BLODGETT — When describing her life as a poultry farmer, Karen Black of Norton Creek Farm likes to say, “I went from clean rooms to the open fields.”
In 1995, Karen, her husband Robert Plamondon and two young sons moved from a life in San Jose, California, working for Advanced Micro Devices, to the gravel roads and green pastures of Blodgett.
Both Karen and Robert had attended Oregon State University. Robert graduated with an engineering degree in 1982, and Karen got her degree in physics in 1983, so they were familiar with the Coast Range. They were looking for a rural environment where no development was imminent.
They weren’t sure exactly what they would do with their newly acquired 37 acres. At first they boarded pack goats, but after purchasing $7 worth of chickens from the OSU poultry barn, they had another idea:
The chickens were producing way more eggs than the family could consume, so they started selling them at the Corvallis Farmers Market in 1996. With the guidance of small farming gurus such as Joel Salatin and experts at OSU, they learned as much as they could about the poultry business and started expanding.
Karen soon quit her engineering job in Eugene to devote all of her time to the farm. Robert continued to work for an engineering firm in the Bay Area, but now he telecommutes most of the time.
Eighteen years later, the family has a successful business raising meat poultry and eggs. About 450 laying chickens, two dozen ducks and a gaggle of geese roam around the huge pasture near their home, pecking at the ground, searching for tasty insects and seeds.
The couple has used their engineering skills to design ingenious chicken houses on skids, so that they easily can be moved around the yard. Inside, chickens roost in what look like drawers that easily pull out for cleaning. Not only do these elements make maintenance more efficient, but they help to prevent disease.
“The idea is to reduce the amount of hand work, so that farming is more economical,” Karen said.
Fortunately, Norton Creek Farm has seen the predation that other small farms in the area have. The pasture is surrounded by electric fence which dissuades most ground animals. Plentiful crows chase away hawks, but their love for eggs can also be a curse, Karen reports.
In the middle of summer, egg production reaches its peak of about 20 dozen a day and decreases to about 12 to 15 dozen in the winter. She collects eggs twice a day.
On the upper pasture, little Quonset hut-like structures house the broiler chickens and turkeys raised for Thanksgiving. Each hut houses one Tom and four to five hens, so that they have plenty of room.
Once again, engineering skills have been useful; the couple devised a self-watering system for the huts and a remarkably simple system to enable the diminutive Karen to move the huts, lock, stock and barrel. She does this daily to allow the birds to peck at new grass and to reduce the possibility of disease.
Karen figures they sell 800 to 850 broilers a year at the Wednesday and Saturday Markets in Corvallis.
This is the time of year they are fattening up their 20 young turkeys to fill orders for Thanksgiving.