Read an Excerpt
0 Before the Beginning
There's little wonder that no one knows which came first, the chicken or the egg. Raising chickens is a continuous cyclical process, and the only way to describe it is to break into the cycle at an arbitrary point and call it the beginning. In organizing this book, we have chosen one place to start, but your immediate needs may require you to start somewhere else or to skip chapters of no importance to you right now. We've organized the material to make it easy to do this. We recommend, though, that everyone first read Chapter 1, "Words You Should Know," and refer back to it when the meaning of any special poultry term is unclear. In raising chickens ourselves and in talking about it to others, our philosophy is that mindlessly following somebody else's list of rules is no substitute for a thorough understanding of the nature of chickens, the function of the equipment, and the purpose of the husbander's various activities. For one thing, a little initiative can save you a lot of money. There's no need to buy fancy expensive equipment when, with a little savvy, you can modify something you've got lying around the garage to suit your needs. (If you can cleverly improvise even once, you may save more than you spent on this book!) As long as the chickens' needs are met there's no one right way of doing things, though there are a lot of wrong ways. That's why our advice will usually be "You could do so-and-so" instead of "You must." For another thing, there is such a variety of reasons for raising chickens that we have to allow you a little flexibility. Maybe you want a couple of pet banties running in the backyard, or maybe you want your flock to supply meat and eggs for your family, or maybe you are mainly interested in winning first prize at the county fair. Your particular purpore will determine your perspective. Finally, the better informed you are, the less likely you'll get gypped. More to the point, you won't go moaning around because you thought you'd been gypped when you hadn't. For example, you might complain that your new hens aren't laying. But if it's winter, chickens typically don't lay well (as you'll soon find out), and by midspring you'll be so sick of omelettes, quiches, and Denver sandwiches that you'll be begging the chickens to stop. We don't mean to imply that no used-chicken salesmen are crooks. To the contrary, there are always a few scoundrels around who take deliberate advantage of the unwary, while some dealers may be merely incompetent or innocently ignorant. But most chicken raisers are honest and helpful folks who want to share their experiences and their love of birds with you. People who are just getting into raising chickens occasionally express the opinion to us that all the lavish care chicken raisers expend on their flocks seems unnatural and unnecessary, for surely chickens must have gotten along all right for thousands of years out there in the jungles all by themselves. But remember that chickens as we know them today have come a long way from their natural state, due to domestication and controlled breeding by man over the centuries to suit his needs. As a race we have made a Faustian bargain with the chickens, and we must now pay the price of having molded them to our needs by giving them the special care they have come to depend on and require. Chickens have simply been pampered for too long. You must forgive us if we tend to anthropomorphize a little throughout this book, for we have come to think of chickens as our friends. Sadly, we must admit that they are among our least intelligent friends. But nature has given these creatures a generous measure of instinct by which they have managed to survive. Our function as husbanders of a flock is to work with and direct their instincts, adding our wit and wisdom to ensure that they prosper and flourish. This book is a guide to enlightened intervention in the affairs of chickens. It is a book for beginners-the ABC of Chickens, so to speak. Although we don't have a degree in Chickenology qualifying us to write a book, we are experts in beginner's mistakes, having made most of them ourselves! When we started raising chickens we looked everywhere for a good, clear, comprehensive, nontechnical, noncommercial book about raising a flock in the backyard. It didn't exist. So we wrote it, and here it is.