The Best Backyard Chicken Book

This is the best ‘chicken fancier’ book I’ve ever read. Harvey has written a book that reads like a life’s work. He hasn’t held anything back for a sequel, he hasn’t added fluff to stretch the content. Decades of experience come pouring out as he offers his experiments, failures and lucky discoveries. Even though Harvey gives detailed step-by-step instructions and photos on how to properly cull a chicken, he has a deep appreciation of his ‘choks’ and relays stories like a proud pet owner.

One of my favorite stories is when he talks about “Hope, Supermama Extraordinaire” p.267. I had never heard that hens were willing to be a ‘foster parent’. Harvey shows a kind-hearted practicality when he points out that broody hens may be just as valuable if not more if they are excellent mothers. By holding onto these matriarchs of the yard, we greatly reduce the amount of work involved in bringing home a box of baby chicks from the store. Having an actual mother there with them also increases their chances of survival…there is a reason ‘Mama Hen’ is a cliche. It is not advised to take bought baby chicks outside for even short playtimes until weeks down the road when they have some feathers, but chicks with a mom will be outside on the first or second day. A mother hen has a body temperature of over 100 degrees, so baby chicks can run out and explore and then back to mom to warm up. Besides keeping them alive, a mama hen is also teaching them valuable adult chicken skills like foraging on the expert level…not just OCD scratching at the ground.

My other favorite quip from the book concerns the unusual devotion of Old English Game cocks ( roosters) p.275. They display ‘Family Man’ tendencies more likely to show up in geese. His affection for the Old English Game breed is a recurring theme, but he is a practical man who realizes that most of us start our flocks at the local farm store. You can’t even get Old English Game fowl from most hatcheries, besides the expense of rare and exotic breeds. It is a delight to see all the different breeds in his book, but the big value he brings that area is his perspective of why you might want one breed over another. He explains what you should consider based on your needs, he doesn’t just tell you what to do.

Harvey’s property sports many different types of coops as he experiments and rotates his choks around to nourish the soil. I find myself drawn to his “Chicken Hilton” which is the rich benefactor of careful design, attention to detail and restrained use of color to show a splash ofstyle. The other structures in the book are not as much a delight to the eye, but he does include several photos of other options complete with building instructions. If you pull one of these out you will appreciate his practicality again because he has reduced the number of cuts and waste while standardizing the proportions to make it as easy as possible to build a innovative structure.

Harvey doesn’t just keep chickens. He includes information about turkeys, ducks and geese for the more advanced “Flockster” who wants to branch out. Having raised geese as a child, I don’t have any intention of dealing with water fowl again. It is a small portion of the book, mostly there to show how you can intermingle your flock…which is against the grain of most chicken keeping books. If we were to move to a homestead with numerous low-quality ponds I might change my mind and pull the book out to figure out how to make it work. Probably won’t find that content (intermingling) in any other book.

Saved the best for last! Harvey spends a great amount of time talking about how to raise your flock self-sufficiently. Can I take a break here and recommend that if you get the book to get a paper version, not a Kindle? If you are unable to get an Internet connection or your phone’s battery is dead and you need to harvest a rooster are you going to just guess? It doesn’t have to be this book, but this book is excellent in every regard.

Have you ever idealized the dream of a flock being somewhat self-sufficient in feeding? Harvey’s grandmother allowed her layers to roam her entire 100-acre farm and they foraged for nearly all their own food. I won’t be doing that, but that idea of ‘closing the loop’ is a big motivator for wanting chickens. My in-sink food disposal never gets used anymore. I grab every carrot peel, apple core (pop out the arsenic seeds), crushed egg shell and leftover glob of oatmeal. They all go to the coop as ‘chicken snacks’. My feed bill is less than $6/month but Harvey could take it to $0 even if I had a bigger flock. I’m inspired.

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Protecting Hens From Hawks With (Some) Style

This is the system we now use to keep the hens safe. I hope to find something even more pleasing to the eye, but this is a big upgrade. I bought the most attractive budget greenhouse that I believe could hold up to the Northern snows we get, set up just the FRAME, and spread bird netting over it. As the winter really sets in and the wind gets brutal the plan is to put the green house cover on and provide our hens a nice sunny play area…but best laid plans sometimes collapse. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve been obsessed with greenhouses for decades and own several portable versions in my basement that have never been out of the box (don’t tell my long-suffering hubby). I finally came across some designs that are scalable, portable and can stand up to the harsh winds and heavy snows we get here. I bought the building tools to make my own, but with a broken leg and approaching winter I had to compromise quickly for something that was a full kit complete with plastic cover and light enough I could move by myself. I was lucky to find a smaller and lighter version that kept the basic design that I have fallen in love with.

I made a change to the kit that was an important element of the more robust design I hope to build in the future….putting the “Ridge Board” (the long bar that goes along the roof peak) on TOP of the sidewall/rafters instead of under them. The idea is to give that extra little lift to the plastic so the snow will slide off. Again, I’ll let you know how that pans out this winter. This also gives an instant boost to the look of the frame. Instead of the ‘fast food sunroom’ look, it nudges the appearance a tiny bit closer to ‘Victorian Arch’.

This isn’t the first incarnation of this idea though. I had no idea I would even have to worry about this. When we moved the chickens from the garage to back yard they were fully feathered but still rather small and skittish. They were afraid of their own shadow the first day and wouldn’t come out of the coop to enjoy the yard unless a human stood out there with them. It was quite endearing. After two days of the young chickens being in the backyard we started hearing a hawk nearby. Even without a mother hen to teach them, the chickens instinctively went silent and scampered inside the coop. I quickly ordered some hawk netting and just spread it over the coop and tacked down the edges.

Just throwing the net over everything worked, but it was really hard to navigate. The kids found it to be a huge hassle to wrestle when they wanted to get eggs or hang out with the chickens. Then I built this ugly thing in my backyard. It’s an eyesore, but I’m not ashamed because I was just desperately trying to find something to keep them safe. You can see how much excess netting I have gathered at the edges of the play area. I wanted to figure out what would work for us and then make/get a good looking version later.

We like to be able to move the structure around so the scratching hens don’t kill hubby’s grass…but I really don’t know if that’s avoidable. With the little chunnel (chicken tunnel) made of chicken wire we are able to get the chicken yard away from the coop so netting isn’t catching on everything. That was a pain in the neck before, and didn’t allow me to move the chicken yard very far from the coop so that chickens could get fresh grass.

The chunnel was crazy easy too…just chicken wire stapled to the coop door and the greenhouse stakes that came with my greenhouse kit holding the edges down. I’m going to test all this out this winter. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I think there could be an even more attractive option out there. But if I have to choose between something looking good and something working right, I will always choose what works right and spray paint it black!

Just a note if you want to get some netting….I found choosing very confusing. There is a wide range of quality out there. You can pick up some ultra cheap ‘garden netting’ that might get you through a year depending on what kind of weather and predators you face, by the time you get just two of these small nets, you could have purchased much larger and more robust’ bird netting‘. The ‘hawk netting’ I originally purchased is much heavier than the ‘bird netting’ I’m now using in the subdivision. It was much more expensive than the ‘bird netting’ or ‘garden netting’ and should last many, many years. The bird netting I’m using already has several holes torn in it but mostly disappears from sight to create a more pleasing view. I like both and will continue to use the hawk netting out at the farm and the bird netting here in the suburbs. The Hawk Netting I bought is back in stock at the time of this writing and you can get that version here. Each opening is knotted…it’s kind of impressively heavy because it is 50’x 50′. Way bigger than what I really need here in the Suburbs, but should be perfect at the farm. There is a poultry farm seller selling a more expensive version than I got, but it looks exactly like the quality that I purchased. The much lighter weight Bird Netting I bought for this winter is not available from the same seller, but you can get what appears to be the same thing here . At 10M x 10M (about 30 feet by 30 feet) it is still a little more than I need, but maybe I’ll be glad for the extra bit later on. It calls itself heavyweight which is hilarious compared to the Hawk net which shows huge knots tied at each connection point. Holes have formed where the net caught on the greenhouse frame or where it was kicked by a snow boot at below freezing temperatures. By the way, neither of these will stop a racoon or opossum, this is just for discouraging a hawk.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Pretty Egg Apron

My daughter bought me the cutest ‘egg apron‘ for Mother’s Day and I’d like to pontificate about it. The first and most important element of this apron was that my daughter bought it to show support of my hobby/interests. She is the best gift-giver in the family; observant of others, willing to spend much more than a typical 14-year-old would want to part with, she doesn’t project her taste on others and she really spends a lot of time thinking through gifts. I love that she got me the apron…it fits right into the way I idealize how things will be.

It’s a cute and sweet idea. It’s not easy finding a gift for a homesteader or hobby farmer. Our interests are hard to understand and our teenagers can be embarrassed by anything mom does. She not only showed me support but she idealized how things would go just like I do!

However, wearing the apron out to the coop would violate the whole issue of keeping the chicken stuff separate from the living area and kitchen. The other problem with trying to use the apron the way it’s portrayed is the logistics of my suburban home. We will only keep the chickens here in the winter, but look at what I have to do all winter to get to them.

Each afternoon I climb over this retaining wall, stand on the arm of this chair and then walk down this sloping lawn to the coop. I’m 90% recovered from my broken leg, but this still makes me nervous.

This winter when there is snow and ice I will go down through the basement, but that has it’s own logistical issues. The first time using the egg apron I forgot what I was doing and tried to come back over that wall with 4 eggs. I caught myself at the last moment and only ended up with one crack in an egg. I also have forgotten while in the kitchen and leaned against the front of the sink, no cracks that time.

Is it a terrible idea? No, it serves a big role when the eggs get dirty either because one hen lays her egg on the ground or because it’s rained and the hens jump into the nesting box with muddy feet. I don’t want my husband or boys seeing the eggs like that because they would probably refuse to eat all eggs. Forever. So, when I come in from the coop I change my shoes in the garage and go into the laundry room to wash my hands. While I’m doing that I put the egg basket under the spout and let them get wet while I put on my egg apron.

Now I can wash off all the offensive mud or other ‘chicken gifts’ and slip each into a pocket to dry while I do the next. When I’ve got all the eggs in their little pockets I saunter into the kitchen and start putting them into a carton. I try to make sure my daughter sees me…she enjoys encouragement as much as I do.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.