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:

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.

Replace Dead Cooling Units with Air Conditioners

old refrigerators upgrade
You can repurpose retail refrigerators

I have an old Hussmann refrigerator with two sliding glass doors, that was originally used as a refrigerated produce case in a grocery store (I use it to store eggs from my free-range egg farm). This was a nice unit in its day—it’s built like a battleship—but its refrigeration unit is shot, and was an inefficient dinosaur even when it ran properly.

These old refrigerators are good news/bad news. The good news is that their decrepit refrigeration units mean that you can buy them almost nothing. The bad news is that their decrepit refrigeration units mean that they’re worth almost nothing.

New Life for Old Refrigerators

After having mine repaired twice at about $350 each time, I took the advice of the HVAC technician:

“Get a window air conditioner, replace the thermostat so you can turn it down to 40 F, and stick it in the side of the refrigerator.”

So I did just that. For $179, I got a new 7,500 BTU air conditioner. I cut a rectangular hole in the side of the refrigerator with a saber saw and installed it, sealing the edges with aluminum tape.

Window air conditioners are cheap, energy-efficient, quiet, and lightweight. You can install them yourself if you know how to saw a rectangular hole in the side of a big metal box and how to do simple wiring.

Walk-in Coolers, Too

These same techniques work for walk-in coolers, either for existing or DIY walk-in coolers.

Sizing Your Air Conditioner to Your Refrigerator

For my purposes, the smallest unit I could find was actually too big, and I ran it on “low” most of the time. I would have been better off with a little 5,000 BTU unit for my 50 cubic-foot refrigerator. You could probably run a small walk-in cooler on a larger window air conditioner!

Converting the Air Conditioner to Refrigeration Work

The only thing you have to modify is the thermostat. There are several ways to do this.

The main problem to be solved is that your air conditioner doesn’t want to go below 60 °F, but we want it to go below 40 °F.

Best but Hardest: Direct Replacement of the Thermostat

All you do is replace the original mechanical thermostat with one that goes down to 40 °F or below. Simply unplug the original one and replace it with one that will go down to refrigerator temperatures.

This requires that your air conditioner has a mechanical thermostat. Most new ones have electronic thermostats, so may require an older unit.

You might be able to do a direct replacement, mounting the thermostat in place of the old one, and even use the original thermostat’s knob to there are no externally visible changes.

The business end of the thermostat, the capillary tube, needs to be mounted against the fins on the cold-side radiator of the air conditioner. This is the part of the air conditioner that ices up, but if that’s where the thermostat is, setting it above 32°F will limit how much ice can form before the thermostat shuts it off.

Fooling Electronic Thermostats

coolbot walk-in refrigerator controller
CoolBot cooler controller converts window AC unit to refrigerator controller for retail or walk-in coolers.

If you want to do things the easy way, you can fool the electronic thermostat with a CoolBot controller.

We added one to our cooler when our original A/C unit died and we replaced it with a unit with an electronic thermostat. Without an easy one-to-one thermostat replacement, we decided to use a CoolBot controller.

CoolBot has a probe for the cooling fins to prevent icing, plus another one for the interior of the refrigerator, and their secret sauce: a tiny heated cable that you attach to the AC unit’s existing thermostat sensor. This fools the AC into thinking that the room is hot and the A/C needs to be on.

Since the A/C unit’s thermostat sensor is on the front of the fins, all you have to do is pop off the front grille: you don’t have to disassemble the unit.

Here’s one farmer’s walk-through of his installation in his walk-in cooler:

The Night Light Trick

Line-voltage thermostatic controller
Line-voltage thermostatic controller

If you warm up the temperature probe on the A/C unit, it turns on.

Instead of buying a CoolBot, the farmer in the video below used an external thermostat to turn on a night light, which warmed up the A/C unit’s temperature probe.

He used a heater thermostat and a reversing relay, but you can also use an inexpensive digital temperature controller for a simpler installation:

  • Mount the controller’s temperature probe against the A/C unit’s fins.
  • Plug the night light into the temperature controller.
  • Mount the A/C unit’s temperature probe near the night light.
  • Plug the temperature controller and the A/C unit into the wall.
  • Set the temperature controller to the desired temperature.

Other Tips

In general, a refrigerator is just a big insulated box, so you can saw holes in it wherever you want. However, there might be heater cables here and there to prevent the unit from freezing up, and wires to run fluorescent lights and such. These are usually in obvious places, but unplug the unit before using the saw! If you find any severed wires, you have the choice of not using the fancy-pants features like lights and defrosters, or opening up the junction box and disconnecting anything you broke.

Don’t bother removing the old refrigeration unit, fans, or anything else you’re not using. They’re not doing any harm.

The air conditioner will drip on the outside with water it’s condensed out of the cold air. Put a drip pan under it.

Brush or blow the crud out of the air conditioner once in a while.

How Well Does It Work?

My first A/C unit died suddenly after four years of continuous operation, which was about what I expected. The second A/C unit, with CoolBot, has been in place for eight years or so. (The original refrigeration unit broke every year and averaged $350 in repairs.)


The seals on the refrigerator doors aren’t what they used to be, and on a very hot day the air conditioner is on for hours at a time. Gotta fix that someday. But the same techniques (and the same air conditioners) can cool a walk-in cooler with tight-fitting doors.

Don’t Let the Chickens’ Water Freeze

Keeping the chickens’ water ice-free during the winter can be a struggle! Here are some easy ways to make it happen.

Galvanized Buckets for Winter Waterers

Galvanized pail for eggsThe classic technique for full-grown chickens is the old bucket switcheroo: when you go out to tend the chickens, you bring out a galvanized bucket of warm water, and leave it for them to drink from. When you leave, you take away the partly empty bucket you left for them last time, because if it’s not empty, it’s frozen. You bring the frozen bucket inside with you and leave it in a place where it will thaw a little, so the ice will slide out easily.

I think ten-quart galvanized buckets are the right size for this, though twelve-quart buckets are okay if that’s all you can find. I’ve had too many plastic buckets split when frozen, so I don’t use them anymore.

The Wooden Float Trick

float prevents ice
Bucket with wooden float

Here’s an idea hardly anyone has heard about: Make a wooden float for the top of the bucket. It’s just a wooden disc a little smaller than the bucket, with a few 1″ holes drilled in it.

The chickens drink through the holes, and the float delays the formation of ice for a long time.

Even better, the holes prevent the chickens from getting their combs and wattles wet when they drink.

Wet combs and wattles are the major cause of frostbite. Chickens can tolerate a surprising amount of cold if they stay dry. It’s wetness, more than cold, that leads to frostbite.

Insulating the bucket

The water will freeze much more slowly if you provide some kind of insulated sleeve for the bucket (not styrofoam: chickens love to eat styrofoam). Wrapping the bucket in aluminized bubble insulation, available at your hardware store or online, is good.

Electric Birdbath Deicers

Electric birdbath deicer
Birdbath with electric deicer

A more high-tech solution is to use electric heat. A lot of people use overhead heat lamps, in spite of the hideous expense this entails. ($65 per year if you leave a 250-watt bulb on for 90 days at the US average of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.) Let’s be more targeted!

I like Birdbath Heaters combined some kind of metal bucket or pan, such as a galvanized pet waterer. You can also add a wooden float and have the best of all worlds.

Automatic pet waterer
Automatic pet waterer

These thermostatically-controlled birdbath deicers use a lot less electricity (as low as 40 watts) and 100% of the heat goes to warming the water. I like galvanized and stainless steel pan waterers instead of teh plastic ones because mixing plastic and electric heaters makes me shudder. Sure, the heater has a thermostat, but I prefer not to trust such things fully. If you use a plastic waterer anyway, use a low-wattage heater. A 50-watt heater won’t do much damage.


In hot weather, chickens like cool water, and in cold weather, they like warm water. This is true, but in my mild climate, attempting to keep the chickens lukewarm (except during the brooding period) isn’t something I’d spend money on. But people in colder climates might find it worthwhile.

Heated Waterer Bases

Heated waterer base
Heated waterer base

You can also use heated waterer stands, which will work with a variety of waterers including the usual double-walled water founts. Me, I use automatic waterers when I can, and buckets when I can’t, but lots of people like galvanized founts.

Freeze-Proof Automatic Waterers

Here’s the rule of thumb: an automatic waterer will be freeze-proof if it has a metal valve. This includes:

  • The pet waterers I’ve covered already, which use a metal valve that’s operated by a plastic float.
  • Trough waterers using an identical float valve.
  • (My favorite) Little Giant automatic poultry founts.
Little Giant automatic poultry fount
Little Giant automatic poultry fount

When setting these up, avoid using plastic pipe. I use garden hose for everything but the Little Giant automatic poultry founts.

For the Little Giant automatic poultry fount, I use a length of ½” galvanized pipe, 18″ long or so, with a metal hose barb on the end and a length of ½” or less braided hose ending in a garden hose fitting. The length of galvanized pipe adds weight to help the waterer hang straight.

All these waterers can freeze solid without being harmed in any way.

Pipe Heating Cable

Pipe heating cable
Pipe heating cable

Most kinds of watering systems can be kept going through the use of pipe heating cable. In fact, that’s one of just two ways that I know of to keep plastic waterers going through a hard freeze. I’ll tell you the other one in a minute.

Plastic nipple and cup waterers have everything going for them except that they’re hard to keep going through a hard freeze. They’re made of plastic and are often screwed directly into PVC pipe. Bad things happen when such systems freeze.

If your electricity is reliable, or you have reliable backup power, you can just run pipe heating cable down the length of your watering system and all is well.

Water Circulation Loops

The other way to keep your system from freezing is to use a little water pump and create a water circulation loop, where you have, say, a plastic bucket with a birdbath heater in it, and a fountain pump that sends the water down a PVC pipe from one end of the chicken house to the other, with cup or nipple waterers along its length, and then a return pipe that heads back to the bucket. The combination of water motion and heat keeps the water from freezing. A float valve in the bucket keeps it topped off.

A friend of ours uses this simple system to freeze-proof the watering system in a rabbit house that’s over 100 feet long.

Non-Electrical Solutions

Some of these electrical methods have been used successfully with non-electrical heat sources. In the old days, kerosene lamps were the preferred heat source, though charcoal and hot rocks have their uses.

Electricity is extremely reliable and convenient, so off-grid solutions tend to be more troublesome. When electricity is unreliable or nonexistent, I recommend:

  • Use more insulation.
  • Bury feeder pipes below the frost line if possible.
  • Assume that your watering system will freeze solid from time to time, so use freeze-resistant components: metal pipe instead of PVC pipe, metal buckets instead of plastic buckets, metal waterers instead of plastic waterers.

More About Winter Care

Read Fresh-Air Poultry Houses.
Read Fresh-Air Poultry Houses.

I’ve republished Prince T. Woods’ classic Fresh-Air Poultry Houses, which has a lot to say about winter chicken care: especially about why you need to avoid tightly enclosed chicken houses, which adds the dampness that turns cold weather from an inconvenience into a frostbite-producing disaster. And it has a lot of insight into other aspects of chicken care as well. An oldie but a goodie.

15 Best Quotes from Ruth Stout’s Gardening Without Work

Ruth Stout, the lovably eccentric advocate of simple living and especially no-work gardening, sprinkles all her work with wise and funny observations. Here are my 15 favorite Ruth Stout quotes from her book, Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent:


Ruth Stout
Ruth Stout, author of Gardening Without Work.

“You can, of course, just promise yourself that you will reform and will do better next time, but broken vows, even those made exclusively to oneself, can be rather uncomfortable to live with.”

“If there’s anything more foolhardy than digging down under the surface of a compliment to try to decide whether or not it’s sincere, I don’t know what it is.”

“My guess is that if our homes weren’t quite so ‘pretty,’ our faces would, often, be more so; that is, pleasant and relaxed-looking.”

“From time to time we run across some new item someone has thought up to distinguish man from mere animals, and here is my contribution; animals kill other living creatures at their convenience, unhampered by any ideas about loving kindness or brotherhood, because they have no such thoughts. Men do have these lofty ideals but they also are unhampered by them.”

“I read somewhere that a shallow pan of beer put into a garden at night will do away with slugs. (Whether they are dead or just dead-drunk in the morning, I don’t know.) I wrote this to one inquirer and he answered: ‘I’m certainly not going to carry beer out to the garden for slugs. If they want beer they can come in the house and ask for it, like everybody else.'”

“In my early childhood I had some kind of vague yearning to Save the World from something or other; now all I ask is to save a small part of it from over-working in the effort to produce things that are good to eat or are lovely to see.”

“A dentist in Pennsylvania and a doctor in Oregon have both written me that they keep a copy of my garden book in their waiting rooms. Or at least try to; the dentist has had twenty-three copies stolen, the doctor, sixteen. I am not exactly boasting that my idea turns people into thieves, but I can scarcely help feeling flattered. It’s a fair sized job to write a book that people can be bothered just to read; when they begin to steal copies of one you’ve written you are really getting some place.”

“I have been told that garden clubs would stop asking me to give talks when they found out that I couldn’t seem to resist discussing growing vegetables. That hasn’t happened, although it’s true that almost without exception the clubs who have asked me to talk to them about my method are made up of people who are interested primarily in flowers. Since there’s no need to encourage them on that score, I just go ahead and talk about vegetables, and when they find out how little work there is to producing them with my system, many of them probably begin to grow them.”

“I have many things to do, some of which I am obliged to do in order to keep up my end in this business of daily living. But much that I do (this includes growing our vegetables) is done because I want to and enjoy it. I like to keep those two reasons for all my activities in a nice balance. If I deliberately and unnecessarily added a job here and there which I felt I must do, and particularly things which had to be done at certain times, I would soon begin to feel pushed and ordered around and hectic.”

“Some people simply have to know why, even if the answer is wrong.”

“Recently I heard that Amy Vanderbilt, the latest etiquette expert, says that, now that many women no longer have servants, one shouldn’t drop in on them without warning. In my ignorance I thought she meant that women shouldn’t be interrupted when they’re busy doing their housework, but it seems I’m wrong. I believe that she explains that a woman is now helpless, having no servant to tell the invaders she isn’t at home. This aspect of it has never affected me either way; I never did hire anyone to do my lying for me. When nothing else will serve, I’ve always handled my own.”

“The most fascinating subject in the world can become boring if harped on too constantly.”

“In a sense, scientists are like gadgets—sometimes they are dependable, sometimes they aren’t. But at least we know when a gadget isn’t working properly, while with a scientist we often can’t tell until, perhaps, it’s too late. So when can we believe them, trust them, follow their advice?”

“That’s the trouble with experts; if they were always wrong we could forget about them and relax, but every now and then they hit the nail right on the head.”

“If you have the soul of a gardener, not for anything would you work with gloves on.”

You’ve Read the Quotes, Now Get the Book!

More about Ruth Stout’s Gardening Without Work.

There’s plenty more where that came from, plus a delightfully simple and down-to-earth gardening method in Ruth’s Gardening Without Work.

Her no-till, no-work method uses a thick year-round mulch (straw, hay, leaves, chips, or whatever you can find) for both vegetables and flowers. The mulch eliminates the need for weeding, adds nutrients, and reduces water consumption. And, best of all, it’s simple.

She also talks about organic vs. chemical methods, how to lay out a garden, hints about growing and preparing vegetables, and much more.

I first read Gardening Without Work as a child, during my first gardening phase, and when I read it again as an adult, I was struck by how much of its life lessons I had retained across the years. Ruth always strives to make things simple, because life doesn’t have to be so hard!

So when I had the chance, I republished Gardening Without Work under my Norton Creek Press label, and it’s now available in paperback and Kindle forms.

Your Chickens in October [Newsletter]

Your Chickens in October

Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter, October 2016

News from the Farm

The farm year is winding down. Our last batch of broiler chicks in in the brooder house. Our pigs will be sent to be reincarnated as pork, bacon, and ham before the end of the month.

About those Pigs…

We have some pasture-raised pigs available. This year’s batch is going to be good-sized, with a half-pig yielding 100 pounds of wrapped freezer meat, give or take. Call it five paper shopping bags full. These pigs have been fed not only on custom-milled feed, but whole wheat, all our cracked and otherwise unsaleable free-range eggs, and bushels and bushels of carrot tops and other scraps from Gathering Together Farm’s market booth.

Pork is the ultimate luxury meat: bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops (mmm … pork chops). It’s a purchase you won’t regret, even if you need to buy a chest freezer while you’re at it. Everyone needs a chest freezer.

Tempted? Contact my wife Karen Black at, or drop by the Corvallis Wednesday or Saturday farmer’s market and talk it over.

In the end, you’ll write two checks: One to us and one to the custom butcher, Farmer’s Helper in Harrisburg, Oregon. We charge $4 per pound, hanging weight, and the Farmer’s Helper charges, um, quite a bit less (I don’t have the numbers in front of me). They’ll prepare your pork according to your instructions (thin/medium/thick bacon, whether the portions that end up ground become pork sausage or porkburger, whether you want pork chops or loin roast, etc.).

Electric Lights and Hens

Wondering about winter lighting for hens? Some people claim that putting lights on hens is like espresso, making them all jittery and hyperactive, and causing them to shoot out eggs like a machine gun, deflating the poor hens like a balloon and causing them to die before their time.

That would certainly be something to see! But it doesn’t work that way. The effect of lights on hens is far more boring and subtle than that. What actually happens is that hens given a reasonable day length (12-16 hours) in the winter lay more eggs in the winter and fewer in the spring, with a slight increase in the total production. (In one test, the difference between hens given 24-hour daylight and those kept in 24-hour gloom was only 15%. Under more realistic conditions, the difference is less.)

Anyway, the short form of traditional hen lighting (with a couple of modern wrinkes) goes like this:

  • Use a day length of 14 hours, such as 6 AM to 8 PM.
    • In my latitude, doing this without wasting too much electricity can be done using a plug-in timer set to turn the lights on at 6 AM, off at 9 AM, on at 4 PM, off at 8 PM.
    • An “on at dusk/off at dawn” sensor is also good for turning the lights off during the day.
  • Use outdoor-rated extension cords.
    • Don’t mess with batteries or solar panels, which are expensive and labor-intensive.
    • Use electrical tape to wrap the connections between two extension cords, lamp plugs, or three-way outlets to keep them clean.
    • Elevate connections above the ground. We’re using step-in fence posts for this.
  • Outdoor-rated LED bulbs are best.
    • Many LED bulbs are outdoor-rated (“suitable for damp locations”), but check the packaging.
    • You can use a 25-watt-equivalent bulb for a 64-square-foot house, but a 40-watt-equivalent bulb is okay, too, and easier to find.
    • Compact fluorescent bulbs are fragile and don’t like to start in cold weather; incandescent bulbs use a lot of power.
    • Reflectors are not necessary. “Daylight” bulbs don’t help, and may work less well than normal LED bulbs.

Chickens and the Third World

girl feeding chickensFrom time to time I see a proposal about scientific chicken raising in the Third World, with emphasis on small flocks. Now, you can probably guess what the traditional top three barriers to success are for poor people who want to raise chickens:

  • Malnutrition or starvation of the chickens,especially baby chicks.
  • Predators.
  • Thieves.

For some reason, lofty statements are being made (including by Bill Gates, of all people) that claim that the biggest problems as:

  • Lack of vaccinations.
  • Lack of improved breeds.

Note the total lack of overlap! Starving chickens and chickens carried off by predators and chicken thieves don’t need vaccination or a pedigree: they need feed and protection.

You can see the more practical approach in the FAQ publication, Utilisation of Poultry Feed Resources by Smallholders in the Villages of Developing Countries. This contains a lot of useful information, with the key passage being:

Disease is not commonly associated with the high mortality, the steady rate of attrition being unlike that of an infectious or parasitic disease. The primary cause is starvation (Prawirokusomo, 1988; Ologhoho, 1992; Roberts & Senaratne, 1992), the chicks and growers which die tending to have lower growth rates than the average for their brood (Wickramaratne et al, 1993). The growth rates of survivors to 70 days ranged from 2 to 7 g/day with a mean of 4.4 (Gunaratne et al., 1993). Chicks and growers which die, also tend to be those with lighter feather colors, that is, those which are more conspicuous (Wickramaratne et al. 1993). Predation is the ultimate fate of most chicks and growers (Branckaert, 1992; Roberts & Senaratne, 1992; Gunaratne et al. 1993; Wickramaratne et al., 1994). Presumably anything which weakens a chick, such as inadequate nutrition, infection or parasites, increases the likelihood of it being taken by a predator.

And it offered a very simple means of reducing mortality: creep feeders for baby chicks (a creep feeder is often used for sheep and calves, who can creep under the bottom rail of a fence an reach a feeder that the adult animals can’t reach. The same idea works for baby chicks: give them the high-grade feedstuffs they need only in tiny quantities, while preventing the bigger chickens from gobbling it down instead).

Placing household refuse in a creep feeder for chicks in villages, for a short period, twice a day, increased the survival rate; but did not improve the growth rate. Supplementing the household refuse with protein improved both survival rate and growth rate (Roberts et al., 1994).

It’s sad that simple, appropriate, well-researched techniques are so often ignored.

Publishing News

Win a Free Copy of Fresh-Air Poultry Houses!

Why should you have an open-air coop this winter, instead of a tightly enclosed one? Find out by buying (or perhaps by winning) a copy of Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Prince T. Woods, M.D. This is the best book I’ve been able to find on the subject, covering fresh-air coops and many other topics. It’s an older book, from 1924, but it’s chock-full of good ideas that you won’t find anywhere else.

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 may the odds be ever in your favor.

October Poultry Notes

Is that a chill in the air?

Traditionally, October is a month where pullets are just about to lay, and are moved from pasture (where they had been raised) and into winter quarters that are much closer to the farmhouse, and thus more convenient for winter access.

Because many of the old hens were still around, there tended to be more chickens than there were room for in the winter houses. The usual technique was to cull all the early-molting hens, but to keep the rest for another year. About half of the old hens would be sent to market this way, sold as stewing hens. The winter flock would thus be about one-third old hens and two-thirds young pullets.

With modern hybrid layers, the flocks are much more uniform, and most of the flock will molt at once. Only a few percent will molt early. So the idea that you can sort the flock into 50% winners and 50% losers doesn’t work very well anymore. They’re mostly winners.

October is the start of a big shift in what your chickens need from you. It only takes a few months of warm weather to make you blind to the needs of approaching winter, so this month’s checklist is particularly  important–especially if you follow it!

October To-Do List

  • House pullets (if raised on range).
  • Do not overcrowd!
  • Repair doors, windows, cracks, roofs, watering systems, lighting systems.
  • Freeze-proof your watering system.
  • Replace litter. (If using the deep-litter method, replace enough of it that the house won’t be filled to the rafters by spring.)
  • Make a final culling of early molters (next month, pretty much the whole flock will molt)
  • Cull any poor pullets. (“One strike and you’re out” is a good rule unless your birds are pets.)
  • Remove damp or dirty litter on an ongoing basis.
  • Use lights on layers. (14 hours of light a day between September 1 and April 1, bright enough to read a newspaper at floor level, is
    traditional. Incandescent bulbs are much more trouble-free than compact fluorescents, but LED bulbs are best. Don’t use “indoor-only” compact fluorescents in a chicken coop).
  • Get equipment put away, under cover. Don’t forget the lawn mower!
  • Stake down range houses so they won’t blow away during storms. (I mean it. Do it  now.)
  • Summer houses such as tarp-covered hoophouses should have their tarps removed so they won’t collapse under snow loads.
  • Flag pasture obstacles and equipment with something tall so you won’t blunder into it in the spring, when grass is as high as
    an elephant’s eye. I have accidentally mowed feeders, nest boxes, faucets, sheet metal, and plenty of other things that got lost in the weeds. Empty bleach bottles or coffee cans
    stuck on the tops of T-posts are traditional ways of marking hazards.

List inspiredby 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. Genetics of the Fowl by F. B. Hutt.
  3. Plotto by William Wallace Cook.
  4. Success With Baby Chicks by Robert Plamondon.
  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

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: