Best Chicken and Livestock Books

I do a lot of reading each year – a lot, a lot. So when I come across a book that really shines I like to recommend to folks looking for good information on a subject or for a great read. Many chicken and livestock books only brush the surface and offer vague descriptions of what it really takes to raise these animals. The following books stand out for me as the ones that have provided the most information and which I return turn, again and again, when I have some problem to solve.

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Harvey Ussery’s book: The Small-Scale Poultry Flock belongs in a class of its own. This is my go-to book on chicken keeping when I was starting out, and I still use it when I come across something that is challenging my flock or my practices. Harvey brings years of experience to his descriptions and recommendations, and provides ideas for solving common problems. He covers everything from basic care and housing requirements to how to properly collect eggs or harvest birds. It is a must have read for any small flock keeper and a worthy investment to make in your knowledge.

My second must have for any chicken owner is Gail Damerow’s book: The Chicken Health Handbook, 2nd Edition. This book is well organized, well illustrated, and very approachable in its style, making it a go-to book if you see a problem in your flock and you want to get to the bottom of it. Recently I had a bird that seemed to have a condition called ‘sour crop’ where there was a build up of materials in the crop and my bird looked terrible. I looked it up in the book, followed the thread of information to an at-home solution and it worked! I was thrilled. In 24 hours using the simple treatment my bird bounced back and has fully recovered. Given that finding veterinarian help on chickens can be next to impossible (where I am at least), this book has been a terrific resource.

Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs – by Signe Langford is simply a delightful book to have about chickens. It has both useful information on chickens and some amazing egg recipes broken out by season. It’s one of those books that brings me joy when I go through it and find something new to make with eggs.


I am new to raising beef and keep only a small herd of Dexters, but these next two books have been the best I have found on raising cows for meat. However, Dexters are a dual purpose breed and useful for milk as well. I had to find other books about milk, milking and related food handling practices. Perhaps one day I will write a book about dual purpose cows so all the information is in one place.

For Grass-fed Beef

Salad Bar Beef – by Joel Salatin – 1995: Yup – this might be an older title, but this book is packed full of great information about raising cattle on pasture. It covers all the steps for rotational grazing, cattle care, pasture maintenance and even marketing of grass-fed beef. A great read and a great addition to any livestock farmer’s shelf, regardless of the type of animals you are grazing. I have used rotational grazing on my farm to improve my forage quantity and quality, with amazing results.

Grass-Fed Cattle – by Julius Ruechel – 2006 – This is a great read covering everything from the fundamentals of grass-fed beef through to the infrastructure you need and the business planning and marketing of your products. It even has sample forms and tables you can use in your business planning and information tracking. Definitely worthy of a well-stocked library.

The Cattle Health Handbook – by Heather Smith Thomas – Having livestock means being able to handle situations while you are waiting for help to arrive, or when trying to decide about the need for veterinary care. This handbook has been a great go-to book for learning about raising cattle. I like it because it breaks out the disorders by body system – digestive system, eyes, skin, etc. – making it so much easier to get a handle on what might be going on with your cow.

For Milk and Milk Products

It took me a long time to find a book about milk and milk cows that I was happy with, but Milk Cow Kitchen – by Mary Jane Butters is it. Although I have to admit that some of the text is hard to read because of constantly changing font sizes, the information in this book is fantastic. There are clear, step-by-step summary pages that make learning to milk a cow and handle milk so much easier. And it has many recipes for using that milk which are easy to follow. This book will take you through the steps of raising a milk cow, dealing with health and sanitation issues on a small scale, and enjoying your efforts. It’s a great read for new and old milk cow fans. I have made my own yogurt following the practices in this book – delicious!

One-Hour Cheese – by Claudia Lucero is a beautifully illustrated, step-by-step guide for learning to make cheese. There are photographs illustrating each step along the way and a guide for the materials you need to get started. And while this book probably belongs more properly under my cookbook section, I include it here because if you have milk, then sooner or later you think about trying your hand at cheese. I have to admit that I am “not there yet” in terms of making cheese, but this book makes me believe that I can, in fact, learn to make some valuable cheeses quickly and simply.

Small Farm Books & Some Favorite Reads

The Complete Guide to Small-Scale Farming – by Melissa Nelson, is a good choice if you are trying to decide what animals might fit with your small farm. This book provides a pretty good overview of all your different options. It goes over the basic requirements for chickens, ducks, other poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, beef and dairy cows and provides information on harvesting animals for meat. It’s a good overview book of what the possible small farm options look like.

I seriously believe that The Omnivore’s Dilemma – by Michael Pollan, should be required reading for everyone and be part of school curriculums! This book is both entertaining and an eye-opener about what has happened to our food systems and our food. Pollan makes the subject approachable for readers of all backgrounds. It’s one I just couldn’t put down, and worthy of reading a second or even third time.

If you are a Pollan fan, you can even get the box set of all three of his books: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Cooked. Whether you grow food, purchase locally from farmers, or are just a foodie looking to make the best choices, Pollan brings a creative voice to the challenges facing us and our planet.

The Future of Animal Farming- Renewing the Ancient Contract – edited by Marian Stamp Dawkins and Roland Bonney (2008) is getting a little bit dated, but nonetheless it offers some excellent view points to consider regarding the ethics of animal farming and what changes are needed to improve the health and welfare of livestock. This is a much more science-based approach than Pollan’s books, with each chapter written by a different author. The things I learned reading this one have stuck with me and while there has been a lot of progress in animal welfare since this book was published, this book provides a good foundation for why we need livestock and how to amend the human-livestock relationship.

What’s on my reading wish list?

Top of my reading wish list for this fall:

Since I am new to keeping ducks, I have been looking for more resources on their care and management. Top of must-reads is Lisa Steele’s: Duck Eggs Daily. I’m looking forward to ordering this one for my winter reading collection.

Happy Reading!

Looking for great recipes to use for all your fresh farm food? Check out my recommendations for cookbooks for the best ways to make healthy meals.

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