Your Chickens in August [Newsletter]

News from the Farm

The blackberries are coming ripe. The weather has been alternating between mild to hot, but not hot enough for me to yearn for air conditioning. The pasture is getting browner than I’d like, which soon will cause our egg yolks to fade from orange to yellow if we don’t get some rain (and we probably won’t until mid-September).

The tractor is still in the shop. The ice machine broke. There’s always something.

Roost mites are giving my hens some trouble. I’m painting their roosts with oil. This lasts a long time and smothers the mites. Even if the roosts seem dry on the surface, because the oil soaks in, capillary action seems to keep the cracks and crevices in the wood damp with oil, and that’s where the mites hang out. But only once. This time around I’m trying used gear oil for the purpose. Any non-drying oil that’s not weirdly toxic will do, but I prefer indigestible oils (petroleum based oils) because they don’t attract mold or critters with the munchies, the way fry oil might. Usually this treatment lasts for months.

With the tractor out of action, the hens are sometimes laying eggs in the tall grass, which is a nuisance. They wouldn’t bother if the grass were shorter. We refuse to sell any egg that comes from a place we aren’t certain we looked yesterday, no matter how carefully we candle it, so the eggs from these unauthorized nests become pig food. The pigs are enthusiastic about this policy!

But the chickens, ducks, geese, and pigs are doing beautifully, and the Corvallis farmers’ markets are swarming with people and loaded with wonderful produce.

The Buzz on Mosquitoes

We have a low-pressure watering system on our back pasture, using a stock tank at the top of the hill, and I noticed some mosquito larvae in the tank. Nothing drinks directly out of the tank; it exits through a hose going to our broiler pens.

Of the several ways I’ve heard of for dealing with mosquitoes in stagnant water, I decided to use one I haven’t tried before: floating some oil on the surface. If the tank goes empty, this oil will get into our watering system, so I picked an oil I expected the broilers would enjoy: peanut oil.

I poured a small amount onto the top of the stock tank, nowhere near enough to cover the whole surface with oil. Just patches of oil here and there. In a few days, it seems like every mosquito larva had encountered an oil slick, since I couldn’t find any live ones. It’s been almost a month and the oil still seems to be doing its job, so this is a low-maintenance treatment.

Measures that I haven’t tried include:

  • Putting a screen over the top of the tank.
  • Putting a little detergent in the tank to break the water tension, which should interfere with both adult and larval mosquitoes.
  • Populating the tank with goldfish.

The first two ought to work fine, but the goldfish idea is the most amusing.

Publishing News

Just Released: Turkey Management by Marsden & Martin

I’ve republished the 6th Edition of Marsden & Marten’s Turkey Management, which is by far the most complete work on turkeys ever written. Published towards the end of the era when turkeys were still raised on free range, this book is a treasure trove for breeders, hobbyists, and farmers. It’s over 1,000 pages long!

This book was published after the development of broad-breasted turkeys and other modern twists in turkey raising, but before the commercial operations all shifted to factory farms. Once the industry moves to factory farms, the poultry scientists shift their attention as well, and they no longer write books about carefully tested techniques for smaller operations. That’s why I’ve always found the older books to be such treasure troves.

On our own farm, we’ve been raising heritage turkeys (and some modern broad-breasted hybrids) for years, and found this book indispensable.

Win a Free Copy of Turkey Management!

Last month’s giveaway worked out very well, with two copies of Dryden’s Poultry Breeding and Management going to deserving newsletter readers like you. So let’s do it again! This month, it’s time to give away copies of Turkey Management.

To enter, use the following link to enter the giveaway. If 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.

August Poultry Notes

August is a pretty easy month for laying hens. Cornish-Cross broilers need to be babied through the heat (don’t let them run out of water, even for an hour), otherwise it’s about the same as always. If your chickens are on grass range, you may see a decline in product quality as the grass browns off. Chickens can’t digest grass that isn’t bright green and won’t bother eating much of it. The yellow color in your egg yolks may become paler, and the broiler meat may become a little blander.

August is a great farmer’s market month, but typically egg production is already down from its spring peak. Life isn’t fair sometimes! Pampering your hens may keep them laying, while letting them run out of feed or water may throw them into an early molt.

The days are starting to get noticeably shorter. September 1 is the traditional time to turn on the lights in the hen coop, so this month is a good time to see if the lighting system is still operational.

Looking ahead, September and October are good times to brood baby chicks, so call up your favorite hatcheries and see what’s available. Usually only commercial breeds are available in the fall, and sometimes even these sell out. So get your order in early!

More to-do items:

  • Raise egg prices (real farm eggs become scarce as summer progresses, compensating for all those eggs you had to sell cheap in the spring).
  • House early pullets (don’t move them into fall/winter housing after they start laying, or the stress of moving could make them stop).
  • Replace litter, if you don’t use year-round deep litter.
  • Cull early molting hens. Hens that molt before fall tend not to start again until spring, costing you 50 pounds of feed for no eggs.
  • Isolate any sick chickens.
  • Provide additional ventilation. Except for baby chicks, there’s no such thing as a dangerous draft in August: there are only cooling breezes.
  • Gather eggs more frequently in warm weather. Most of the decline in egg quality between nest and consumer happens before you get the eggs into the refrigerator, and this decline happens much faster in hot weather.
  • Cull early molting or otherwise unsatisfactory chickens.

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

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. Poultry Breeding and Management by James Dryden.
  5. Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D.

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.

Recent Blog Posts

Just one blog post last month (I must have been busy!):

Adventures in Social Media

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

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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