter will get so deep it will make things impractical. “More is better” with deep litter.)

List inspired by a similar one in Jull’s Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

Adventures in Social Media

And if that’s not enough, you can use social media to stay up to date:

This newsletter is sent out occasionally by Robert Plamondon to anyone who asks for it. Robert runs Norton Creek Press.

Norton Creek Press Book List

I Publish Books! Norton Creek Press

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this issue. Most of my posts are based on input from people like you, so leave a comment below!

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

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