Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple recommends



Don't forget: the books mentioned below are available at 20% off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code "tablehopper" at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.

If you're just looking for a book to read, this month's Bookworm column may not be of much help to you (though we have thousands, of course, at the store). But if you're thinking of keeping chickens, read on. (Are those crickets I hear?)

This spring, my wife and I shamelessly jumped on the "urban homestead" bandwagon. We were inspired by the usual factors: Michael Pollan, these thrifty times, neighbors who keep bees. We also wanted to show our city kids where food comes from. So when my wife's office (Sunset magazine) got chickens, we toyed with the idea of getting ourselves a few laying hens. We hemmed and hawed, not wanting any more responsibilities in life, but curious. Between Farm City and Sunset magazine's experiences, we realized just how easy it is to keep chickens. So in mid-April, we pulled the trigger and bought four chicks: two barred Plymouth Rocks and two Cuckoo Marans.

And we got The Joy of Keeping Chickens by Jennifer Megyesi ($14.95).

Each chick was five days old and, at $4.50 each at Half Moon Bay Feed and Fuel, seemed like a good deal for two–three years of eggs. Of course, we also bought about $100 worth of stuff: cage, heat lamp, waterer, and feed. While the chicks grew surprisingly quickly atop our dryer, we threw together a coop and run with recycled lumber from Builder's Resources for about $40, plus another $100 or so at hardware stores for plastic roofing, chicken wire, etc. At about eight weeks, the pullets moved outside.

While we waited for eggs, one chicken gradually showed his true colors: he was a little more aggressive, had a bigger comb, and eventually started the day (his last) with a pure "cock-a-doodle-doo." Once we realized we had a rooster on our hands, action had to be taken. So we consulted The Joy of Keeping Chickens (and YouTube), then we slaughtered, plucked, cooked and ate "Tillie." S/he made a nice pozole, albeit an expensive one. And while I would have preferred another laying hen to a hearty pozole, that process was ultimately a rewarding byproduct of our urban homesteading experiment.

And finally, last week, 22 weeks and $333 later, we got our first egg. And it was deliciously rich and rewarding. Even now, a week later, we're giddy when we open the little door to the laying box and find a light brown treat.

As for the book, it has everything you need and more—it even covers raising birds for meat, which is just not practical or cost-effective in San Francisco. It's well organized, clearly written, nicely put together, colorful, and very respectful, even loving.

FAQs: we sold our chick "starter kit" to another family for $50, so that reduced our costs. Plus, our picky-eater preschoolers provide many scraps for the chickens, and our local produce market saves trimmings from aging greens for the hens—both of these things keep our feed costs minimal.

You can leave your hens untended for days on end, so it's much easier than owning a cat or dog (though it's best to ask a neighbor to collect your eggs every day or so—since that task has its own reward, it should be pretty easy). In San Francisco, you can have up to four animals (e.g. if you have a dog, you can only have three chickens). No roosters. I have no idea about other cities.

Inspired? Feel free to email me or ask for me when you're in the store. Or see my wife's blog: with this link, you'll see the chicken entries only (in reverse chronological order, so start at the bottom).

Next month: a review of egg recipe books perhaps. Thanks for reading.