Raising Baby Chicks During COVID-19

Should you brood some baby chicks during the COVID-19 outbreak? Of course you should! But … how?

Answer: Pretty much the same as always, but you might need to be a little more flexible, especially if you usually use feed-store chicks and your local store doesn’t have any (for whatever reason). Here are some tips:

  • You haven’t missed the window. Our local feed stores push baby chicks really hard in March, but April, May, and June are even better for starting baby chicks.
  • Consider mail-order chicks. I’ve actually had better luck with mail-order chicks than feed-store chicks, which is pretty weird, because we hand-pick feed-store chicks for vim and vigor. So don’t be afraid of mail order. The minimum order in usually 25 chicks. If that’s too many, you can probably off-load the surplus to neighbors or on Craigslist without the slightest difficulty.
  • Order soon. A baby chick in the hand is worth two on order. Who knows what the next few months will bring? Not me! And the whole world is having an unexpected surge in back-to-the-land interest that the hatcheries didn’t plan for. Will that cause a shortage? Maybe? I have no idea.
  • Order pullet (female) chicks only. If you haven’t butchered your own chickens before and think  you’re going to enjoy the experience, you’re fooling yourself. (There’s a workmanlike satisfaction once you get good at it, but that takes a while.) So forget about meat and focus on eggs. Roosters don’t lay any eggs, so avoid them by ordering only pullet chicks. (The hatcheries will probably slip a couple of rooster chicks in anyway, even if you order pullets. They’re mischievous little scamps that way.)
  • Pick a commercial laying breed. If you want eggs, order breeds that lay lots of eggs. This means commercial hybrid layers. People will tell you that some of the standard breeds lay lots of eggs. What they don’t tell you is that they mean “lots of eggs by the standards of 1900.” A period of global weirdness is no time to buy chickens who eat their heads off and hardly lay any eggs.
  • Insist on sweet-tempered, non-cannibalistic breeds. This is a good reason to call up the hatchery. Some breeds have a tendency to peck each other to death. Don’t buy those. Some breeds are panicky or nasty around humans. Don’t buy those, either. Ask the hatchery which of their commercial-quality egg chickens are the most docile and least cannibalistic and buy those.
  • I wouldn’t wait until this whole thing blows over, but you can, you know. Brooding baby chicks in September, October, and November works great.
  • Many hatcheries aren’t very Internet-savvy. If they look like they haven’t updated their Web pages in years, that’s normal for a hatchery. They might show a little more life on their Facebook pages. Then again, maybe not. When in doubt, call or email before ordering.
  • When in doubt, buy from a nearby-ish hatchery. Typically, chicks shipped a couple of hundred miles go by surface mail, while ones shipped across the country go by air freight. While air freight seems to be moving pretty well right now (it’s the passenger flights that are suffering), surface mail might be a bit more reliable. I bought chicks after September 11 from a hatchery a few hundred miles from me because all flights were shut down and I didn’t want the stranded chicks to die. They arrived promptly and did every well.
  • Buy my book. Success With Baby Chicks is full of practical chick-rearing tips, especially if you’re not doing the same old same-old this year. It’s available in paperback and as a Kindle book. You can also find a lot of answers to your questions on this very blog.
  • And wear a mask when you go out!

Watch Out for Roost Mites

Are your chickens suffering from mite infestations? Roost mites (also called red mites, nest mites, chicken mites, or even dermanyssus gallinae) are a problem that can happen to any flock, especially a free-range flock, since the mites are spread by wild birds. If left unchecked, they can cause a lot of suffering.

Because the mites are so tiny and have such a high reproductive rate, they’re hard to notice until things are getting out of hand. Knowing what to look for and what to do will make control a lot easier.

Does Your Flock Have Roost Mites?

How can you tell if your chickens have a mite infestation? Some indicators:

  • A roost mite. Eww!

    If you pull out a handful of nesting material, it exposes a mass of little reddish moving thing, you have roost mites. Ditto for when you lift a roost and look at its underside. (Roost mites mostly hide during the day, preferring dark little cracks and crevices.)

  • If you have a crawly sensation in your arms or legs after visiting the chicken coop, you have roost mites. Eww! (They only mostly hide during the day. When a potential victim comes near, they jump aboard.)
  • If some eggs have reddish-brown spots or smears, you probably have roost mites. Though some eggs have reddish-brown speckles naturally. (Mites drink blood from chickens and swell up like balloons, then wander off. If they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’ll be squashed by a newly laid egg, and the stolen blood marks the eggshell.)

Do You Have to Treat Roost Mites?

Yes. They are sometimes enough to kill chickens outright, and can easily cause pain and suffering.

Treating Roost Mites

Since this is the Internet, there’s a lot of bogus information about treatment, reflecting a variety of fads and superstitions. (When in doubt, look at research summaries, which in the US can be done with good results by adding “edu” to the search string.)

Remember, health fads rely on the miracle of the placebo effect, which guarantees that almost any kind of quackery works to some degree on humans. (In areas where our treatments  don’t work very well, the placebo effect is often stronger than the therapeutic effect.) Sadly, chickens aren’t sophisticated enough to benefit from placebos, so you should treat chickens with workaday practicality.

All effective treatments reduce the mite population to near-zero, and some keep it there for a long time. Many methods that kill adult mites have no effect on their eggs, and these methods need to be repeated more often.

Ways of eliminating roost mites:

  • Heat. Heat will kill both mites and eggs. Milo Hastings recommended boiling water in his 1909 book, The Dollar Hen (which I have republished under my Norton Creek Press label). Given the limitations of the tools available on a 1909 farm, he specified using a dipper to fling boiling water from a pot onto the infested areas. A hot-water pressure washer would be a fancier modern method.
  • Smothering with oil. Mites breathe through microscopic pores, and suffocate if covered with a film of oil. This also kills their eggs. For decades, the traditional mite-control method of US poultrymen was to paint wooden roosts and nest boxes with used motor oil thinned with kerosene. You can get the same effect with linseed oil thinned with turpentine, which smells better and doesn’t contain any funny chemicals. The surface of the wood will become dry almost at once, but the cracks and crevices that harbor the mites remain oily enough to continue killing them for months.
  • Laceration. Wood ashes and diatomaceous earth in a dust bath can lacerate mites to death. Of course, the roost mites don’t actually live on the hens, so this is a bit indirect, and it has no effect on the eggs. In my experience, wood ashes and diatomaceous earth place in the nest boxes are also ineffective. I expect these methods may prevent some outbreaks, but aren’t strong enough to stop them once they’re established.
  • Poisoning. Just about any insecticide works on chicken mites. My personal preference is for insecticides that (a) are much more toxic to mites than birds or mammals, (b) have low persistence, so they’ve broken down into something harmless long before next season, (c) have a zero withdrawal time, so I don’t have to throw out, say, a week’s worth of eggs after treatment, and (d) are inexpensive. I typically have to use insectides 2-3 times per year, compared to oil, which I use once or twice. Probably this is due to mite eggs being more pesticide-resistant. Some candidate pesticides are:
    • Permethrin. Basically a synthetic pyrethrin insecticide, permethrin has a longer half-life than I find ideal, but I can actually find it in local stores, and that’s something. I’ve used permethrin in dust form with good success.
    • Lime-sulfur. This is a traditional miticide. It smells like rotten eggs, but is pretty effective and it main environmental effect is that it’s a pretty good fertilizer. I’ve  used lime-sulfur spay. Powdered lime-sulfur is also supposed to be good, but I haven’t tried it.
    • Pyrethrin. A natural insecticide made from flowers, I’ve found this very effective in mite control. For some reason it’s getting hard to find in my area. I mostly use pyrethrin dust in a one-pound shaker can.
    • Malathion. Malathion is a synthetic insecticide that resembles pyrethrin in its low persistence, low toxicity to birds and mammals, and general means of use. It’s very inexpensive. The brands available locally aren’t labeled for use on poultry anymore, for some reason. I’ve had good success with both malathion dust and malathion spray.

What results have you obtained with mites? Leave a comment below!

Your Chickens in January, 2017 [Newsletter]

chickens in range houses and snowNews from the Farm

  • Happy New Year! We’ve been having unusual cold this winter. Not record-breaking, but with more cold and snow than usual: many days with snow on the ground and temperatures down to 17 °F or so. That counts as cold by Western Oregon standards.
  • Before the cold set in, we took our last two pigs to the Woodburn Auction Yard. While selling pastured pigs at auction is no way to make money, it cuts our losses. (We raised a record eight pigs and sold six to our customers.)
  • Around here, the nastiest weather and the biggest chance of power outages happens between December 15 and the end of January, so we tend to take it easy this time of year. We’ll be brooding more and more baby chicks in a little while.
  • The chickens are holding up well. They don’t mind this kind of weather if they can stay dry, stay out of the wind, and have plenty of feed and water. Of these, the water is proving the most troublesome, since our pasture watering system is mostly just endless lengths of easily frozen garden hose.

Farmers’ Markets? In Winter?

Our local Corvallis Indoor Winter Market has been highly successful. It’s been operating for more than a dozen years and gets bigger every year.

How do you do an indoor winter market? Not by importing produce from sunnier climes! In January, local producers have root vegetables, nuts, eggs, poultry, cheese, meat, baked goods, honey, and other products. And soon the local greenhouses will provide flowers, early vegetables, and vegetable starts. Winter markets are apparently still unusual, but they can probably be duplicated anywhere. Ours gets positively mobbed!

The Corvallis Indoo r Winter Market runs every Saturday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM from January 14 through April 8.

Publishing News

Win a Free Copy of Genetics of the Fowl!

Genetics of the Fowl is everyone’s favorite chicken genetics book, much more readable than most genetics texts, and written for people who aren’t geneticists, but poultrykeepers. But it’s a big book, which makes it sorta pricey. So let’s give a couple of copies away this week!

To enter, use the following link to enter the giveaway. When you enter, you have a random chance of winning a copy of the book free, gratis, and for nothing. You don’t even pay for shipping. The link expires in a week, so do it now! (You need to have an Amazon account to enter, and it’s one ent ry per customer.)

Good luck! And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout.
  2. Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
  3. A Thousand Miles Up The Nile by Amelia B. Edwards.
  4. Genetics of the Fowl by F. B. Hutt.
  5. Gold in the Grass by Margaret Leatherbarrow.

All of these are fine books (I only 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 good reviews.

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 1960. 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 NileSee my complete list of titles.

January, Already?

January’s not so bad. No, seriously! (If you keep rolling your eyes like that, they might fall out.) The hatcheries send out their catalogs in January, which is always fun, with early-bird discounts to tempt you to place your orders early. (Hint: the discount is often for ordering early, even if you select a much later delivery date.)

And we’ll tend to look good for the next few months because egg production starts increasing as soon as the days start getting longer, in spite of the nasty weather.

If you sell eggs at the farmer’s market, chicks hatched in January will start laying sometime around Memorial Day, the traditional start of the season. If the thought of brooding January chicks appalls you, you should read the winter brooding tips in my book, Success With Baby Chicks. January brooding is perfectly practical, and I spend quite a bit of time in the book showing you how.

January To-Do List

Inspired by a similar list in Jull’s Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Take stock of your chickens, housing, and equipment. What do you have? What do you need for the coming season?
  • Clean up your brooder houses before you even order baby chicks.
  • Clean, repair, and install brooders. If you use heat lamps, inspect the sockets and the bulbs, since both tend to burn out over time
  • Purchase brooding equipment if necessary: brooders, feeders, waterers, etc.
  • Decide what records to keep during the coming year.
  • Look at last year’s records before you invest in this year’s project.
  • Continue using artificial lights on hens if you already are, but don’t bother starting them now if you aren’t. (Traditional usage is to use 14 hours of light, between September 1 and April 1.)
  • Deal with damp or dirty litter. If you heap up soggy or yucky litter, it will drain and start to compost, and it will be ready to spread out again in a few days.
  • Keep waterers from freezing. Chickens prefer warm drinking water in cold weather, and it takes longer to freeze.
  • Always give chickens as much feed as they want during the winter, when they need extra calories to stay warm.

More Winter Chicken Care Tips

Here are links to p ast articles on winter care:


Adventures in Social Media

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

Your Chickens in December [Newsletter]

News from the Farm

  • Our  farmer’s market season ended the day before Thanksgiving. We have a mild climate here in Oregon, but don’t kid yourself: an outdoor farmer’s market in November can be challenging! One market was canceled due to high winds.
  • We’ve had some heavy rains, with 3.5 inches of rain falling on Thanksgiving day alone! This flooded our back pasture, and the hens there were wading through a couple of inches of slow-moving water for a day or two. They weren’t enthusiastic about this, but they didn’t panic, either. Things are now back to normal. One of the things that’s part of the package when you do old-fashioned free range is that weather matters more than it does with confined chickens.
  • Now that it’s December, the weather is turning cold right on cue, with snow in the forecast for the first time today.

    Free range hens on snow
    My hens in snow, a few years ago.
  • Egg production has recovered somewhat, probably due to our use of lights, as discussed in my October newsletter.
  • We had some mystery predators killing a few hens on the back pasture. This seems to have stopped after we added some solar-powered anti-predator blinky lights. I’m trying the Yinghao anti-predator lights: so far, they seem excellent, both fancier and cheaper than the Nite Guard lights I use on the front pasture. Both models have simple red LED lights that blink all night. These are supposed to make predators think they’re being glared at by other predators. They work pretty well.

My Neighbor Invented the Modern Christmas Tree

One of the inventors of the modern Christmas tree, Hal Schudel, lived a mile or so up the road from us. He introduced all sorts of innovations, including hauling out the trees by helicopter to eliminate the need for roads and their attendant erosion, and the introduction of the Noble Fir as a premium Christmas Tree. Hal, who was once an agronomy professor at Oregon State University, knew a good tree when he saw it! He also figured out how to raise them sustainably in bulk and help many farmers make a living from them. He passed away two years ago at the age of 96.

Publishing News

In case no one told you, Christmas is coming! (No, really! It is!) And I can’t think of a better gift than a book from Norton Creek Press! Unless it’s more than one book from Norton Creek Press.

  • There’s still time to get my paperback books in time for Christmas, except a couple (Turkey Management and Poultry Production) that list longish shipping delays on Amazon and probably elsewhere.  My ever-increasing list of Kindle editions, being electronic, can be downloaded immediately. Kindle books can be read on almost anything with a screen these days: computers, tablets, smartphones: you name it. You can even read them on a Kindle!
  • Giving Kindle Books. Did you know that you can give a Kindle e-book as a gift? Even as a seriously last-minute gift? Just follow these instructions.

New Kindle Books

I’ve introduced seven(!) new books for the Kindle since last time. In fact, two of these are Kindle-only (no paperback edition). The new books are:

Win a Free Copy of Success With Baby Chicks!

Back when we were just starting out, beginner’s luck ensured that our first batch of baby chicks did very well, but after that things became erratic. At the time, there were no books that spent more than a few pages on caring for baby chicks.

So I did what I always do: I immersed myself in the literature, especially the poultry books and experiment station bulletins from 50-100 years ago, before high-density confinement methods started monopolizing the attention of poultry scientists. This revealed a wealth of hard-to-find information about raising baby chicks. We tested an enormous number of techniques. We discarded the ones that didn’t work and repeated the ones that did.

After a few years, our results became consistently good. What were we doing to ensure our success? I wrote all this up in my book, Success With Baby Chicks, the only book devoted solely to the brooding period.

One thing’s for sure: we weren’t solving the brooding problem by throwing money at it. All our methods are simple, inexpensive, and not even very time-consuming.

Anyway, I’m giving away two copies. To enter, use the following link to enter the giveaway. When you enter, you have a random chance of winning a copy of the book free, gratis, and for nothing. You don’t even pay for shipping. The link expires in a week, so do it now! (You need to have an Amazon account to enter, and it’s one entry per customer.)

Good luck!

And if you don’t win, it’s still worth your while to buy your own copy of Success With Baby Chicks, available in Kindle and paperback editions.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout.
  2. Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
  3. Genetics of the Fowl by F. B. Hutt
  4. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  5. Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser.

All of these are fine books (I only 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 good reviews.

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 1960. 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 NileSee my complete list of titles.

December Notes

December weather tends to go from bad to worse, with freezing and power outages to keep things interesting. (See one of my  blog posts about winter experiences with free-range birds in open housing.) On the other hand, most people don’t have any baby chicks in the brooder house in December, and adult chickens are relatively tough, so December is something of a low-stakes gamble.

Later in the winter, though, people start brooding their early chicks, so the stakes get higher. If you want to have pullets laying well by the start of a traditional Farmer’s Market season (Memorial Day), you need chicks in January. If you hatch your own eggs, that means incubating eggs in December. Wait, wasn’t winter supposed to be the slow season?

Not to mention that the hatchery catalogs will start arriving right after Christmas, with special low prices on early chicks. As soon as you’ve cleared away the remains of the New Year’s party, you’ll be on fire to start the new season!

December To-Do List

Inspired by a similar list in Jull’s Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Do final winterizing before things get really nasty.
  • Stake down portable houses so they don’t blow away!
  • Get the equipment and coops you don’t use in the winter put away. Remove the tarps from tarp-covered range shelters to ensure they don’t collapse under snow loads.
  • Ensure plenty of liquid water for your chickens in cold weather: keep it from freezing. Warm water is better than cold if you can manage it easily.
  • Give your chickens as much feed as they want. Winter is no time to save money on feed! Keeping warm requires lots of calories.
  • Use artificial lights to maintain the rate of lay and to give the chickens enough light to eat by on those short, dark winter days.
  • Remove wet or caked litter. If you use the deep litter system, toss it into a corner, where it will heat enough to dry out and decake itself in a few days.
  • Clean out brooder houses and make ready for early chicks.
  • Put out rat bait in empty houses (use bait stations and bait blocks: they’re less messy and more foolproof than other methods). Nobody likes using poison, but having rats invade the brooder house is far worse. (Been there, done that.)
  • Get your brooders and incubators ready for the coming season. Lay in spare parts (heat lamps for brooders, thermostats for incubators, etc.)
  • If you have a breeding flock, figure out your matings now. (See Genetics of the Fowl.)
  • Sign up for farming conferences in your area.
  • Sit in front of the fire and read poultry books.

Recent Blog Posts

Here are the new and updated posts on my various blogs since last time:

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 monthly by Robert Plamondon to anyone who asks for it. Robert runs Norton Creek Press.

Norton Creek Press
36475 Norton Creek Road
Blodgett, Oregon 97326
robert@plamondon.com
http://www.plamondon.com

Your Chickens in November [Newsletter]

Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter, November 2016

News from the Farm

Hey, let’s experiment with giving the news in bullet-point form!

  • Just three more weeks in our 2016 Farmer’s Market season. Here in Corvallis, we’re among the proud-but-shivering vendors in the November outdoor markets.
  • Karen reports that the seasonal decline in egg production seems to have ceased, thanks to her use of lights in the henhouses, using methods summarized last time.
  • Four of our six piggies have been converted into pork, ham, and bacon for customers, and we’ve lined up a customer to take the other two as-is. Which is just as well, since it’s been raining like the dickens (or even the Bulwer-Lytton). Pigs plus rain equals mud, at least when they’re living the kind of outdoor lifestyle our pigs do. Our pigs have just a little Port-a-Hut shelter to sleep in, not the usual spacious roofed pig shed with a concrete floor.
  • We’re not doing Thanksgiving turkeys this year. Why not? One reason is that heritage-breed turkeys have a distressing tendency to escape and vanish en masse into the woods, never to return. We were hatching our own turkey eggs until the breeding flock skedaddled. And just to rub it in, about twenty wild turkeys are hanging around the farm, bold as brass.
  • I suspect that modern broad-breasted turkeys are more likely to stay put, partly because they’re less agile, partly because they dislike going far from the feed trough, and partly because they grow at least twice as fast, leaving that much less time for them to get any funny ideas. This would involve buying day-old poults during the summer, since spring-hatched poults would be the size of hippos. A neighbor down the road has a nice flock of white broad-breasted turkeys that are still where they’re supposed to be.
  • We won’t be doing many new projects until the new year. My current feeling about brooding pullet chicks in the winter is that it’s a great idea once you get the moves down, but, for our personal convenience, not during the holidays. January is soon enough.

Publishing News

Jack & the Magic Software: A Future Fairy Tale

Jack &the Magic Software
Jack & the Magic Software

My science fiction novel, One Survivor, contains a number of things that might seem extraneous in a book that starts with a space battle. This includes three fairy tales, a prophetic flight simulator run, and much else. I’ve broken out one of the fairy tales as a stand-alone Kindle e-book: Jack & the Magic Software: A Future Fairy Tale.  It’s yours for a measly ninety-nine cents.

Win a Free Copy of Feeding Poultry!

Feeding Poultry by Heuser
Feeding Poultry

If you hang around with poultry enthusiasts, you hear a lot about how to feed chickens. People talk endlessly about feeding: what to feed, how to feed it, and which changes in feeding to make in response to any imaginable problem. But you can stand out by having something few of them have: an actual book on poultry nutrition!

Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser is the kind of book I spend days in libraries looking for: detailed, readable, based on careful observation and research, and full of information that most people have never heard of. Information you can often use right away.

For example, it has a whole chapter on range and green feeds. Not only that, it was written when free range was still widely practiced, but before it was politicized or turned into a market niche. So the material is presented on the basis of real, often long-term experience, and without any kind of spin.

It also talks about some pretty wacky feed ingredients (wacky, that is, unless you can get them cheap because they’re a byproduct of a local industry). If you happen to have access to starfish meal, should you feed it? How about silkworm chrysalis flour? Coconut oil meal? Distillery yeast? Sauerkraut? You name it: it’s listed here.

Of course, it talks about the more normal ingredients, too: every kind of grain, bean, protein supplement, mineral supplement. It tells you the difference between #1 corn and #2 corn, and the difference between fresh soybeans, roasted soybeans, and the many different kinds of soybean oil meal.

It also covers the nutritional chemistry: Which amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are likely to be missing in different kinds of diets, and what to add to bring it up to where it should be.

And of course it tells you the different requirements of poultry of different ages and species, because this isn’t just about chickens: it covers all species of poultry (though there’s more about chickens than the other species).

And the book tells you many, many practical details. (It should: it’s 640 pages long!) Including about a zillion feed recipes that have been tested under controlled conditions, using different ingredients according to what tends to be cheaper in a given region. For example, here in the Far West, feed wheat can be cheaper than corn, and there are recipes that take full advantage of this.

I’m not claiming that you’ll sit down and read this book cover to cover, but you’ll read more of it than you think.

Anyway, I’m giving away two copies. To enter, use the following link to enter the giveaway. When you enter, you have a random chance of winning a copy of the book free, gratis, and for nothing. You don’t even pay for shipping. The link expires in a week, so do it now! (You need to have an Amazon account to enter, and it’s one entry per customer.)

Good luck!

And if you don’t win, it’s still worth your while to buy a copy of Feeding Poultry. Pretend it’s a Christmas gift for someone else in your household, then monopolize it yourself. (That works, right?)

And if Feeding Poultry doesn’t float your boat, I have plenty of other books just waiting to go under the Christmas tree. Just rummage around in my Norton Creek Press web site. You’re sure to find something.

Norton Creek Press Best-Seller List

These are my top-selling books from last month:

  1. Gardening Without Work by Ruth Stout.
  2. Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
  3. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.
  4. If You Would Be Happy by Ruth Stout.
  5. Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser.

All of these are fine books (I only 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 good reviews.

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 1960. 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 NileSee my complete list of titles.

November Poultry Notes

Preparing for Winter

Open-Front Houses. One of the more eye-opening books I’ve read is Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D. Dr. Woods described how one of his healthiest chicken flocks spent the New England winter, not in a hen house, but in the branches of a nearby grove of pine trees. The exposure to the weather kept them from laying much, but they were astonishingly healthy and active!

This was around 90 years ago, when a lot of people were knocking out the south walls of their chicken houses to allow more light and ventilation, winter and summer alike. It worked then, and it works now. It’s an amazing thing to witness. So counter-intuitive! But it works.

So my advice is not to fret over cold or drafts for your grown chickens—that’s for day-old chicks. Resist the temptation to remove the last vestige of airflow and light from your chicken houses. Instead, do what you can to keep the water and feed flowing in freezing weather, and generally provide an environment where the chickens can stay active. Ventilation, daylight, some kind of freeze-proofing in the waterers, and the ability for the hens to stay busy are the keys.

Winter feed and water. Because our hens are in little houses scattered over acres of pasture, snow makes it wearisome for us to carry feed and water to them. We use big range feeders that minimize the frequency with which we have to fill them. Because over 90% of winter days here have highs above freezing, our water is (usually) flowing through our humble network of many hundreds of feet of garden hose.

This means that, on most days, even if there’s snow on the ground, the heaviest things we have to lug around are baskets of eggs. If it’s colder and the hoses stay frozen, we have to carry water, too. I object to carrying water in buckets. Not carrying water in buckets is what technology is all about. But we do it a few days per year.

First experience with snow. Chickens are startled by the first snowfall if it’s heavy enough to completely cover the ground, so if you put all in outdoor range feeders like I do, their reluctance to go outside will cause them to miss some meals. This in turn will cause a slump in egg production. If we scatter a little straw on top of the snow, making a path between the houses and the feeders, the chickens will venture out willingly. They don’t mind walking on straw. They quickly get used to snow after they’ve seen it once or twice, and the straw becomes unnecessary.

Scratch feed as exercise. In the old days, farmers liked to use straw on the floor of the chicken house and scatter some grain in it every day. The chickens would spend hours and hours hunting for the last morsel. Their scratching around in the litter would fluff it up and keep it from caking. This gives them exercise in cold weather, which presumably keeps them warm, and gives them something to do.

Temperature and egg production. The rule of thumb is that the rate of lay falls whenever the chickens are exposed to daytime highs (indoors) below freezing. Their health starts to suffer around twenty degrees below zero when they’re kept dry.

Frostbitten combs are more a sign of excessive dampness than excessive cold. Some chickens can’t seem to drink from a bucket or pan without getting their combs wet, so using waterers that don’t present that much surface area may be a good idea.

Insulation. The folk wisdom used to be that heating a chicken house never paid for itself. Also, it didn’t let the chickens get hardened to the cold, so any interruption in the heat was bad news. In the old days, insulation was considered a bit extravagant, even in cold parts of the U.S. and Canada. Insulation pays in big chicken houses, but the chicken houses were pretty small in the old days, rarely bigger than 400 square feet.

The main advantage of insulation in a chicken house is to keep the chicken house dry. Specifically, it prevents condensation from forming on the ceiling (and, to a lesser extent, the walls) and dripping into the house. With an insulated roof, you don’t need as much ventilation, but it still takes quite a bit of airflow to maintain a reasonable level of dryness in the house, since the chickens introduce plenty of moisture through their breath and droppings.

Food is warmth. Most of all, don’t let chickens run out of feed or water in cold weather. They can stand a lot of cold if they have plenty of food energy, and to eat, they must also drink.

November To-Do List

November is usually a fine month for grown chickens, and can even be a good month to start baby chicks if you’re set up for it. We tend to avoid receiving baby chicks in December and January, due to the increased chance of long power outages here, but we brood the rest of the year. November is a good month to prepare for winter, and it’s not too early to prepare for baby chicks, either!

Inspired by a similar list in Jull’s Successful Poultry Management, McGraw-Hill, 1943.

  • Provide warm water in cold weather. It freezes more slowly and the hens drink more if it’s not ice-cold. This may increase production.)
  • Attend a farm show! (And read poultry books and spend time online, too.)
  • Clean outdoor equipment and store it indoors until needed.
  • Order any necessary brooder parts. You’re likely to start brooding again in January, and that’s right around the corner!
  • Use artificial lights on hens.
  • Remove litter that becomes wet or disgusting, or pile it in a heap in a corner until it composts into nice clean litter again (this only takes a few days). Add more litter as required. Don’t be stingy with litter.
  • Don’t let the house get too dark. Chickens don’t like eating or drinking in the dark. Don’t block off your windows.
  • Flag pasture obstacles and equipment with something tall if there’s a chance that you won’t mow in the spring until the grass is as high as an elephant’s eye. You won’t remember if you put it off. Bleach bottles stuck on the tops of T-posts are traditional.

Recent Blog Posts

Here are the new and updated posts on my various blogs since last time:

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