The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers by Harvey Ussery
I actually pre-ordered this book, because I knew it would be good! Harvey Ussery is a member of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, and always had helpful insights on their Yahoo forum. So not only did I know he'd be approaching the subject from a pastured-poultry point of view (which most chicken books, to my great frustration, don't), but I knew he had a wealth of knowledge about the things I was most interested in - in particular, formulating your own chicken feed, breeding your own stock, building movable shelters, using chickens to improve your garden, and even some tips on small-scale marketing for your eggs or meat.
I really love books like this, books that not only give you the basics of How To Raise A Chicken, but encourage you to explore how you can do it in the best way possible - for the best health of your birds, the best benefit to your garden, and the best use of the resources you have available to you. It not only covered "how-to" (although it did a good job at covering the basics, too) but also "Try-this!" and "Think about this . . . " Definitely my kind of book!
It starts out with a Forward by Joel Salatin - quite an auspicious beginning! - and jumps right into the point: "Why Bother?" is the title of the first chapter. It talks about what's wrong with the industrial food system, and why raising your own is worth the effort. If you've studied the philosophy of Joel Salatin and the like, this will be familiar territory, but if you haven't, it's worth the read.
Next comes a primer on the basics: nomenclature, anatomy, breeds, etc. Fairly basic, but I still learned a few things.
Part two focuses on basic care, from a pastured poultry perspective. I was particularly excited to find detailed plans for "The Chicken Hilton" - the poultry house he built himself for his birds. I definitely will be looking to these pages for inspiration when I build my new coop (hopefully this summer!) This section also includes plans for several different types of pasture shelters as well as information on using electronet for giving your birds greater range. (Basically an updated version of what you can find in Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profit$ or Andy Lee's Day Range Poultry)
Ussery goes into great detail in this section describing the Deep Litter Management of poultry manure. This is very good information if, like me, you prefer collecting eggs and cooking with them to cleaning out the chicken coop! It's very important, however, to note that this system only works if you can give your birds plenty of room (he suggests 3-5 square feet per bird). I tried this last year with an overstocked coop, and it failed miserably. I would love to try it again, though, when I have more room.
Part three looked at one of the best things about raising chickens (at least it makes this Agrarian Cheerful) - how great they can be for your garden. It covers both the tilling work chickens can do as well as how helpful they can be in breaking up composting materials. They're also helpful for bug and slug control - although this requires more careful management, since letting chickens loose in your garden often results in the birds eating your vegetables instead of protecting them!
It was part four, though, that really sparked my interest: Feeding the Small-Scale Flock. This sentence in particular summed it up for me: "The more we find ways to give the flock maximum access to live, natural foods, the more we will think of purchased, highly artificial feeds - or even concentrated feeds we make ourselves - as supplemental, provided as needed to the extent not enough natural feeds are available." I have found this particularly true in the last few months, as I both a) switched to organic feed and b) am feeding more kitchen scraps (thanks to my neighbor - a mother of nine - who brings a considerable amount of her scraps over for my chickens as well). I was concerned at first because we were going through about 1/4 of the feed that we had been using (cheap stuff from the local Farm & Fleet store), but the hens kept on laying - better than expected, in fact (my ameraucanas, who are generally not great layers, have been averaging over 85% the last few weeks - and this in the middle of winter, when laying is supposed to be slow! I do have supplemental lighting, but still that's much better than my hens have done in past winters on conventional feed). Apparently I was paying for a lot of fillers - so even though the organic feed costs more per pound, I'm getting a lot more eggs per feed dollar, even so.
Chapters 17 and 18 were the most interesting part of the book for me: Making Our Own Feeds and Feeding the Flock from Home Resources. Ussery goes into not only ingredients and ratios, but also equipment and storage requirements. He has several recipes, and even a spreadsheet you can plug into your Excel program at home to calculate protein percentages.
From there, he progresses to raising your own live protein for your birds - namely, worms ("Vermicomposting in the Greenhouse") and/or soldier flies ("Protein from Thin Air"). It's amazing all of the options available for feeding your chickens from your home resources!
Part six is all about raising a breeding flock - something I'm hoping to try next year. He has a whole chapter on working with broody hens (which I intend to try, since my attempts with an incubator have all failed and I'm getting frustrated with the poor health of mail-order chicks).
And, last but not by any means least, Part Seven: Poultry for the Table. Here he covers egg storage, butchering, and cooking, including recipes. This section also includes a chapter on selling your eggs or meat to small local markets. He discusses the all-important regulations and pricing issues, which can be so confusing when you're just starting out. For those of us primarily raising our birds for our own use, this is still a good chapter to look over, since it will perhaps give you a new perspective on other small-scale farms and what they go through trying to sell their quality food to you.
So as much as I was anticipating from this book (did I mention I ordered it for myself for my birthday?) it did not disappoint. I learned so much from it, most of which I intend to implement this coming year!