Getting started WRONG with chickens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Davaroo, Jun 7, 2008.

  1. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    5,518
    72
    308
    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    I have been reading the auto-biopic, "Egg Farming in California - A Poultry Book," by Charles Weeks. Written in 1922, this book details all the mistakes, and success, Mr Weeks made for himself while pioneerig what we would now call the Permaculture or Confined Range method of chicken rearing.
    His observations while often prosaic, are certainly of interest to we chicken raisers of today. Following is an excerpt on setting up inte poultry business...

    "Had I only known just how to choose a location for a poultry ranch at the start, I could have saved more than five years experimenting. I chose ten acres near the foothills, six miles out of Palo Alto. It was a beautiful residence section and fine orchard land for prunes and apricots; but what a mistake I made in this selection as a poultry ranch!

    - In the first place, I could not get water for irrigation without spending a small fortune, and the cost of lifting this water was too much.
    - In the second place, while the soil was good for trees, it was worthless for vegetation crops.
    (forage plants - David)
    - In the third place, I bought about ten times as much land as I could thoroughly work.

    These three mistakes have caused the failure of more poultry men than any other cause.

    I did not then know that if I had chosen a spot lower down nearer the bay that I could have had an abundance of irrigating water and a more fertile soil. I did not then know that I must have these two things in California, indeed anywhere, to make hens pay. So I bought ten acres in the wrong place for poultry, as many another had done.

    Of course, the land was cheap. But some land is more dear than a gift for poultry raising. The old theory that any cheap land will do for the poultry business is a patent fallacy. I could not make hens pay on this cheap, infertile un-irrigated land. The proof of this is that I have, in after years, made hens pay handsomely on better land costing far more.

    I went to work on this bare ten acres of land, $1000 in debt and with only $875 cash to develop improvements. Out of these funds I must have incubators, brooder house, a place in which to live and a well for water.

    Step by step in this story I want to tell of all the mistakes I made, as well as of the good things learned through experience. There is no use in any reader making the same mistakes that I made. Also, you can freely appropriate all the truths discovered through my years of experimenting. If you can begin where I leave off, then you have gained so much time.

    ===============================================================

    My first building was designed as a brooder house with a sort of flat above in which to live. In one of these five rooms above I built a 1200-egg incubator after the Cyphers plan.

    This was mistake number one in brooder house construction. In California, brooder house roofs should be low and receive the direct rays of the sun. Then I cemented the whole floor, which was mistake number two. Cement floors are too cold and expensive for any kind of poultry house.
    Then a heater system of pipes ran through the middle of the large room, and these pipes were encased in a cement sill over which hover boards projected on either side. The chicks ran under these hovers and could warm themselves against this cement sill - that was theory, at least.

    In previous experiences I had trouble in chicks crowding to the back side of the brooder and thought by making this cement sill hot enough I could roast them out of the corners.

    Perhaps this was one of the most foolish brooder heaters ever installed. Cement is a poor conductor of heat and the oil consumed in trying to heat all this bulk of cement was extravagant.

    ===============================================================

    It was a crucial moment when I found that I had spent the $875 cash and was down to my last dollar. My future wife was due to arrive March 10th and I was broke. I was a stranger in a strange land, in a very uncomfortable condition. I explained my predicament to the man from whom I had purchased the land and begged a loan of $25 to carry me over the wedding day until I could get work.
    To make the story short, I got the $25, married the girl and went to work. It is needless to go into detail, telling the many kinds of work I had to do to make ends meet. I thought I never would get that $25 paid back, and I think the man became uneasy himself for it.

    Mine was the common story of many who buy too much land and have too little capital left to work with. I did not then know that it was possible to make a better living with less work on one acre than I was doing on ten."
     
  2. NurseNettie

    NurseNettie Chillin' With My Peeps

    926
    0
    149
    Feb 13, 2008
    Northern Maine
    Where did you find such a book and what made you decide to read it? I'll have to see if I can find this-- I enjoy the "learning" aspect of everything I try to do ( ie now-- having just bought a house with some land and trying to live more self sufficient by raising animals and gardening) , but I also love older books with a historical side to it. This one sounds really cool!
     
  3. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    103
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Yes, it is always amusing, and sometimes slightly depressing, to discover that the wheel has been independantly reinvented many times over, and will probably continue to be, every generation [​IMG]

    That reminds me, in an indirect way, that I want to try to get The Egg and I through interlibrary loan sometime. I vaguely remember reading it when I was probably about 12, and then totally forgetting about it (I come from a very NON chicken background [​IMG]) until recently. Now I am curious again.


    Pat
     
  4. d.k

    d.k red-headed stepchild

    * I got a 1933 Purina poultry handbook from a great used book store nearby. In it they spend a lot of time promoting "Ingredient X " in their 'new' feed. I THINK IT WAS SOY! I'm the only one in town asking for chicken-keeping books, lol!!!
     
  5. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    5,518
    72
    308
    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    I'm something of a 'poultry crank' and read a lot of these old books. As has been noted, we have forgotten and re-discovered many times over the poultry business.

    I read the newer ones, too, and have a selection of them. It is always interesting to me how WE think it's all so revolutionary, that our formulas and practices are "cutting edge." We pat ourselves on the back and make much of being such clever, modern people.

    The plain truth is we tend to overcomplicate the matter. Chickens are simple creatures to do well with, if you follow the proper path. Fortunately, the path to doing well with chickens need not be forged blindly, but merely learned from those who have already done it.
    Again, here is Mr. Weeks on that score -

    "Step by step in this story I want to tell of all the mistakes I made, as well as of the good things learned through experience. There is no use in any reader making the same mistakes that I made. Also, you can freely appropriate all the truths discovered through my years of experimenting. If you can begin where I leave off, then you have gained so much time."

    Men were doing well with the chicken long before we came along with abundant electricity, New Age treatments, and all the trappings we call "new and improved." Simply learning about these things will build confidence, help you to relax and free you to do things in a simpler, often more effective, way.

    Mr Weeks' book was obtained free online from USC Berkeley, I believe, as a .pdf file. You can download it yourself. I dont recall the addy, but you can google it as I did.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2008
  6. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    103
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:I entirely agree.

    However I'd like to point out that "if you follow the proper path" is pretty key, here -- there are any number of innocent and reasonable-sounding mistakes that can put a big dent in your success with chickens, such as building an unventilated coop, having too little space available, losing most of your free-range chickens to predators, letting half-grown chickens freeze to death on a cold night, or engaging in practices that court massive disease problems.

    I think most people DO in fact learn at least a fair bit of what they're doing from "those who've already done it".

    But the difficulty is sorting out those who've already done it WELL versus those who've already done it in a suboptimal or risky-but-they-got-lucky way. Lots of people can provide inspiring and convincing-sounding rationales for what they do. "Simple but correct" is generally only obvious in retrospect. So I think that a very high percentage of what you're calling "overcomplicating the matter" is just people trying to sort out good ideas from bad, with less than 100% complete success. What do you expect though [​IMG]

    Pat
     
  7. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    5,518
    72
    308
    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    No doubt; you have to do the right things. You are dead right about that. Launching in without a clue is possibly the worst way to go at anything. Many, many things go around as "wisdom" that are patently a waste of time and/or money. Not knowing what is useful is a problem, for sure.

    Thats what I did, I jumped in with both feet. I found that it wasn't all that hard, really, if I just used common sense. Chickens are nearly self-regulating if you give them a chance. We tend to get in their business in every sort of way and/or try to mold them to our own manners.
    We might get better service from them by giving them the space they need, providing for their very basic needs and leaving them alone for the most part.

    It took me a while to figure that out - if I made a mistake, little was harmed. Oh, there were a few things I wish Id've known beforehand, that's for sure. I didn't know about BYC, or any of these "old school" sources back then. I really did go it alone at first.
    Yet, focusing on the basics, "The Five Rules of Chickens" as it were, took care of the lions share of the chicken raising I had to do. That is the greatest lesson I took away from those beginning times.

    That's why I resurrect things like Mr. Weeks book today. Or the work of M.G. Kains, Harold Botsford or the many Golden Age poultry men. These guys had it down to simple before we ever came along. Their works are not only full of lessons learned which we can benefit from, but they're free (or low cost) and readily available. Knowing that it's all been done before, done well in the bargain and available is a real boon.
    All that's needed is a little research. That's a small price to pay in my esteem and why I am such an advocate of the "old ways."

    "The problem with experience as a teacher is you get the test - before you've had the lesson."
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2008
  8. skeeter9

    skeeter9 Chillin' With My Peeps

    That's interesting stuff, Elderoo!!! Now that my curiosity is piqued, I'll have to check out that book!!

    Lori
     
  9. SusanJoM

    SusanJoM Chillin' With My Peeps

    Hey, David, where did you find the book?

    My library (Sonoma County, CA -- only an hour and a half drive from Weeks' stomping grounds in Palo Alto) doesn't seem to have it, and a Google search didn't turn up much, either.

    Susan
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by