I am doing my best not to go into this blindly. I do have a tendency to dive into things headlong before thinking them through – especially when it comes to animals. Last summer when we moved in here, my parents came up for a visit. We had been in the house less than two weeks, had no furniture, and were living out of boxes. Still, my dad took one look at the shed that came with the property and said “this would be easy to make into a chicken coop! Let’s go get you some chicks!” Despite my feeble protests that we weren’t ready for such an undertaking, my dad had looked up the addresses of three different feed stores in the area and we were on our way to buy chicks within the hour. Luckily, they had all recently sold out of chicks for the season. That’s not to say that I wasn’t disappointed (I really, truly can’t help myself), but it really wouldn’t have been the best idea at the time.
Since then, however, I have kicked my research and preparations into high gear. I have spent much of my free time researching breeds, poring over hatchery websites, reading hatchery reviews, looking for local chick sources, reading chicken blogs and other informative websites. I also bought three different chicken books and read them all cover-to-cover in order to get a good idea of all the details. The books I have are “Chickens in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide,” “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens: Care, Feeding, Facilities,” and “Living With Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock.”
“Chickens in Your Backyard” was written in 1975 and so is the oldest of my three books by far, but if I had to pick one to recommend at this point, it would be the one. It has no pictures, save for a few amusing illustrations, but it is a very entertaining read while still covering all the pertinant topics in a clear, concise manner and the big bonus is that it’s written by regular people (not chicken farmers or fanciers/showers) who had chickens at home. This means that they actually hit on a few helpful points that the pros seem to skip in the other books. You feel like you could actually raise some chickens when you’re done reading it.
However, the other two books have their positive points as well. “Living with Chickens” was published in 2002 and so is the most current of my books (some of the info does change with the years, though the basics all stay the same). It is written by people who belong to the Vermont Bird Fanciers Club, and so is filled with beautiful colorful photographs and is a really quick read. The “Storey’s Guide” is from 1995 and is by far the most comprehensive and technical of all the books. It contains all information not just for a small backyard flock, but also for large-scale commercial production. And it leaves all feelings out of it. For example, it briefly and matter-of-factly tells you to “cull” less-than-perfect chicks and birds, as well as to “cull” layers after 2-3 years. This is a very different approach than the other books which are really just for the backyard enthusiast. They both tell you how to kill, butcher, and dress chickens for meat, but they approach the topics of dealing with ill or deformed birds or under-performing layers with a bit of sensitivity and they give you a few ideas – like letting them live to old age and taking sick bird to a vet. There is no simple commaned to “cull.” Anyway, it is definitely a valuable book because it is so comprehensive.