How Not to Have a Dam Failure

After the recent failure of the Oroville dam’s main spillway, the question I keep asking myself is, “Where did the engineers go to school?”

Back in 1889, the South Fork Dam broke after heavy rains, opening up like a zipper and flooding Johnstown, Pennsylvania, killing 2,209 people. The dam had overflowed, and dams fail catastrophically when this happens. Especially earth-fill dams.

In Johnstown, the dam had been designed and built properly, opening in 1853. It acted as a reservoir for a canal system. To prevent failure, it had three large iron pipes with valves at the bottom, allowing water to be be released in high volume at no risk. The main spillway, which gave an alternate path for surplus water from the dam when it was full, was nowhere near the earth-fill portion of the dam, but was blasted out of bedrock in the surrounding hill.

The dam failed because, after the canal system went bankrupt due to the development of railroads, the the new owners of the site (rich dudes who wanted a resort with a big lake) rebuild the dam incompetently, omitting the iron discharge pipes at the base. This meant that there was no way to lower the water level in the dam. It was always full, and as soon as a series of rainstorms put in water faster than it could leave via the spillway, water poured over the top of the dam, and the dam eroded faster and faster until suddenly it was gone.

Fast-forward to Oroville, which came awfully close to a similar failure. By the standards of Johnstown’s 1853 South Fork Dam, the Oroville Dam has these flaws:

  • The main spillway is a big water slide down the front of the earth-fill structure, not blasted out of solid bedrock elsewhere. This means that any failure of the spillway can easily chew away the dam and cause it to burst.
  • The discharge pipes via the hydroelectric plant at the bottom of the dam are too small, with only 5% as much capacity as the main spillway. Plus, they’re so close to river level that they can’t be used in when trouble with the main spillway chokes the riverbed with debris.
  • “Put not your faith in concrete.” In the 1853 South Fork dam, the important roles were played by iron pipes or channels blasted into bedrock. In the Oroville dam, these roles are played by concrete, with the results we’ve all seen.

These problems are interrelated. The dam is supposed to be able to discharge far more water from its base, using the diversion tunnels. But (surprise!) the concrete diversion tunnels are damaged.

In a structure as dangerous as a big hydroelectric dam, with a long working lifetime, and the certain expectation that many operating decisions will be made by politicians rather than engineers, the most important design criterion is this: Not only should the dam be capable of being operated by morons, it should be capable of being maintained by morons. Morons who lost the maintenance funds at the dog track.

A dam isn’t something like a railroad, where the trains stop running unless there’s continuous maintenance. It’s something that appears to be kinda-sorta working until a wall of water and debris sixty feet high wipes your city off the map.

To my way of thinking, this requires that dams be build more to be low-maintenance than to be efficient, and with lots of redundant safety features: preferably ones that work okay even if everyone but the janitor and the UPS guy have been passed out on the floor for the last 25 years.

Periodic inspection and regulation are okay to the extent that they aren’t crooked—and good luck with that. A good design needs to survive intervals of incompetence and dishonesty just much as it needs to survive natural disasters.

But no one is going to be crazy enough to declare us dictator and put our policies into practice, so enough of the big picture! Here’s my main take-away: Make sure your next home and workplace are well above your local floodplain. During the 1996 flooding here in Oregon, as I drove between Corvallis and Portland, I noticed that all the little hills that were high and dry above the floodwaters had older houses on them. Those old-timers knew a thing or two.

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

FAQ: Chicken Feeding Tips

Here are my most reliable tips on feeding your chickens: feeding them simply, feeding them cheaply, and feeding them well.

1. How Can I Save Money on Chicken Feed?

Here are some tips:

  • Girl feeding free-range chickens by handAvoid “cheapskate feeds.” There are a lot of cheapskates out there who don’t care about quality. Most mills have a line of cheapskate feeds that you need to avoid, because they’re bulked out with fillers like wheat-milling byproducts that have little nutritional value. Cheapskate feeds often have keywords telling you what they are; words like “Country,” “Thrifty,” and so on. You’ll save money if you quality feed.
  • Buy from the best. Ask your practical-minded acquaintances who the best feed mill is. Usually the verdict is almost unanimous. Buy from the best feed mill: it’ll saves you money.
  • Use the “grain-on-the-side” method described further down in this FAQ.
  • Minimize feed waste. Most feeders on the market are really just baby chick feeders, no matter what the manufacturers say. Their feed pans are too shallow, and the chickens throw feed in all directions. In some tube feeders, it pours over the side on its own! Losing at least 10% of your feed to the poor design of the feeder is very common. Find the deepest feeders you can get your hands on, or make them yourself. Never fill trough feeders more than 1/3 full. Spend more time watching your flock. If you slow down, you’ll notice things and everything will magically improve, including the bottom line.
  • Get a book about poultry nutrition. A lot of what you’ll read on the Internet or hear from your neighbors will be nonsense, and you’ll want to immunize yourself. Also, it helps to have a complete reference manual handy! The best poultry nutrition book in print is the one I reprinted myself, Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser. There are other excellent books on the topic, but they are all out of print. (I can’t figure that out.)
  • Read my blog postings on saving money on chicken feed.

2. Do I HAVE to Feed Free-Range Chickens (or can they find their own feed?)

Remember: Chickens can’t find feed that isn’t there, and the more chickens you have, the less feed there is to go around. You have to match the number chickens to the feed supply, or nature will do it for you through poor health and starvation.

How it was done in the old days. A farmer of 100 years ago might have kept a dozen hens and a rooster through the winter, and allowed the hens to hatch a brood of chicks each in the spring, giving, say, 72 chicks plus the original 13 chickens, or 85 birds total. The old rooster would be sold after the chicks had hatched. The old hens and most of the young chickens would be sold in the fall, and one cockerel and twelve pullets would be kept through the lean months. By having 85 chickens during the fat months and only 13 during the winter, the amount of supplemental feed needed by the chickens would be minimized.

The old ways always involved malnutrition. A flock of 13 chickens might survive all winter on the grain spilled by a cow and a team of draft horses, plus some hay and whatever else they could find. This winter diet would be nutritionally poor (both vitamin- and protein-deficient) and the hens would lay no eggs, but they’d recover in early spring and the cycle would repeat.

Malnutrition increases with the number of chickens. I’ve heard estimates that you can support just 1-2 hens per acre with no supplemental feeding, though probably not during the winter. As you add chickens to the farm, they first exhaust the supply of high-calorie feeds such as seeds, then the supply of high-protein feeds such as bugs and clover. Finally, they use up the supply of high-vitamin feeds such as green grass. Except for the last stages, when all the green plants disappear, you can’t tell what stage your forage is in.

Also, because of their thick coats of feathers, it’s hard to tell a malnourished chicken from a healthy chicken at a glance, they way you can by noticing whether the ribs are showing on cows, horses, dogs, and people.

In the bad old days, when people didn’t feed their hens at all, much of the hen’s diet was provided as a side effect of bad sanitation. People threw their garbage out into the street or the barnyard. The cows and horses spilled grain. Manure was everywhere and was full of yummy maggots.

But even with all the natural bounty provided by stone-age sanitation, the number of hens that could be supported without supplemental feeding was very limited.

In practice, though, it always pays to provide a complete diet. The increased production always pays for the increased feed bill.

There are a few circumstances where the diet can be adjusted to reflect reliable forage ingredients, such as old-fashioned “range rations” which left out the vitamins that were provided in abundance by green feed. But enough dry days in a row browns off the grass and makes it unpalatable to the chickens, so this method has its risks.

Also, many of the things hens eat are so tiny that we can’t see them—tiny seeds, tiny bugs, tiny worms. If we can’t see them, we can’t estimate how much the hens are finding, and we can’t know how much supplemental feed they need on a day-by-day basis.

Fortunately for the frugal farmer, hens prefer fresh, natural feeds to dry, processed chicken feed, and will eat natural feeds in preference to store-bought feed whenever they have the chance. This leads to a foolproof strategy:

Offer the chickens as much (balanced, high-quality) chicken feed as they want, and settle for whatever amount of foraging they discover on their own.

This will maximize production and profitability. Sure, if you’re an expert and are always very careful, you can get some eggs out of a flock you don’t feed at all, even without actually crippling your chickens through malnutrition, but you won’t get very many. It’s a mug’s game.

See also my blog post on Feeding Scraps to Chickens.

3. What Should I Feed My Chickens?

Feed your chickens chicken feed. Some people like to complicate the feeding problem beyond all reason. Ignore them. Go down to the feed store and buy a sack of feed that’s labeled for the kind of chickens you have (chick starter, broiler starter, layer feed, etc.). This will be a balanced feed, and the chickens will do fine even if you don’t feed them anything else.

You can also set out whole grains in a separate feeder if you like. I do. This can save you a lot of money if you have a source of cheap grain, especially if you use a high-protein chicken feed. For example, a high-protein layer ration with 20% protein will be formulated for use with supplemental grain, with the assumption that the hens will eat about 50% layer ration and 50% grain. Chicks need lots of protein and will pretty much ignore supplemental grain until they’re older and aren’t growing as fast. There’s really little point in offering them grain until they’re 6-8 weeks old.

If you want to try something fancier, I recommend that you get a copy of Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser.

See also my blog post on “Why Chicken Feed?”.

4. Won’t Commercial Chicken Feed Poison My Chickens?

Ah, vintage Seventies hippie-dippy fear-mongering! We just don’t get conspiracy theories like that anymore. (“Everyone is a poisoner except me,” said the organic farmer.)

In the real world, of course, feed stores are totally dependent on repeat business, of course. If your chicken raising is unsuccessful, you won’t raise any more chickens, and they can’t sell you any more feed. So, presumably, any feed store that has been in business for more than a few months is selling feed that gets the job done.

An exception, as previously mentioned, is cheapskate feeds. If you’re a cheapskate, you insist on buying the very worst feed available, no matter how bad it is. There are enough cheapskates that most mills have a special line of feeds just for them, loaded with the traditional low-feed-value fillers: wheat bran, middlings, mill run, etc. Not that cheapskate feeds are poisonous. They’re just crummy.

I have never had any trouble with commercial feed. In general, you should ask around and see which feed store is considered to be the most reputable by your neighbors, and buy from them. Local reputation is rarely wrong.

Read the feed tag to see what’s in the chicken feed. I also taste chicken feed sometimes to see if it has any off flavors. It shouldn’t have any kind of burned or rancid taste, which would indicate the use of bad ingredients. But every time I’ve tested, it’s just been incredibly bland, not distateful at all. It’s so bland, you could probably sell it as a health-food cereal.

5. Isn’t Chicken Feed Full of Medications?

Medicated feed says “MEDICATED” in large letters on the feed tag (in the U.S., anyway). The only medication I’ve ever seen in feed-store chicken feed is a coccidiostat in medicated chick and turkey starter feeds, which keeps the chicks from coming down with coccidiosis. You should have no trouble getting non-medicated feeds if that’s what you want.

I recommend that beginners start with medicated chick starter, because an outbreak of coccidiosis is very discouraging. Sick and dying chicks do not make for the kind of farming experience you would care to repeat, so do yourself a favor and use medicated chick starter to begin with, to increase the odds of having a good experience.

6. Aren’t Chicken Feeds Full of Hormones?

That’s ancient history, and was mostly mythical even then. We’re talking about the Truman and Eisenhower years here!

Hormones in poultry feed are illegal these days. Hormones had a brief burst of popularity in the late Forties and early Fifties. By the time the once-popular hormone DES was banned in 1959, it had fallen into disuse.

Anyway, it wasn’t used in the feed, but was in the form of a little time-release pellet that was injected under the skin.

There’s a lot of folklore and superstition in the chicken-raising community. I once did a thorough review of the chicken literature back to 1900, and every single superstition that has been totally debunked since then is still believed. And not just by a handful of cranks, but by lots of people.

7. What do You Feed Your Chickens?

For my hens, I use the three-feeder system. I have one feeder full of 20% protein layer pellets, one feeder full of whatever whole grain is cheapest (usually corn), and one feeder full of oystershell.

The reason I do this is that chickens have a definite calcium appetite (oystershells), energy appetite (grain), and protein appetite (high-protein poultry ration). A hen who lays an egg a day will eat far more calcium than one who lays an egg a week. If the only source of calcium is the chicken feed, she will eat feed just for its calcium, and get fat. With calcium offered on the side in the form of oystershell, she can eat the calcium she wants without unwanted calories. Similarly, a hen who is not laying at the moment wants little calcium or protein, and will eat mostly grain, which is cheaper than the other ingredients.

Furthermore, forage is high in protein. When the pasture plants are bright green and succulent, or when there are lots of slow-moving bugs and worms around, the hens get a lot of protein by foraging, turn up their noses at the pellets, and eat mostly forage and whole grain. When the pasture plants turn brown and the insects move too fast, they fall back on the pellets. Since pellets are more expensive than grain. I win.

Research is inconclusive about the value of this method when all the ingredients are bought at commodity prices. However, most people buy by the sack or by the ton. If you find your local grain wholesaler or a local farmer with a full granary, you can buy grain at wholesale prices and pellets at retail, which will bring you big savings. We buy our grain at Venell Feed in Corvallis Oregon, and broiler/layer feed from Union Point Custom Feeds in Brownsville, Oregon.

For pullet chicks, I feed chick starter for several weeks, then offer grain in a separate feeder. Once the chicks go onto pasture, they get the same ration as the hens.

Broiler chicks start with a 22% broiler starter, graduate to the 20% broiler grower ration from Union Point, which is later supplemented with whole grains.

Turkeys are similar to broilers: start with a 28% turkey starter, graduate to a 20% broiler grower, which is later supplemented with whole grains.

All my poultry also have access to range.

8. What About Animal Byproducts in the Feed?

I don’t use poultry feeds that contain animal poultry byproducts such as beef scrap. I don’t have anything against beef scrap in general, but when I had goats, they would sometimes get into the chicken feed. Since one of the cornerstones of BSE prevention is to prevent ruminants from eating meat byproducts of other ruminants, so I avoid feeds with beef scrap for that reason.

9. Should I Mix My Own Feed?

If that’s what you want. I don’t. And it’s unlikely to save you any money: you save money by feeding your inexpensive ingredients on the side, as I explain in Save Money on Chicken Feed.

Poultry nutrition is an interesting topic and makes a good hobby, though I find the theory to be more useful than the practice: I’d rather pay a good feed mill to do the formulation and mixing for me, though I’m glad I’ve read several poultry nutrition books, so I understand what it is that I’m delegating.

Feeding Poultry by Heuser. Norton Creek Press.You should read a book on poultry nutrition first. The best one is Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition by G.F. Heuser. It’s so good that I brought it back into print myself, under my Norton Creek Press label. It covers all sorts of topics that are neglected in more recent poultry nutrition books, such as the nutritional value of free range. At the same time, it’s recent enough that all the major nutrients and topics get a full treatment. I like this book because it is written for the intelligent layman rather than an audience of professional scientists.

Back to the FAQ Page

Flyover States and the Election

I live in the country. I have a farm. I’ve spent most of my career in high-tech: I’ve lived in the city, too. So I’m fluent in two languages: urban and rural.

I rarely post here about politics, since politics doesn’t get the cows milked. And this isn’t about politics anyway: it’s about mindset. I’m just using the election as an example.

Take a look at the 2016 presidential election map, showing the results by county:

The Urban/Rural Divide

2016 Presidential Election by County
2016 Presidential Election by County

What we’re looking at here is not a division between Republicans and Democrats, but between rural and urban. The urban areas mostly voted Democrat; the rural ares mostly voted Republican. What’s up with that?

Let’s do a cross-check. Here’s a map of population density by county:

US population density by county
US population density by county

Pretty close, right?

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

For all the talk of diversity and cultural tolerance, the mutual incomprehension between America’s city and rural populations is awfully high, and generally unacknowledged.

It’s not a new thing. Aesop has the fable of The City Mouse and The Country Mouse dating to around 600 BC, whose moral is:

A modest life with peace and quiet is better than a richly one with danger and strife.

Of course, the moral isn’t about the city vs. country per se, but it allowed “city mouse” and “country mouse” to become proverbial phrases.

A New Phenomenon?

While the social split between city mouse and country mouse has been around forever, the political split is new, at least at the national level. It actually became dominant during Bill and Hillary Clinton’s political careers.

Here’s the 1992 presidential map, where Bill Clinton won his first term:


Map of Bill Clinton's first-term election, 1992.
Map of Bill Clinton’s first-term election, 1992.

Notice all the blue in the heartland states, especially along the Missisippi and Ohio river valleys. That’s missing in his wife’s 2016 results.

And here’s the 2008 Map, where Obama won his first term:

The 2008 election shows the Democrats losing more of the heartland, even in victory.
The 2008 election shows the Democrats losing more of the heartland, even in victory.

Even in victory, the Democratic Party had lost quite a bit of the heartland, becoming more and more “the party of the city mice.” The Big Tent is smaller than it used to be.

Speaking as someone who isn’t a member of either party and has no particular insight into the process, my concern is that any city-mouse, country-mouse division at the party level will lead to lousy policy decisions by whichever party is in power. Our policy decisions are bad enough already.

(I’m curious to see whether a Republican administration plus a Republican Congress shows a country-mouse bias. But I expect it’ll all be drowned in the bipartisan Washington D.C. “follow the money” strategy, which is more of a fat-cat thing.)

Looking Forward

So here we are, with a city-mouse, country-mouse split in our country that’s masquerading as a division between two parties. And hardly anyone seems to comment on this.

I once had a San Francisco resident ask me if it was difficult for me to live “among all those ignorant country people.” He seemed to believe that, as soon as the sidewalk ends, you step right into a scene from Deliverance.

I’ve also met people who believe exactly the same thing about San Francisco! Go figure.

My answer to his question is, “No, not at all. In the places I’ve lived, people tend to be about equally ignorant. They’re just ignorant about different things. (They’re also about equally prejudiced.)”


What’s to be done? Well, my mind-control machine is on the fritz, so I don’t have a quick solution. But the Cubs won the World Series, so all things must be possible! So I leave you with the following two proverbs. Go spread the good word!

When you feel especially good or bad about a group of people you’ve never met, you’re probably wrong.

And the second is from my grandfather:

You kids: knock it off.