The books books on chickens in history and in your backyard

Who am I?

I’m an American environmental historian with specialties in food and horticulture. I mostly write on alcohol, wine, garden history, and orchids, but I’ve also kept a small flock of backyard chickens since early 2020. In my preparation for my brood, I read every single chicken history and chicken-keeping book available. Here’s the best of the best.


I contributed to...

The Routledge History of American Foodways

By Michael D. Wise (editor), Jennifer Jensen Wallach (editor),

Book cover of The Routledge History of American Foodways

What is my book about?

The Routledge History of American Foodways provides an important overview of the main themes in the history of American food from the pre-colonial era to the present day. The book incorporates the latest food studies research and explores major advances that have taken place in the past few decades.

The volume has four parts. The first part explores significant developments in US food history in five time periods. The second part examines the key ingredients in the American diet throughout time. The third part focuses on how these ingredients have been transformed into foods identified with the American diet, and how Americans have produced and presented these foods over the last four centuries. The final section explores how food practices are a means of embodying ideas about identity, showing how food choices, preferences, and stereotypes have been used to create and maintain ideas of difference.

The books I picked & why

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Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization

By Andrew Lawler,

Book cover of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization

Why this book?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? might be the worst title of all time, but it is a wonderfully surprising and fascinating book. There are tasty nuggets here for everyone (sorry/not sorry for the pun). Did you know that Mexicans eat more eggs per capita than any other people in the world? Or how many different slang terms and metaphors there are for chickens through time? (“Biology can’t explain why our favored slang word for the male organ refers to a bird that lacks one.” Ha!) Or that in the mid-nineteenth century, Britain and America were absolutely obsessed with raising exotic “fancy” chickens? And that pound for pound, chicken releases only one-tenth the greenhouse gases of red meat such as hamburgers? Read up on the world’s favorite bird and laugh while you’re at it with Lawler’s book.


Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America's Favorite Bird

By Emelyn Rude,

Book cover of Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America's Favorite Bird

Why this book?

Tastes Like Chicken is a seriously excellent book on the history and culture of chickens in America since its earliest days! The book is fun and well-crafted for a wide audience because it covers so much about the chicken industry, as well as the history, uses, and symbolism of chicken, as well as a wider range of foods in the United States.


The Chicken Health Handbook: A Complete Guide to Maximizing Flock Health and Dealing with Disease

By Gail Damerow,

Book cover of The Chicken Health Handbook: A Complete Guide to Maximizing Flock Health and Dealing with Disease

Why this book?

My god, a book about keeping chickens and chicken heath that's actually based on science and experience! (Sorry, there are sooooo many terrible blogs and books and posts out there by people who care just cutting and pasting from other crappy blogs and books.) This is the very best source for everything health-wise on chickens. Check here for the real scoop on adding vinegar to chicken water (why and at what dose), what's up with garlic (neutralize the order of chicken poop, and I promise it won’t flavor your eggs), diatomaceous earth, and thousands of other chicken topics and ailments. As a new chicken keeper, I felt a lot safer keeping my backyard chickens healthy, and diagnosing their issues, with this book on my shelf.


The Chicken Chick's Guide to Backyard Chickens: Simple Steps for Healthy, Happy Hens

By Kathy Shae Mormino,

Book cover of The Chicken Chick's Guide to Backyard Chickens: Simple Steps for Healthy, Happy Hens

Why this book?

This is a good, thorough book on chicken keeping that contains quite a bit of information other chicken books lack. I like Mormino's no-nonsense approach: she offers strong words against using all the “woo-woo” herbs, vitamins, and supplements that are hocked on so many other websites. I think she's right in her assessment: people are more open to the woo-woo stuff because (like me) there are so many first-time backyard chicken owners who didn't grow up with chickens AND there's no vet service that takes chickens seriously in my area. So we feel like we're going it alone and want all the help we can get. Mormino emphasizes what's basic and what's proven, and has other good tips besides.


How to Speak Chicken: Why Your Chickens Do What They Do & Say What They Say

By Melissa Caughey,

Book cover of How to Speak Chicken: Why Your Chickens Do What They Do & Say What They Say

Why this book?

There are an estimated 50 billion chickens to the world’s 7 billion humans, and chickens are the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus rex, so why wouldn’t you want to learn their language? This is a fun, fast book to read in anticipation of getting your first little flock. The central lesson in the book is that you should spend time with your chickens--watching them, but also listening to them. The book teaches what their core vocalizations mean, therefore also helping you in caring for their needs. I couldn’t wait to have a "chicken name" assigned to me by my laying ladies!


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in chickens, birds, and health?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about chickens, birds, and health.

Chickens Explore 23 books about chickens
Birds Explore 117 books about birds
Health Explore 60 books about health

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds: Living the Dream in Rural Ireland, Is Everyone Ready for Fun?, and Chicken Thief if you like this list.