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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