Whether you are just getting started with chickens or have had them for awhile, Harvey Ussery’s The Small-Scale Poultry Flock provides an informative and entertaining read. I originally purchased the book when taking a Pastured Poultry class through UMass Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and I know it will be invaluable to me as I start raising my own chickens. The book starts with a discussion of food quality, animal safety, and environmental issues of industrial, conventional poultry. Then, Ussery engages readers in a clear and practical explanation of how to raise your own poultry flock.
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While I would recommend reading the book in full as many of the sections build off of one another, each chapter covers specific topics which you can refer back to later. Topics include:
- Choosing flock size and breeds
- Starting your flock
- Housing and mobile shelters
- Deep-litter management
- Pasturing the flock and fencing
- Putting the flock to work including in your garden
- Feeding and watering
- Managing the winter flock
- Breeding including broody hens
- Butchering poultry
- Serving small local markets
Getting Started with Chickens
I found the descriptions of each breed and their benefits, including those which are in need of conservation, to be particularly helpful as I prepare to select my first chickens. Spoiler alert: Ussery’s favorite is the Old English Game.
Poultry Housing and Shelters
Colorful photos and detailed drawings of Ussery’s own poultry house “The Chicken Hilton” provide a clear blueprint of what should be included in poultry housing. Specific dimensions of each component and step-by-step instructions for how to make some of the accessories are included in the appendices. Ussery also encourages the reader to use their imagination when it comes to housing, as long as you’re sure to consider “ventilation, predators, space, and sunlight.” He also provides guidance about chicken tractors (he calls them cruisers) and mobile a-frame shelters.
Feeding the Small-Scale Flock and Putting Chickens to Work
One of my favorite sections is “Feeding the Small-Scale Flock”, in which Ussery first explains the three natural food groups for chickens: green plants, seeds and fruits, and animal foods. Next, he talks about purchased feeds in detail but then inspires the reader to consider making their own feeds. After explaining the benefits and downsides of each ingredient, Ussery shares sample recipes as well as a feed formulation spreadsheet. He then discusses growing crops, sprouting grains, vermicomposting, and solar cooking to create nutritious foods at home for your flock to enjoy. The book also convinced me of the benefits of putting chickens to work, including using “chicken power” to till cover crops or other organic matter into your garden and rewarding your chickens with treats like black soldier fly grubs.
While the book is mainly focused on getting started with chickens, there’s plenty of helpful information about ducks, geese, guineas, and turkeys, too. I particularly enjoyed reading about how ducks love banana slugs and guineas are ideal for controlling squash bugs and ticks.
If you’re thinking about getting chickens or other fowl or simply want to improve your current flock management, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock is the perfect guide. It will build your confidence not only in caring for your birds but also in integrating them into other aspects of your homestead.