New Book: The Chicken Encyclopedia by Gail Damerow

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Review of Gail Damerow's new book The Chicken Encyclopedia: An Illustrated Reference

Reading Gail Damerow’s new book The Chicken Encyclopedia: An Illustrated Reference I was sent back to the time when my family and I were first looking into keeping backyard chickens. We’d found a handful of very helpful books on the subject. But something about the format of your standard chapter-by-chapter book left us feeling overwhelmed — like we had to understand the whole book, or we wouldn’t be prepared to get started.

The Chicken Encyclopedia is different. This isn’t your typical “how to keep chickens” book. It’s, well, an encyclopedia. Not in the multi-volume World Book sense, but it goes well beyond a dictionary, covering a wide range of topics at a nice level of detail.

I know this isn’t the best metaphor, but by chopping up the subject of chickens into “nuggets,” Damerow has made it that much more digestible. You can sample what you need to know now and, as your appetite for knowledge grows, come back later for seconds. Mmmm.

Actually, rather than dabbling around, I found myself reading the book straight through. The illustrations pull you in, as do the entry titles themselves. Bleaching sequence? Gait scoring? Food running? I never knew how much I never knew. And if I did know it, I often didn’t know it had a name. Just hope you don’t run into me at a cocktail party anytime soon.

Sample Entry: “Chicken Coop”

Naturally, as a designer of chicken coops, I jumped right to Damerow’s entry for the term “chicken coop”:

chicken coop\ A shelter that houses chickens, which may be in the form of a shed, an ark, a hutch, a chicken tractor, or any number of other variations. An ideal chicken coop has these features:

  • Provides adequate space for the number of chickens
  • Is well ventilated
  • Is free of drafts
  • Maintains a comfortable temperature year-round
  • Protects the chickens from wind and sun
  • Keeps out rodents, wild birds, and predatory animals
  • Offers plenty of light during the day
  • Has adequate roosting space for the number of birds
  • Includes clean nests for the hens to lay eggs
  • Has a sufficient number of sanitary feed and water stations
  • Is easy to clean
  • Provides access to the outdoors during the day
  • Is located where drainage is good

[Also called: henhouse]

This is right on, of course. And it points out how much there is to consider when buying or building your own backyard coop. The process doesn’t have to be hard, but for the best experience it should involve more than just cutting a hole in the side of a shed or throwing some chicken wire over an old swing set.

And while it’s not central to the definition, there’s one thing I would add to her list of ideal coop attributes, especially if you’re keeping chickens in an sub-/urban setting: It has to be nice to look at. You can certainly get by otherwise, but you and your nearest neighbors will be happier if you build something that’s worth admiring.

Join along on The Chicken Encyclopedia Blog Tour

If you’re new to Coop Thoughts, welcome! Click around a bit. If you’re new to this blog tour, check out the other sites that are participating:

CONTEST: Win a copy of The Chicken Encyclopedia

UPDATE (4/2/12): This contest is now over. Congratulations to Amberthyme, and thanks to everyone who participated by submitting a comment!

To celebrate the release of The Chicken Encyclopedia, Storey Publishing is giving a free book to one lucky Coop Thoughts reader. (Actually, every blog on the tour is doing the same, so enter there too!)

To enter: Leave a comment on this post about how you learned what you needed to know to get started keeping chickens. Grew up on a farm? Read a certain book? Went to a workshop? Learned from friends or neighbors? I know you’ve also learned a lot along the way, but what people or resources got you to where you were comfortable getting started?

This contest is open through March 31, 2012. Leave your email address with your comment (but not in your comment), so I can contact you if you win. One entry per person. Winner must be a U.S. resident. I’ll select a winner at random in early April and announce them here. Good luck!

Finally, subscribe to Coop Thoughts. You’ll get notice of the latest posts — on practical topics like external nest boxesnipple waterers, and grazing frames — as they happen. It’s free, ad-free, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to add your name to the list. You can also follow The Garden Coop on either Facebook or Google+. Thanks!

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45 Responses to “New Book: The Chicken Encyclopedia by Gail Damerow”

  1. Robert Givens says:

    Gail Damerow was featured in the magazine from Tractor Supply Co., Out Here. A set of chicken brooders were shown, but no information about where to get a set of plans to build a similar brooder. Do you have any idea what book those brooder plans might be in? Thank you. -Bob

    • I don’t know, Bob. I checked in the Chicken Encyclopedia, but only there’s only a simple illustration of a cardboard box brooder. Maybe another reader has your answer. Anyone?

  2. D says:

    We are moving to a KY farm and one of the things I look forward to is raising my own chickens! I could use a little or a lot of info on the subject.

  3. Well, the short answer is that I HAVEN’T learned everything I need to know about raising chickens! I just recently moved out of the city and have a decent sized yard for the first time in decades, and am looking to learn as much as a can before taking the plunge (well, that and making friendly with the new neighbors before I spring chickens on them…)

  4. Shelley says:

    I have only recently moved out of the urban landscape into the rural. I initially wanted goats, but thought it might be prudent to start small with some pet chickens. That turned out to be a wonderful decision that I haven’t regretted one moment! We have five acres and nine pampered chickens (and only recently eight ducklings, but that’s another story…) who continue to amuse us with their personalities and daily antics. Their delicious eggs are a wonderful bonus which we appreciate so very much.

    I turned to our local library for books on poultry raising when I first got the idea of getting chickens. I also looked online at various resources since the opportunities there were endless. I must say that I feel like I benefited most from personal blogs about caring for poultry – they were immediate and very helpful.

  5. Melody says:

    Learning from others. Homesteading class/workshop. I can’t wait to have my own chickens soon.

  6. I got started with chickens with my youngest daughter after doing much website research. There is plenty of great information out there. Then we went to places that have chickens and asked questions. We purchased our chickens and supplies at Burns Feed in Gresham OR. We ordered online the chicken bucket waterer. It’s been a thrill ever since.

  7. Paula DeTemple says:

    We are getting our very first chicks on Tuesday!! :) I have been searching the internet and reading blogs (especially on backyardchickens.com) like crazy, trying to learn all I can before the day-old chicks arrive. Here they come!… brooder box, check… chick crumble, check… waterer, check… low dust pine bedding, check… I have found “Free-Range Chicken Gardens” by Jessi Bloom, “The Joy of Keeping Chickens” by Jennifer Megyesi, and Hobby Farms’ “Chickens” magazine to be extremely helpful! Can’t wait to start our chicken adventure!!!

  8. Lisa Cox says:

    I did all my research online before getting my first chickens. I joined all kinds of chicken message boards, read the posts, got the coop and pen all set up, then ordered eggs and hatched them myself. What an experience!

  9. Sunday says:

    i’m still learning all the time but i got started with two of Gail’s books and a hobby magazine. i quickly expanded to other books, blogs, and websites. it’s amazing how long you can have chickens and still learn something new about them :)

  10. I just jumped in with both feet and bought six laying hens from a commercial egg farm. They thought I was going to eat them, but instead we made them a nice little coop and garden area where they lived long happy lives. Since then we’ve expanded to other breeds, but I’ll always credit those first white leghorns for my education.

    Love your blog. I’ve already added you to my Reader.

  11. Ginger says:

    I had chickens when I was a kid, but they kept ending up on the dinner table and I kept going to bed hungry because I knew the name of whoever was on the table. Those were fully free ranged birds, so I learned little more than to scatter feed on occasion and cary them around… Many years later, I became interested in learning about backyard hens, as I now live in an urban area. I read every good book I could get my hands on and wore the computer out researching responsible chick/chicken care, but then I had to good fortune to find a guy named Mike Williams, who grew up with chickens and currently keeps them to provide eggs for himself, his wife and kids. He’s a fine carpenter, so I hired him to build me a coop, and build he did. It’s cedar with cedar shake roof, trellis on the side for morning glories, window box, great predator proof run, and entirely charming in every respect… We talked lots while he built, and he was here when I very proudly carried my 4 baby chicks in. Many people have been and will continue to be great sources of information, but Mike provided me with a good common sense balance to all the varied reading I’ve done. I’m slowly forming relationships with some great chicken people who I continue to learn from and admire as I watch them care for their own flocks. I know that they’ve got to be out there, but I have yet to meet a chicken person that I didn’t like.

  12. Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick says:

    This is my favorite reference guide to chicken-keeping, hands-down. Highly recommended!

  13. Scott says:

    I am still learning, I have read several books including Chicken Raising Made Easy by Paul W. Chapman and the Kellerstrass Method. I have been looking for a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens but alas I can’t find it on the shelves here in Hawaii nor as a nook/epub/pdf. I also have subscribed to several chicken related yahoo groups.

  14. Terry says:

    I consult a Ph.D. poultry expert to find out how to raise chickens, because I usually can’t find definitive answers online or in books. He is good to respond to my e-mails, although he doesn’t answer every single one, because he is very busy. Once I attended a talk he gave at an Extension Center. I’m looking for an answer to this question at present, so if anyone can tell me the answer, I’d appreciate your help:
    Is it a good idea to put apple cider vinegar in a rooster’s drinking water? I have heard that it is good for hens, that it helps hens absorb the calcium they need to lay eggs with nice hard shells. But, roosters have much lower calcium requirements than hens do and should not be fed layer mash, because layer mash has too much calcium in it for roosters and can cause roosters to have renal failure. So, if a rooster is penned in with hens and does have access to layer mash, wouldn’t apple cider vinegar in his water cause him to absorb even more calcium, which would be very bad for him? And even if he has his own rooster food (All Flock or Flock Raiser, instead of layer mash), would the apple cider vinegar still not be a good idea for him, since it has some calcium in it, too? Thanks again for your help. I’m trying to take good care of my rooster.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    We have keep chickens on and off since I was a kid, so most of my knowledge is a working knowledge. Recently my go to person is a wonderful lady who has a farm. I’ve found that there is more to feeding, watering and housing them. I’m currently trying to make a coop out of used pallets. I’m hopeing this project goes well. Thanks for the chance to win an amazing book!

  16. Richard says:

    My two daughters started raising chickens a few years ago turning their suburban homes into mini poultry farms. I bought a small book about chickens in order to be able to talk with them intelligently about their new hobby. They noticed the book when visiting and decided I was ready for a flock of chickens. I was surprised on my birthday with more chicken books, feeding and watering equipment and a 2×3 foot chick brooder custom built by my son-in-law Will, the carpenter. That resulted in a flock of 10 Silkies and more on the way this Spring. Their pictures adorn our home along with those of the grandchildren.

  17. Janet says:

    I don’t have chickens yet need to read more before I am ready so I need to win this book!

  18. Heather says:

    We would consider ourselves newbies, but it has been almost a year. I read, decided to get them, then READ, READ and READ more! I read two books, several blogs, and websites. However, one of our most important moves was befriending the assistant manager at our local farm store. He has a wealth of experience. We are loving our 10 chickens. Everybody told us one-three would die, we are grateful to still be 10 for 10! Thanks for all your work on this blog.

  19. Trina says:

    I would love to have chickens and hope to start soon. This book would be a huge help!

  20. Wendy says:

    I grew up on a farm and we had chickens when I was under the age of 10, but I will be getting my first chicks of my own on 4/20 (at the age of 40 something). I NEED this book! A good friend of mine has chickens and has been a tremendous help in preparing for this. I’m blaming it all on her! I’ve also been reading as much as I can.

  21. Marie James says:

    I waited decades to have chickens! By the time all the stars aligned two years ago, I had read books, websites, and forums; taken extension classes and farming courses; and picked the brains of many chicken owners. Still, I’ve been on a steady learning curve for two years. I am still reading, attending workshops, and picking brains in addition to listening to my chickens. I knew I’d enjoy them but I had no idea how much.

  22. Solducky says:

    I am still learning actually and would love to know more!

  23. WV Betty says:

    I learned of this blog on Suzanne McMinn’s Chickens in the Road blog. Would love to read more about chickens!

  24. Shelly Wade says:

    We had friends that used to have chickens. They talked my husband into getting some when we moved to a place with a big coop on the property. Soon I learned that they would be my responsibility! I had no idea about chickens & how to take care of them! All I knew was horror stories of people getting flogged & bad things chickens did! Our chicken friends gave me a copy of Storey’s Gude to Raising Chickens & it’s been my main go-to book since. Oh, & those “scary” birds start out as the most cute little balls of fluff! I instantly fell in love & can’t imagine my life without them. I love spending time with my chickens. ☺

  25. Stephanie G says:

    I learned all about it from friends with chickens and by taking a local class. We have 3 week old baby chicks now and we are learning more every day! We’d love to have this great book :)

  26. Cate says:

    This is my first season starting. My father in law (who we live with) learned growing up keeping them. Our first coop came today! I bought Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens (which appears to be hiding at the moment however badly I would like to read it right now), and the local co-op is having a class this week that we plan on attending.

  27. Dana Galagan says:

    After a good friend who also lived in the city got her first chickens, I couldn’t wait to get my own! I bought a lot of books, joined backyardchickens.com, asked a lot of questions of other chicken owners from my own state that I met there and found some terrific local breeders so I could choose specific breeds from folks I trusted and knew were raising healthy birds. We’ve had our city flock for just about a year now, and I am just as fascinated by them as I was when we first set up the coop. Friends, family, and neighbors benefit from the fresh eggs we get, and we get hours of enjoyment from our girls. I can’t see a day when I’d be without them again. Looking forward to reading your blog as I find myself learning something new every day from some source!

  28. Miina says:

    I grew up on a farm in Ohio with dairy cows, chickens, pigs, and turkeys. Now close to 19 years after leaving the farm, I have realized that you can never take the farm out of the girl. I have had a vegetable garden for years, but have decided to start my hobby farm with chickens, and hope to add goats in a couple of years. My greatest resource is my memories of raising chickens at home and my Mom and Dad, of course.

    I have many local friends here in the suburbs of Seattle that have chickens and they have been invaluable. I borrowed “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow from the library. It has been so helpful that I have purchased a copy for my own library. We are getting started building our “Garden Coop” this weekend. Your website is so full of information that will help us build the coop and take care of our chicks when they arrive in April. I also plan to check out the WA Cooperative Extension to see what kind of resources they have available. This encyclopedia would be perfect to add to my library getting us started. So excited about our chickens!

  29. Aja says:

    I learned about chickens by reading various books from the library and by asking many questions in online forums and of local people who have small backyard flocks.

  30. Amberthyme says:

    This is a really clever way to promote a new book. When Rosie Chook wandered into our lives last year we went to the nearest feed store to get advice. They sold us some scratch and acted like we were nuts so I surfed the web to find out a little more about this tiny critter (and find another feed store). The next feed store we went to has a very friendly staff and got us set up with a feeder, waterer, and some food. She told us that lots of people in the area keep backyard chickens. My next step was the web — I placed a bunch of books on hold to pick up at the library and googled chickens. Wow! There was a lot of interesting advice out there. It was a relief when I could pick up the books from the library! After digging into about 10-15 books I settled on a couple that I purchased for my home library. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow is the most comprehensive and I’m looking forward to seeing her new book. It’s been only a year and Rosie is now the smallest, spunkiest hen in a backyard flock of five. I hope to keeping chickens for many years to come.

  31. Julia says:

    My Grandma had chickens in Oklahoma, but I am learning now through books and the internet. This would be a wonderful addition to my library.

  32. Rachel says:

    I grew up on a farm in Auburn, Washington. We had chickens, goats, sheep, cows, geese, ducks, rabbits, cats, and dogs. Basically all we didn’t raise was pigs. When I grew up I married a city boy and have introduced him to “the country life!” We purchased the plans for your coop and built it four years ago, we love it! We have five chickens, Ruthie, Harriet, Jenny, Denise and Penny. Our 20-month-old son loves “his girls!” I would love to win the encyclopedia, it looks fantastic!

  33. Joanie H says:

    Before getting baby chicks last month, I had done a lot of research on the web, read popular sites, attended chicken classes offered at Seattle Tilth and I read The Urban Farm Store’s book “A Chicken in Every Yard.” Currently, I’m reading “Free-Range Chicken Gardens” by Jessi Bloom after I attended her seminars at the NW Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. And we are preparing to build The Garden Coop for our girls! Not only are we learning about keeping chickens, different breeds, feed selection, etc. — we’re also gaining new carpentry skills…

    Loving my new adventure thus far! And chicken personalities are quite interesting. It’s wonderful to see how quickly they learn the sound of your voice. :)

  34. James says:

    We have been keeping chickens for about 8 months in Las Vegas. When we decided that we were going to give them a try we went straight to the net and found several resources. Much of my knowledge was gained from BackyardChickens.com and the forums located there as well as TheGardenCoop.com. With our six girls we now collect about 35 eggs a week!

  35. Grace says:

    I learned how to keep chickens by growing up on a farm. I also took some Webinars and attended some classes in person, and went to Chicken Coop tours and found some online backyard chicken keeping forums to join. I would love to win the encyclopedia!

  36. judy robertson says:

    Many years ago I had a friend who raised lots of chickens. She helped me learn a lot but then I didn’t have chickens for many years. I was fighting bermuda grass and read that overgrazing it would kill it so my husband built a chicken tractor and we borrowed some chickens from my daughter… One of them raised chicks from another friends eggs and that started it all. I have checked out library books (they think I should see them first when they get a new book!) and read backyard poultry magazine cover to cover every month. I am still learning something new about chickens all the time and would love to win the Encyclopedia. Judy

  37. Laura says:

    hi and thanks for the excerpt from Gail’s book. We do hope that we are lucky enough to win a copy.
    We are going on 1 yr with our girls but we spent the previous year doing research on everything from breeds to coops. Poured through a 6-7 books and researched on the net. We took notes about aspects we liked from pictures and kept a notebook with sketches. But the best thing we did was visit coops of friends and acquaintances to get their opinions of what they liked about their coop and disliked. We met this great couple at the feed and grain store who invited us back to their house. Our coop ultimately was based off of all the sensible things they had done combined with our research and requirements. We love the way it looks; the girls are happy and safe. We get tons of compliments too. Best of all we saved money by incorporating salvaged materials where appropriate. Thanks again and look forward to following your blog.

  38. Carol Vilevac says:

    Book..book..book..book..book.

  39. Matt Jarvis says:

    To learn about chickens, I did read several books, but the one that I find most useful and thorough is, believe it or not, Raising Chickens for Dummies…

    Also, we have several friends that have been raising chickens for years and they have been a great resource as well!

    Matt Jarvis
    Eugene, Oregon USA

  40. Sara says:

    I am new to raising chickens. I tackled this the way I tackle everything – I read and read and read. And when that is done, I ask questions. I have questioned people at feed stores, grocery stores, neighbors, friends of neighbors, I blog and ask them questions, and then I read some more. I get a little high strung about changes so this process really calms me down. I raised chicks for my neighbor last year. It was my trial run. This year we are ready and (yesterday) got our own.

  41. Megan says:

    I was raised on a grain farm and was inspired to start keeping chickens when I was about 12. I learned mostly from experience and by making a lot of mistakes!

  42. Teresa Pate says:

    About 17 years ago I was on my way home driving down the dirt road I lived on and saw a chicken up in a tree. I thought hmmm. I couldn’t have a garden any longer because the trees on the neighbors property had grown to shade most of my yard. The property had a pony before I bought it so I had the space even had a little feed shed attached to the barn/carport/shed. I went to the library got every book I could find. Went to the county fair and talked to chicken people. Went to the feed store talked to the old guys. By the time spring came I was more than ready! By the time I sold that property I was down to 1 RIR hen and 1 RIR capon I had to give them to a lady who kept chickens as pets because I was moving to a neighborhood with restrictions. I was chickenless for about 13 years :( . Walking the neighborhood I noticed several violations of the covenants. I talked to my closest neighbors about getting hens and they gave me the go ahead. My husband thought I was crazy! He was kicking and screaming the whole way! Didn’t want anything to do with chickens! We build The Garden Coop 1 year ago this month (have had several compliments even from construction people) and added 6 pullets. Guess who fusses over the chickens now?!!

  43. Patrice says:

    We own a farm and chickens are a big part of it. We have learned most of what we know from a variety of books, articles, and from other farmers. We read Joel Salatin’s book and got the most from it.
    Great giveaway-

    patrice@everydayruralty.com

  44. Merrilee says:

    I grew up on a farm, where I took for granted horses, cows, pigs, ducks, geese, and chickens! During college I realized how much I missed these creatures, and convinced my hubby to build me a coop. Have had chickens for about 10 years now, and really love trying out different breeds. Currently I have nine hens, a mix of Marans, Araucaunas, and even a banty. The rooster is a Maran and very proud of himself. Just subscribed to your blog and thanks for the book giveaway opp!

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