A Guide to Smallholder Poultry Production: How to Improve Livelihoods, Food Security and Socio-cultural Aspects
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Published 8 times each year it offers technical articles that are easy to read, short refresher articles and reviews of the latest research and products. This makes International Poultry Production essential reading for poultry professionals.
This option is designed to develop technical, analytical, communication, business, and management skills needed for advancement to leadership positions in poultry production and allied agricultural industries. Graduates will be able to apply their knowledge of science, economics, business, and ethics to identify, analyze and responsibly address challenges associated with modern poultry production. Relevant courses in poultry processing, products, and business are also included in this curriculum option.
The LDP Outlook report includes monthly livestock, dairy, and poultry information, focusing on current and forecast production, prices, and trade for each of the sectors. Commentary on observed trends is also included. Tables supporting the current monthly report are available on the ERS website at Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: Tables. Related website: -products/
Raising backyard chickens is an increasingly popular way to explore self-sufficiency, connect with how our food is produced, and gain experience for future dabbling in food production. Besides producing quality eggs to eat and share, raising chickens can be an enjoyable pastime for youth and adults alike. Those considering launching a small farm business including poultry may also be interested in starting with a few backyard hens to build their knowledge and experience. This publication is designed primarily for those considering raising backyard chickens for eggs for personal consumption. Resources for additional information on eggs for sale or larger scale production are also provided.
Before getting started, consider whether or not it is legal to keep chickens where you live. Many communities have regulations that restrict the location and quantity of poultry on residential properties. These regulations are generally put in place to keep residential neighborhoods free of the noise, odors, pests, and predators associated with keeping poultry. Common restrictions include limiting the number of birds, establishing a setback from neighboring property for housing, and a general prohibition of male chickens, or roosters. Most prohibit roaming poultry and are often enforced based on complaint. These ordinances sometimes include an exemption for student educational projects. Note that while chickens may be permitted, other livestock of interest such as ducks or turkeys may not be allowed. Make friends with your neighbors and verify any regulations to protect yourself and your birds from any problems. To confirm your zoning designation, visit the website of your city or county's Planning and Zoning department or contact them directly. You can also search your local ordinances at
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Interest in supporting specific production practices has increased the number of terms used in the marketplace that can easily be a point of confusion. According to the USDA, "free range" means the animal has been allowed access to the outside. "Cage-free" indicates the birds have unlimited access to food and water and can roam their enclosure; however, they are not required to have access to the outdoors. For more information, see the USDA website ( -graded-cage-free-eggs-all-theyre-cracked-be).
Using the right feed for the growth stage and purpose of your birds is important. Starter and grower feeds contain a higher percentage of protein to meet the growth needs of young birds, and layer feeds contain the higher percentages of calcium necessary for egg production. If fed layer feed, chicks will develop kidney problems and rickets since chicks will not use the extra calcium, and the calcium to phosphorus ratio will be put out of balance. Expect reduced growth, unnecessary stress, and potentially higher mortality rates if layer feed is fed to chicks. Roosters should not consume layer feed, either, since they will not be using the extra calcium; only laying-age female poultry should consume layer feed. If you have a mixed species flock (e.g., guinea hens, turkeys, waterfowl, etc.), all-flock feed is available and formulated to provide for specific nutrient requirements for various species.
Non-medicated starter feed is available to use for those birds receiving a coccidiosis vaccination or for the poultry owner choosing a more organic production system. Chicks are particularly susceptible to coccidiosis because they have not yet built an immunity to infection. Over time, however, chickens will naturally develop immunity after exposure. Vaccination or medicated feed provides early protection during the most vulnerable stage of the bird.
Choosing not to vaccinate or use medicated feed will increase your flock's risk of illness and mortality. Note that the protozoan parasite that causes coccidiosis and its eggs are commonly found in the droppings of chickens and other birds. One reason wire floors are used in commercial poultry production is to improve sanitation and reduce the birds' exposure to their waste and any pathogens it may contain. While backyard chicken enthusiasts may not envision using wire floors, and prefer to avoid vaccinations or medicated feed, it is important to understand that these choices may leave your flock at increased risk of illness or higher mortality due to coccidiosis. For more information, see EDIS document PS47, Common Poultry Diseases ( ) and EDIS document VM76, Intestinal Parasites in Backyard Chicken Flocks ( ).
The addition of vinegar to poultry water is often a point of interest. This practice is used in commercial meat-bird production to promote gram-positive bacteria and reduce Salmonella in the bird's crop. In some studies, vinegar has been shown to be effective in controlling certain bacteria; however, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim in live poultry (Griggs and Jacob 2005). Electrolyte supplements may also be a point of interest. These are additions to the water targeted to help with loss of electrolytes under high temperature conditions that can lead to dehydration. These supplements may help to reduce the effects of heat stress but are not necessary for the health of the bird as long as fresh, clean water is always available. Whenever a supplement is used, manufacturer instructions for dosing and length of administering should be followed.
Interest in organic production is on the rise. USDA organic certification is available, but it is not very practical for backyard production because of the certification costs involved. Organic livestock production requires 100% certified organic feed, which is readily available at many feed stores but may be more expensive than conventional feed. Do not allow your chickens to forage in areas treated with herbicides or other pesticides not approved for organic production. Explore the USDA certified organic livestock standards at
Watching your flock feed on kitchen scraps can be an enjoyable way to add nutrition to their diet, but too many table scraps can adversely affect growth and egg production. Avoid fatty, salty, sugary, or rotten foods. Never feed the following to your flock:
Several commonly used landscape plants and various weeds contain toxins that may be poisonous. Toxins often make plants smell or taste bad, and their seeds, in particular, can be toxic. Young animals, especially, may eat these plants out of curiosity. Common symptoms of toxic plant poisoning may include weight loss, diarrhea, lethargy, decreased egg production, and increased mortality. Determining whether your birds have eaten poisonous plants can be difficult because the effects can vary with the amount they have eaten and other factors like temperature. If you remove toxic plants from your yard, don't leave them piled up for your flock to access. Providing enough good food sources, suitable fencing, and space can reduce the risk of your chickens ingesting toxic weeds.
Lists of toxic or poisonous plants are not exhaustive and are not assembled specifically for poultry. Therefore, they can be useful but are unlikely to be complete or conclusive. See Tables 1 and 2 for guidance on poisonous plants and familiarize yourself with poisonous plants at Information on poisonous plants is available at -plants/.
Note that chickens will also experience a periodic molt in which they lose their feathers and generally decrease laying. This is a natural part of the bird's life cycle and does not indicate a problem. The molt will last for a period of weeks, and your bird will usually return to regular egg production once the molting process is over. Consider that with age your hens will reduce the number of eggs laid; in which case, feed costs may exceed the financial benefit of the eggs produced. Some backyard chicken owners may choose to continue to keep their birds for companionship, while others may look to euthanize and replace those hens with younger, more productive birds.
If you have ever wondered how many roosters are required for hens to produce eggs, you are not alone. The general public's distance from food production experience has many suspecting that roosters may be required in order to induce hens to lay eggs, but this is not the case. Roosters are male chickens and are not required in order for female chickens, hens, to lay eggs. When mature, the hen will lay eggs as a regular reproductive function of the body. Roosters are required, however, for fertilized eggs that will later hatch into chicks.