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Starting With Chickens Beginner's Guide - Katie Thear

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Paperback: 96 pages / Publisher: Broad Leys / Published: April 1999

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      16.10.2012 16:07
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      So, overall a very useful book which delivers exactly what the title promises

      Yes, the next step in our aim to simplify our lives and to be a little more self-sufficient is to get chickens. They are due to be with us in a couple of weeks and in the meantime this book is proving to be something of a gem ~ at least in the theoretical sense. Once we actually get the chickens I suspect that this book will be firmly by my side and not see a lot of shelf life!

      ~ What I love ~

      * Author & writing style: This book is written by an enthusiast who actually remembers what it was like to be a beginner. So many experts (on any topic) assume too much about what you might already know and, if they don't, tend to have such a patronising tone within the information they are passing on, that it's hard to stick with the book long enough to get the info you want. Not so Katie Thear. She writes in a concise, factual tone which is hard to take offence from, even when she is passing on something which is basic common sense. Katie Thear's expertise is well recognised: she is a regular writer for the monthly magazine Country Smallholding.

      * Content: The book is well planned, to ensure that nothing is forgotten. Basic information is arranged across 14 sections:

      ~ Introduction
      This is very concise, factual and easy to read. It points out several issues which are vital to know when considering whether to keep chickens, so you don't have to get half way through the book before finding that your plans might be thwarted! There is also a very sensible 'Are Chickens for You?' Pros and Cons table in this section which helps you to make a more fully informed decision ~ vital when you think that the lives of these creatures will be in your hands!

      ~ History of the Chicken
      Some easily read background information on how the domestic chicken came to be!

      ~ The House and Run
      This section includes information on the minimum requirements / features of a house and run and includes explanations of different parts and features, through a checklist of questions to ask yourself when identifying suitable accommodation for your chooks. Fencing options are also detailed and there are plenty of photos of the various types of hen houses on the market.

      ~ Choosing a Breed
      This section includes a very in-depth look at different breeds, from the breed variations such as Hybrids, Crosses, Pure Breeds and Fancy Breeds, to the individual variations within these. Other basic information, such a a diagram of the parts of a fowl are included so that you understand more when you read the descriptions of individual breeds. It's just a real shame that the photos are mainly black and white in this section (this is the only reason I've deducted a star from this book). However, I guess the book would have been a lot more expensive if all of the breed photos were in colour and at least this way you can then look up photos of the breeds which appeal to you on-line, to check out their true colouring.

      ~ Buying the Birds
      This chapter offers a comprehensive overview of the main considerations when buying your chooks, including AGE, AVAILABILITY, HEALTH and COST, as well as handy tips on introducing your new birds to their new home.

      ~ Feeding
      The feeding chapter is rightfully comprehensive, to the point that it includes a diagram of a chicken's digestive system, to allow full understanding of why you need to ensure that your chickens receive a fully balanced diet. There are plenty of photos of drinkers and feeders in use, so that you can see how these items can be used effectively.

      ~ Daily and Seasonal Care
      This is usefully broken down for easy reference into sections for Daily Care, Weekly and Monthly Routines and Seasonal care. This not only gives you a checklist of what needs to be done, but in the planning and "shall we, shan't we?" stage, it can help you to realise the kind of commitment needed to ensure the proper care for your chickens.

      ~ What to do with all those eggs
      No, it's not a recipe section, just some sensible information on the legalities of selling your eggs, plus information on preserving eggs, which is a useful starting point for then looking up preserving recipes.

      ~ Breeding your own replacements
      If you are hoping to breed from your chickens / eggs, then this section gives an overview of what is involved. Again there are some useful diagrams and photos, as well as a comprehensive section on incubation.

      ~ Showing
      This section's quite interesting even if you don't intend to ever 'show' your birds as, for example, you never know when you might need to bath your chicken!

      ~ Dealing with problems
      Another useful quick-reference section outlining the main problems which can arise when keeping domestic chickens. The information offers a basic, but useful starting point and, in the interests of prevention rather than cure, offers considerable information on how to avid problems in the first place.

      ~ Quirky Questions
      I love this section ~ it's full of the questions that children would ask (such as "how do chickens pee?") and other considerations which may influence your decision about keeping chickens in the first place (such as "how long do chickens live?" and "can you use dogs to control hens?") and means that you'll have the answers you need not just to make an informed decision, but to impress your kids, neighbours or other half too!

      ~ Reference section
      Whilst this section does offer a comprehensive list of references, my copy of the book was published in 1999, so I'm not sure how up to date all of the contact information in it is, some of them offer just a phone number. However, the list does provide a good starting point for an internet search and where these organisations now have websites, it's easy enough to make contact from there.

      ~ Index
      The quick reference section for finding what you need to know in the book.

      * Format: My copy is a paperback edition, about A5 size, so it's the perfect 'grab' size for quick reference, or to take with you when you go to suss out hen houses or feed etc from local suppliers. It's basically a no-frills book, but this adds to its sense of purpose and no-nonsense approach to getting you started.

      * Value for money: I sourced mine quite cheaply through Amazon, but even so it's hard to talk about value for money because this book's for a very specific purpose. However, I have already referred to it a lot and I do consider that perhaps it's already saved us quite a bit of money because we were able to find and buy the right kind of coop, based on the advice in the book. I suspect that without this info we might well have made some mistakes which may have been costly in their own right, particularly if you are tempted to try a route which proves to be a false economy! I'd say that there are still gaps in my knowledge but at least I feel comfortable about where we are now starting from in our chicken keeping quest!

      So, overall a very useful book which delivers exactly what the title promises and I would heartily recommend it.

      * I may well pop back and add to this review once we have our chickens (end of October 2012) so that I can speak for how easy it has been to apply some of the book's advice in a more practical context!

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