BOOK REVIEW

Home Farm cover - 9k Collins Home Farm Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide...
Peter Ford
pub. Harper Collins, 2000
Hardback, 128 pages, 9.99
ISBN 0-00-413396-X

So you're thinking about throwing in the towel and heading for the hills in search of 'the good life'. But how to feed yourself? Well a good starting point for rearing and managing popular farm animals on a small scale is Peter Ford's Home Farm Handbook, published by Harper Collins.

The 128 pages cover the keeping of smaller livestock species: Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Goats and Bees. Ford himself is in the commercial duck industry and, as he points out in his Introduction, keeping livestock requires a preparedness to commit time, and a need to look after the health and wellbeing of the animals you keep.

In each of the sections Ford covers off virtually every aspect of the animals - physiology and anatomy, their habits, food, housing, basic healthcare and breeding. In every section, apart from that of Beekeeping, Ford provides a 'profile' of the major breeds, displaying a photograph of each along with a boxout which contains details such as weight, size and colour. Under 'Keeping Ducks', for example, he lists Muscovy, Aylesbury, Peking, Indian Runner, Rouen and Khaki Campbell.

The book's contents are nicely laid out with lots of photographic illustrations, and the informational text is generally modularised into digestible chunks. That text, which is peppered here and there with gentle humour, contains a wealth of solid advice. For example, the author describes Cochin chickens as making excellent foster mothers but producing only about a hundred eggs a year (other breeds will produce double that). For keeping ducks he says that 'There is no need to buy or make a really sophisticated duck house as, unlike chickens, ducks do not need windows, nest boxes or perches', and about goat behaviour we learn that: 'When alarmed, goats will stamp one forefoot and produce a high-pitched, sneezing sound.' There is also advice on making goat's milk cheese and yoghurt from your herd's milk output, and how to get at the honey and beeswax produced by your bees.

At around 10 Ford's book will give you a good basic grounding which will help determine whether keeping animals to produce the basic foodstuffs - milk, eggs, meat and honey - is within your capabilities. What is not really included is any economic breakdown of costs, and what savings might be made on the food bill. Also, I imagine, once you start keeping animals you will need to progress to a more detailed book which covers disease and healthcare issues in much greater detail.

The other thing which struck this reviewer was that the book did not include cows, sheep or pigs. Perhaps that might be forthcoming in a second volume, although one suspects that there is so much red tape involved in keeping these that it doesn't bear consideration for the amateur or hobbyist.

The bottom line? A very worthwhile book which should help you make some important early decisions as you contemplate keeping animals to provide food for the dinner table or for sale. Ford gives you an excellent overview of what to expect when managing the animals covered as well as plenty of practical advice. It also might be worthwhile considering this book for educational purposes, given that some children believe that eggs grow on trees and honey comes in pots.

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