New Book: The Chicken Encyclopedia by Gail Damerow

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 adding external nest boxes to your chicken cooppoultry nipple waterers, and grazing frames for chickens — 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 Instagram. Thanks!

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