The Chicken Encyclopedia – A Book by Gail Damerow

The Chicken Encyclopedia
An Illustrated Guide
Gail Damerow
Storey Publishing

I discovered Gail Damerow’s “The Chicken Encyclopedia” back when I first got the notion that I should get a few chickens.  I decided I needed a few good informational resources before plunging into this new project and I found this book on Amazon.   It was a serendipitous find since I knew nothing whatsoever about it when I ordered it.  As it turns out, this is a book that has never made it onto my bookshelf because it’s in constant use.

The thing I noticed about the book when I first pulled it out of the packing box was all the great chicken pictures.  My wife, Kathy, found those pictures useful as well.  When Kathy and I first talked about maybe getting a few hens, she was on board—with this stipulation, “I don’t care what kind you get, but they have to be pretty.”  So the book was a great tool for her.  She went through and put post-its on all the pages with pictures of chickens that passed her “prettiness” test.  My follow-up was to actually read the text next to those pictures and decide if the pretty hens she marked would be good and practical choices for us.  All of the major chicken breeds, from Ameraucana to Yokohama are pictured and the accompanying text includes a physical description of the breed, its history, and other characteristics—broodiness, egg color, temperament, flight ability, etc.  The same information is presented in succinct chart format in the appendix in a section called “Breed Traits at a Glance”.  When I’m considering a new breed of chicken for my flock, this is the first resource I turn to.  

The book is also a good resource for chicken diseases.  When I find one of my hens to be under the weather, this is the first book I pick up.  (The second book I pick up is Gail Damerow’s “The Chicken Health Handbook.)  All of the common (and not-so-common!) chicken health problems are listed, from anemia through X disease.  Each entry gives a description of the malady, symptoms, background information, and suggested treatment options. 

It’s also contains good practical information for beginners:  How big should a coop be?  What equipment do you need?  What should chickens eat?  How long does a chicken live?  How often do chickens lay eggs?  There are lots of other books that walk you through how to get started with your first flock, but having all the things you need to think about laid out in short sections that are arranged alphabetically makes the whole project seem somehow less daunting, and it certainly makes the information more accessible.  

And then there’s lots of great trivia and cool informational nuggets—stuff you probably don’t need to know to raise chickens but is simply fun to find out about: 
  •   A chicken’s respiratory system includes, in addition to the lungs, nine thin-walled sacs located throughout the chicken’s body and even in some bones.  They are called “air sacs” and you can read all about them in the “A” section of the encyclopedia.
  •  The yellow color of the skin of yellow-skinned hens comes from natural dyes in the food they eat.  The hens use this stored pigment to color the yolks of the eggs they lay.  Over time, as hens are actively laying eggs, their skin becomes nearly white as the pigment is used up.  This process is called “bleaching” and is an entry in the “B’s”.
  •  Many foods that contain cholesterol are high in saturated fats.  One rare exception—a food that is high in cholesterol but low in saturated fat, is the egg.  Eggs also contain lecithin, which interferes with cholesterol absorption.  Eggs from pasture-raised hens can contain 25% less saturated fat and cholesterol than eggs from confined hens.  Because the pigments from the green plants pasture-raised hens eat cause their eggs to have darker yolks, dark yolks are a good indicator of lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.  This information is all part of a discussion about “cholesterol”, an entry in the “C’s”

Those are A, B, and C examples. The book continues in this vein through the entire alphabet.  If you’re interested in chickens, are considering starting a flock, or already have one, I suggest you get a copy of this book for your very own.  Then I suggest you read it cover to cover.  Even if you think you know everything there is to know about chickens, I guarantee you’ll learn stuff from this book.  And you’ll be completely entertained. After you’ve read it cover to cover, I suggest you keep at close at hand for reference.  If you’re like me, you’ll use it a lot!

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