If you keep chickens, you probably already have a book or two by Gail Damerow. She’s the author of The Chicken Health Handbook, which is the What To Expect When You’re Expecting of chicken-raising. It is incredibly detailed, sometimes terrifying, and yet it is the first book we bought and the one we consult first whenever we have a problem.

The new book is, as the name implies, an A-Z encyclopedia with lovely illustrations throughout. You get photographs when a photo is really what you need, and diagrams or drawings when that’s more useful.  And just the right amount of how-to is sprinkled throughout.  For instance, as I was flipping past the entry for “spurs,” I found an entire page devoted to “spur trimming,” something I desperately need to know more about as my Golden Wyandotte, Abigail, has grown horrifying spurs that must embarrass her terribly and might even hurt.  Spur-trimming, it turns out, involves needle-nosed pliers, vegetable oil, a baked potato, and a Dremel cutting tool. 

I am not making this up. At moments like this I wonder if I am really cut out for the stewardship of chickens. At least now I know how to do it; whether I actually will do it is another question.

As a how-to book, an encyclopedia can be frustrating.  The breeds are not all grouped together; an entry on Asian Malay hens is right next to an entry on manure balls. Problem-solving can be a bit tricky too:  the entry for “slipped wing” is right there between “slip” and “smut” (“slip” being far dirtier than “smut,” as it turns out), but if you had a chicken with a wing problem, you might miss the “slipped wing” entry–and it’s not in the index under “wing.” 

These are not complaints.  I’m just saying:  it’s an encyclopedia, and the randomness of the alphabetical system is what makes encyclopedias weird and wonderful to read. If they organized the material by subject matter, it wouldn’t be an encyclopedia. So adjust your expectations accordingly.

I was particularly happy to see the section on poisonous plants (which Damerow files under Toxic, not Wicked) and was surprised to see vetch and corncockle on the list, two plants I’d grown around the chickens before without ever thinking about it. See what we learn when we read the encyclopedia?

It’s a cool book, and I’m especially impressed that they managed to do a full-color, nicely designed, big fat paperback and still keep it priced under $20.  I know that’s not easy to pull off, and it’s nice that Storey  made it affordable and accessible to any chicken owner.  Now, Storey, here’s my only question:  where’s the app?

You, too, can own a copy of The Chicken Encyclopedia!  Just tell us any sort of charming chicken story and we’ll choose a winner next week.