Tonawanda News

February 18, 2014

Reading the 'Chook book'


The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Once I started reading words like “odour,” “behaviour” and “Animal Welfare Council,” I knew I was abroad.

The five chickens that I obtained a few months ago are still eggless and I wanted to do a little research. I picked up the book “A Family Guide to Keeping Chickens” by Anne Perdeaux to learn more. The book just came out this month and is available on Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.com for under $15.

I received the paperback edition and the book itself is really high quality, heavy for its size and 272 pages long. Inside, there are a couple of full photo spreads and many of the pages have colorful illustrations, photographs, quizzes for kids and quick facts to test your chicken knowledge. For example, in Australia chickens are often called “Chooks.”

The book says that two of my chickens, Seramas native to Malaysia, are sometimes kept inside homes in their native land. “Eggs are tiny (five are equivalent to one standard egg) and not very plentiful,” the book says. “They are confident, friendly birds, easy to tame.”

The Serama Club says that the Serama is a “living work of art,” and I would have to agree. Hillary Cluckton and Attila the Hen are very confident, often the first ones to greet us as we let them roam the yard — and when they are done with us, the prance around with their tails held high and chests sticking out. As they’re the smallest breed of chicken in the world, the book says they may be suitable for those with limited space.

Silkie chickens, like my Egg-atha Christie, were noted by Marco Polo after his travels in the 13th century. Perdeaux says Marco Polo wrote that silkies “which have hair like a cat, are black, and lay the best of eggs.” Wonder where my eggs are? Perdeaux does go on to say they aren’t the most prolific of layers, but are enthusiastic brooders, making them good to keep around to incubate and raise other breeds.

My last two chickens are very similar. One is a Cochin and the other is a frizzled chicken, which is almost a Cochin but with a gene that makes her feathers grow backward, giving her a “Farrah Fawcett” hairdo. My Cochin’s name is Hen Stefani and the frizzled is named Feather Locklear. The book says that Cochins are a heavy, placid breed and make excellent pets. They have been bred for show and may have lost some of their egg-laying abilities. “The big feathery ‘trousers’ and feathered feet will require clean and dry conditions, but these birds can live happily in a run as they are not particularly active.”

So what I have learned is that all of the chicken breeds I have purchased are not the most prolific when it comes to egg production, and that since they were hatched later in the season, they may not begin egg production until spring.

“Around fourteen hours of daylight are required for laying — most hens stop or slow down in the short days of winter,” the book adds. Other reasons why there could be a lack of eggs include: disease, parasites, egg eating, too many treats or lack of water. I blame the polar vortex!

If you have chickens, eat eggs or are thinking about keeping chickens, this book is great for the whole family. It is titled, after all, “A Family Guide to Keeping Chickens.” Each chapter ends with “Key Points” and a Kids’ Corner with a short quiz that can be as valuable to the children as to the non-children in the household. In addition to the quiz, there is also a Chicken Chat — a section about chicken sayings, chicken jokes and something to do for the kids to get involved in these fundamental feathered critter companions.

“What do you get if you feed gunpowder to a chicken? An eggplosion!”

This book is almost as punny as I am, with chapters titled: Buying the Eggstras, Outfoxing the Fox, Doing the Hen-Housework, Having Something to Crow About, Chickening Out and How do You Cock-A-Doodle-Doo?

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified professional bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.