But will she lay? Review of Keeping Chickens

A Rhode Island Red Chicken

A Rhode Island Red Chicken. Photo: Eric Bennett via Flickr.

For the past two years gardening has been my great obsession. I’ve planted fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers, with great hopes for how beautiful and nourishing they’ll be both now and in the years to come.

I’ve even taken on beekeeping and have one beehive near my back porch. The only things missing are chickens.

I yearn for a few hens to provide me with fresh eggs as well as manure for the garden. Every time I look at the insects devouring my kale patch, I imagine how chickens would gobble up those bugs, and turn them into tasty eggs. I dream of how pretty a handful of hens would look clucking and scratching in my garden.

A little research

Imagine my eagerness, then, when I was recently given a copy of Keeping Chickens: Getting the Best From Your Chickens by Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis.

I started reading this well-written, informative, and concise book that night and finished it the following morning. It’s not the first book on chickens that I’ve read, but it’s clearly the most approachable.

Abundant with beautiful pictures, it makes keeping chickens seem relatively simple — as I remember it being as a young girl when my family kept a small flock of Rhode Island Reds.

The book offers simple yet detailed descriptions of what chickens need in terms of housing, food, and other care, with advice geared toward someone who wants to keep just a handful of chickens in the backyard rather than someone considering larger flocks or business options.

Yet while I found the information in Keeping Chickens quite useful, I was less impressed with the authors’ breed descriptions.

Will she lay and will she play?

Keeping Chickens

Keeping Chickens: Getting the Most From Your Chickens by Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis, David & Charles (March 29, 2010), 176pp, softcover, $12.78.

Hobson and Lewis speak too much of the shape and color of each breed, and not nearly enough about each breed’s disposition, care requirements, and productivity.

As a reader and wannabe do-er who wants eggs from docile, productive hens that also do well around children, I found it difficult to determine which breeds would be good choices for me. For that information I’ve found more useful sources online, such as the breed selector tool on My Pet Chicken.

Despite this one drawback, I highly recommend Hobson’s and Lewis’ book for anyone considering getting a few hens. It has all the information you’ll need to determine whether or not keeping chickens is for you in the first place. And, while you might someday wish to have a more in-depth tome about the details of breeding, brooding, and maintaining the health of your flock, this book has all that is needed to get you started.

–Ariana Coate, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    I have a garden and five hens — a word of caution — you’ll have to fence off your vegetables if you plan to le your chickens roam around the yard. The chooks will eat the bugs off your kale, but only as they’re actually decimating the kale itself! On the other hand, I haven’t had to mow my back lawn all summer — between the drought and the hour or two of chicken grazing every morning, they’ve kept it nice and tidy. (If only they’d eat the weeds with as much gusto!)
    Oh, and btw — I had Red Stars the first time around, this set I have 2 Delaware (who are really personable, curious and a little bossy), 2 Black Stars, and one very noisy Wyandotte hen who thinks she’s a rooster. Was just luck of the draw at my local feed store last spring …

  2. Paul Wyatt says

    There are a number of good books on this. Having kept chickens for several years, it’s so simple that you really don’t need to go out and spend $20 on a book. A cheaper guide will do, such as R.J. Ruppenthal’s Backyard Chickens for Beginners…$3.99 for the Amazon e-book and a little more for the print pamphlet. Chickens are easier than most pets. And yes, they will eat your kale. Free range them in part of the yard, but fence them off from the vegetables you want to eat!

  3. says

    We’re in year two of keeping chickens – Australorps, Sussex, and Gold Star. Second the fencing-the-garden note, I initially fenced to keep deer out but chickens wreak havoc in the raised beds too with the scratch-and-peck move. The chickens pretty much keep themselves, but there are issues: going broody, roosters fighting with neighboring roosters, and dropping dead for no apparent reason (no idea what got that chook!) I’m still looking for a second year book that deals with the real issues of semi-urban chicken raising.

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