I was just recently asked for advice on starting a small poultry farm. I have made a lot of mistakes when I first begun so I think I have some things I could
share. It's from my mistakes that I have learned the most.
One of the first things I would suggest is to consider what is the purpose of your farm. At our farm we not only want to have poultry that are pets which produces an income but also to save endangered chicken breeds. But there are many other purposes to consider besides saving endangered breeds, or making an income; you may want to show your birds, give your children valuable experiences in caring for God’s creations, raise your own healthy food, sell free range eggs, or hatching eggs, etc.
The next thing is to determine how you would sell your eggs, chicks, or show birds. Would you take them to a farmer’s market? Would you sell through the internet? Would you sell them from the shows? Would you use Social media or just stick a sign out front of the farm? Set out flyers at gas stations and feed stores, or wherever a business will take them? You could do all the above or none depending on your farm’s purpose.
If you know your purpose, it’s always good to advertise your mission so people will know what you’re all about. Consider drawing up a mission statement for yourself, to help keep you on point and let others support your vision.
If you’ll be selling from the farmer’s market, it comes with a set of issues you’ll need to consider. Not only are your birds exposed to an uncontrollable environment, but you are as well. Whenever you have an abundance of livestock conjugated in a space together there’s a potential of exposing your livestock to germs, and viruses. Also, most places would and should expect you to have Pullorum/Typhoid testing on your birds to bring them onto their property. That takes care of one serious issue, but you need to keep in mind there’s many other viruses they could be exposed to; there’s too many to say.
I myself prefer to practice what is known as bio-security. I don’t want to expose my birds to outside elements that can bring something back to my farm that
could possibly wipe us out. So, I don’t take them off our property. We do sometimes take our young chicks to Market Days at a feed store on occasion, but if we bring back any that were not sold, they remain separated from the rest of the farm for one month to make sure they’re still healthy. After we return, we change our shoes and those get cleaned, and we wash ourselves off thoroughly. All the equipment gets cleaned in strong bleach mix. This should also be the case when showing your birds at exhibitions.
I love the shows, and if it were not for old arthritis, I would be at everyone I could reach. But I would still practice this bio-security. Speaking of shows, I think it would be a great way to work on improving your breeds. At the shows, you would see what to work on to get your birds up to standard, and should your entries win anything they will be very much sought after by serious breeders looking to improve their stock or someone who wants to start breeding. Also, you will have an edge for selling your fertile eggs or chicks when you advertise that your breeders won at any show or even that you have shown your birds. If you should have the opportunity to participate just know that I’m very envious of you! Ha!
Social media is fantastic for getting the word out there about your farm. If you choose Facebook, you can post all kinds of pictures that show what kind of flocks you have, and you can share experiences, and let people know what you are selling. If you get your page established as a farm, you can also get paid advertisements which do so much more for getting the word out about your products. There are so many groups that you can join. There are groups for hatching eggs, groups for all kinds specific breed of chickens, and plenty of groups that just want to talk anything about chickens.
Instagram to me seems stress free. The only thing about Instagram is that you really need to use the hashtags to become discoverable. It’s easy to find what kind of hashtags to use. Just do a search on google for the hashtags for your breed of chickens, then copy it and paste it into the comment section of your post. I highly recommend social media for getting your farm products known. No matter which kind of social media you use it will get your farm out there because thousands and thousands of people are using social media.
If you choose the internet, I think a website is an absolute must. You can do your own website yourself. If you can do social media, you can do your own website. One that is easy even for an amateur whose never did anything on the internet is wix. I highly recommend using wix. Go onto wix.com and play with some of their templates, it’s free. Once you figure the ins and outs of it you can work on a serious website and I recommend purchases your domain in order to make it searchable. Unless you buy it, it will rarely be found when folks search on the internet. The wix website will offer marketing tools of which one is shout outs and blogs. Use them and make your page where people can subscribe so they can receive your blogs and shootouts.
One very good thing I found beneficial about having a website is that you can list your prices. There it is in black and white. It does away with people who want to haggle about the price. We had some crazy experiences with some well meaning folks that thought they would talk us down from whatever price they wanted to give us. It's just how they do in some places, but we have our prices, and as I told my daughter just tell them that's what the boss wants. Here's our price list, go ahead, check it out: click here Egg Well Farm Price List
No willing and dealing here, but whenever we choose we do offer discounts, and we offer great sales, and we give most of our male chicks as a free gift whenever someone wants one. Whenever possible we add another pullet and even though we advertise that we sell straight run, we always look for the pullets. If it ends up being a male, we're covered because we sell straight run. When the customers get all or mostly girls, they are very pleased and you just won yourself a loyal customer, more valuable than their weight in gold. I highly recommend giving customers more than what they ask for and better than what they thought they would get. It only helps you and your business in the long run.
One thing to keep in mind when naming your farm if you’re going to have a website is that many of the search engines bring up searches in alphabetical order. Also, people searching for your product will usually put the name of the product in the search. My advice is to name your farm and website something that you’re selling. For example: we named our farm ‘“Egg” Well’ because eggs are something we sell, and the searches would bring it up alphabetically first when people search out fertile eggs.
NPIP means National Poultry Improvement Program. This is a must for selling
eggs or poultry across the state lines. It’s the law to be NPIP Certified if you plan to sell anything in another state. This is how our federal government keeps dangerous viruses such as Avian Influenza under control, and they monitor diseases such as Newcastle. NPIP is your friend. It seems an imposition, but you want them to know and inform you of the diseases in your area or wherever you may travel. And I find that after our inspections it puts my mind at ease that we’re doing everything we know to do to keep our breeders healthy and sell healthy eggs and chicks to our friends and community. Honestly, wouldn’t you rather buy from a farm that has an NPIP Certification?
The federal government oversees the NPIP, but a state-level agency administers the certification program for their state. The agency that runs the NPIP certification is typically that state’s Department of Agriculture or a division of it. The NPIP website provides a full list of each state’s official NPIP coordinating agency and contact information. Here is a link for your contact information. Click on the state where you’re from for contact information for who/how to become NPIP. www.poultryimprovement.org
For the state of South Carolina contact information for NPIP Certification :
Julie D. Helm, DVM, DACPVSC NPIP Coordinator,
Animal Health Programs Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health Division
PO Box 102406, Columbia, South Carolina 29224-2406
cell first: 803-260-6442;
main line 803-788-2260;
The NPIP agency in each state will request the poultry owner to submit an application. First the agency will set up an appointment to do an initial inspection of the owner’s property. The inspection checks to see that the property has all the proper equipment and facilities for raising healthy poultry. After inspections, the owner signs an agreement with that state’s agency, pays the appropriate fees and receives certification. The amount of certification fees is different from state to state. Some states do not charge anything to participate in the program and this program is voluntary.
Also, you could take the class and become a tester and keep your birds tested for yourself. If you’re planning to have a good-sized farm, I highly recommend doing this. You cannot test for the Avian Influenza, but you would be allowed to test for the Pullorum/Typhoid. Both my daughter and I are testers and even though we could hire ourselves out, we have our hands full keeping our 250 breeders tested. But becoming a Pullorum/Typhoid tester will do away with hiring someone else and do away with that expense.
The Pullorum/Typhoid test is required once a year and the Avian Influenza is
twice a year. The NPIP Agency will do a swab test for Avian Influenza, and usually do another inspection. In South Carolina when our Avian Influenza test time comes, the state’s Tester will also inspect our farm, and this is twice a year. They check your lots, coops, and incubator practices for cleanliness and for infestations of rodents. They check feed barrels and waterers for any contaminants. They check the lots for setting stale water, or trash that attracts rodents. These are just a few things to give you a heads up when applying for the NPIP Certification.
This is how I would advise myself on starting a chicken farm
Having chickens is fun if you prepare. I was not prepared for the size of poultry farm I started. I started with 6 different breeds and over 80 chickens which was small compared to now, but boy did I make a lot of mistakes.
I wish someone would have told me not to put chicken feed inside the coops because that attracts mice, not to mention, rats! Rats will eat the eggs, chicks and even chew your grown hens to death. I learned that in the worst kind of experience that still makes me want to cry when I think of what a horrible way my sweet hens died. Then rats attract snakes, snakes not only eat eggs, they eat chicks, and as crazy as it seems they will murder your chickens. I say murder, because they kill them and leave them laying.
After a couple of years into my poultry business, I began to notice a rat here and there. No, not mice, rats, very large rats…huge! "Oh well" I thought, "I’ll just get some rat poison". Then I began to sink in the ground inside the chicken lots. Big tunnels dug all over the place and soon it became dangerous. "Okay, right now, they’re more of a nuisance, not to mention creepy. Okay, okay", I’m thinking. "I got to do something".
Next thing that happened is I was finding feet from my chicks in some of the
areas where I let them free range. I knew there must be a predator. Then in the brooders where we kept our feathered chicks outside, I found the wings and legs of a chick that was consumed inside the brooder that we thought was predator proof! Then at that time when we’d go out on the farm about 2 acres of coops and lots, I would see rats all over the place near the coops.
I still had not connected the dots between the dead birds to the rats. For some reason, in my mind rats eat cheese and obviously the corn in our chickens feed, and let’s not forget to mention the price we were paying for feed at that time doubled!
Well a horrifying wake-up call to the truth happened one night we were gathering up our 2-month-old chicks to lock up and everyone was pretty busy. We heard a chick crying, it sounded like they do when they’re uncomfortable, but actually when we finally stopped what we were doing to check it out we seen a rat as big as a cat, inside our barn with us, pulling one of our 2-month-old chicks behind a table and a tool box. My daughter pulled the table and toolbox out and grabbed the chick away. It took 2 months for the chick to heal, but that’s when we realized, finally, that the rats were the predators eating our chicks!
Sorry if you think I’m crazy, but after that, almost every night for about a month, I took my .22-gauge rifle with a flashlight attached to the barrel and did a lot of killing. There were so many rats at that time, it was like some kind of scene from a horror movie. You didn’t even have to aim and you’d kill a rat. I’m talking about rats as big as cats, man! So horrific.
We called an exterminator, and they dropped off boxes with poison but never returned neither to fill up the boxes, collect the boxes or even to collect the pay. When I’d call no one would come. It was the weirdest thing. Out of frustration I just found a place to purchase my own pest control supplies. www.domyown.com
Getting rid of the rats took a lot of poison and it meant putting every coop's feed inside a closed container every night. After finding a dead chick in the outside brooder half eaten, we knew a rat got inside with the chicks and had been closed up with them, so we were very vigilant to check inside the brooders with a flashlight before locking them up.
Also, at that time, we were running across snakes gobbling up huge rats. It’s the
worst thing to be locking up coops in the dark with a flashlight and come face to face with a long tail and back legs hanging from a snake’s mouth and see its eyes with its body stretched all out of proportion. Don’t know why the neighbors 2 areas away didn’t hear me scream. LOL! I’m saying all this to let you know how much of a problem can grow from having feed that attracts mice, and rats, which attracts snakes. I know most people starting out will not have 20 coops, or maybe you’ll have more, but either way it’s so important to stay on top of the rodents. The best way to keep them away is by not having anything for them to eat. They are drawn to scratch grain, so keep it locked down.
After the rats disappeared, the snakes became scarcer, but in the meantime, snakes were consuming our fertile eggs and eating our chicks, so we were fighting two of this woman’s most dreaded predators. Honestly, I would rather deal with a fox, even a bobcat, or maybe even a bear! No, I take the last one back. But for real, I am very vigilant about locking the chicken feed up at night, because I do NOT ever want to deal with all that again. We have the rodents under control now, seldom ever do we see one, and when we do, we set out the poison. I know that a lot of folks don’t like to use poison in fear their chickens may eat the rodent, but these guys are too big for a chicken to eat. I'm taking cat size here.
I would advised myself if you are going to breed your chickens, be sure to have a
backup rooster around the farm as well. We lost one of our pure breed roosters to a chicken hawk when he gave up his life to save his hens. It took us a year to find one that was worthy of breeding. You can find all kinds of stuff out there, but not a lot that will align with the standards of the chicken breed, so now I always keep a backup quality breeder rooster.
I would have told myself to get a good working water system that will keep going
even during freezing cold temperatures. The first winter I told myself that next year the winter will not be so hard, since I’m in the south, this is rare. I can carry buckets of water to the lots this year, but next year it probably will not even snow. Well it not only snowed, but we had ice storms. Ice over the nettings. Ice over the lots. Ice was everywhere; we had to carry buckets of water. I’m not talking snow, but ice, and it lasted longer than a week! If you live in the SC area, you know what I’m talking about.
The next year was worse because we had flash flooding and the chickens
couldn’t even make it out of their coops in the flooding, much less get a drink from their water buckets outside without a roof.
I wish someone would have told me to put porches in the chicken run to keep the chickens and the food and the water out of the rain. Since you don’t want feed in the coops you must have a way to keep it dry and a place for your flock stay dry while they eat. Not only does the flock need a dry place from rain, but a place out of the ice storms if you’re in the southeast, and out of the blizzards in the North, a porch roof works in so many ways.
I wish I knew to start off that I really should breed chickens that were special hard to find breeds that people did not want to eat. Okay, I am a wuss, it broke my heart when people came to buy my gorgeous Buff Orpington and say, we’ll be back after we eat these. I would cry for days, so I really am a wuss. All my chickens are handled and spoken to with sweet tones straight out of the hatcher for the purpose of imprinting our birds because it takes the fear away that they sometimes would have of people. (Click to see video) After they’re imprinted, they look to you as a mamma, and most of the time that mamma was me. So, I am a wuss and proud of it, so there! 😊 I do this for the specific purpose of selling friendly birds for people that can make awesome pets for children, families, and for showing.
I started off in this business with Black Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Welsummer, Buff Orpington, Dominique, and Barred Rocks. I had so many
customers that wanted to buy our Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, and Dominique roosters and it didn’t occur to me they were eating my hand raised friendly sweet cockerels until they returned for more.😢 Slowly I began to change my breeds to birds that were going extinct with a mission to help preserve some of those rare breeds.
No wonder the poor things are going extinct. One breed is the sweet Dominique
whose been on the critical list 3 times in USA’s history. People eat them into extinction. My Lord, do we need get a license for chicken breeds that are almost extinct like they do for deer and you can only eat them during hunting season?
I would advise someone to begin with the breeds that are in highest demand during this season, depending on your purpose/mission. If you plan to offer healthier food source by offering dual propose breeds do a research on what people are choosing to fill that need and start with that. Call the hatcheries and ask some questions, most of the time they’re happy to help, because you may be purchasing from them. Look up some homesteads on Facebook and talk to some of those farms what kind of chicken breeds they prefer.
If you are going the family pet way, find out what it is that people are looking for
and fill that demand. I’ve found that people really love the colored egg baskets, so if you just want to offer the public those gorgeous eggs find the breeds that lay different colors of eggs. If you want to offer folks some breeds for showing, do your research and find the breed that you think you would enjoy and start with those.
I highly recommend going with diversity of breeds because sales seem to go like waves. One year the Marans are popular sales, the next month or year, it seems to be the Ameraucana. Just sticking with one breed can limit your sales to a selected group of customers. Be as versatile as you’re able to sustain.
I would have told myself do not sell chicks, only sell fertile eggs because you don’t have to sex your chicks or try and help people re-home roosters. There are many people living in areas where they cannot have roosters, and people really want to own their own little backyard flock.
It really feels horrible putting sweet chicks in a box to ship and sometimes they won’t make it to the destination until 3 days later due to slow delivery by the post office, and in that case they’re usually some dead. It’s so horrible, but these people really need these chicks, so I say a little prayer and for the next couple of days I am looking up the tracking number to see where they are, all the while holding my breathe. Restating, I am a wuss and proud of it. 😊 But this is something to consider should you choose shipping.
It’s so much easier to just sell fertile eggs. Low overhead, no heat lamps, no brooders needed, no starter feed or shavings. Just sell the fertile eggs and go to the chicken shows and put your best pullets, and cockerels in exhibitions win ribbons and have fun. If you do win some shows everyone wants your eggs. Get a reputation for breeding great stock which makes your product have a greater value and enjoy yourself alone the way. If only I had it to do over, that is exactly the way I would have gone.
I wished I would have invested on supplies before I was loaded down with
livestock, and if you’re going to be hatching chicks you need to determine how many eggs you want to hatch so you can purchase the best incubator to handle the numbers.
I could have had much less stress with a nice water system already installed and feed bins to hold at least 50 pounds of feed. We use 50 pound of chick starter in 2 days. You’ll need heat lamps when raising your flock from chicks, and I highly recommend using a thermometer in the brooder, feed trays are needed, brooders, coops with chicken runs, shavings, never use cedar shaving with chickens, cedar is poison to them.
Another thing I would advise myself is to investigate the reputation of the breeder from whom I purchase my chicks to make sure they have enough experience to produce a pure breed. We ended up with one of our Orpington being a mixed breed, which made me very sad because we loved that rooster and he was supposed to have been a breeder for us, and after becoming very attached we had to re-home him.
I would advise myself to have automatic door openers and closer. Opening the
doors in the mornings is not too bad for me but going around to lock up every night is a little rough. Locking up the flocks at night could mean life or death for your flock when predators come around. Some predators can even unlatch a door or pry a door open if they’re determined enough. We usually have a dog to protect our guys, but there was a night our Trooper was sick, and we kept him indoors for one night.
The next morning, we made our rounds to open doors to find that one of the
doors on a beloved Welsummer roosters’ coops was clawed apart and both our sweet boys were brutally killed. One had his guts pulled out and the other was killed with neither of them being eaten. It was a killing just for the sake of killing. Spunky was the most adorable cockerel I have ever owned. No two chickens are alike they have their own personality and that Spunky had more personality than any cockerel I have ever known. Needless to say, we have made all our coops secure and we now own an Anatolian Shepherd who keeps everyone safe.
I would advise myself to install the kind of door latches that predators cannot open no matter if they have little hands like a racoon, or opossum, or if they are strong like a bobcat and can claw it open or to dig under like a dog, or coyote. We have avian netting to prevent overhead predators, and we lock our coops every night and now we have a livestock guardian dog, Anatolian Shepherd that patrols the grounds religiously like he’s on some kind of a mission.
Another mistake I wish to rectify eventually is putting a broody area in each coop for the broody hen to stay with her chicks. This would make integration back into the flock easier, and when not in use for the broody hen, it can be used for a chicken that has wounds to heal, never leave a sick chicken in the coop with your healthy ones, only the wounded.
To do it over again, I would have the backup roosters’ coop and run next door to the flock where he would be needed. Also, I would have a bachelor pad connected to the flock’s coop to keep the breeder rooster during off season, so the girls could have a break.
Electricity going into each chicken lot could have saved me so much trouble. I have over 20 flocks with lots, but it would sure be nice if I could plug up a leaf blower, spray painters, fans, heaters, lights or electrical tools. I think it would be a luxury, but if I had a smaller farm, I would definitely have electricity at each coop.
I think I would also have built bigger coops and runs than what I thought I needed. It’s amazing how chicken math works. You plan for 10, but you end up with 20.
I am still searching for a way to keep rodents out of my chickens feed. I let my flocks eat all they want during the days and every night I close the containers in which I keep the feed, but it still doesn't keep feed off the ground. It’s very difficult to go to over 20 lots closing lids. Somehow, I got to find a better system. I tried the grandpa feeders, but I have too many chickens for that to work for us, but it would work great for a small flock.
The most important thing I would have told myself is to have a healing area as far away from the coops as possible for the sick. Even to this day I end up with some sick chickens in my house. It’s very important to get the sick ones away from your healthy ones as soon as possible. Keeping a good bio-security means keeping sickness away from your flock.
The sick ones need a dry place that has good air where they can be kept clean and quiet. Stress on chickens can cause a lot of illness or prevent them from recovery. I would love to have a nice little building off the side somewhere to care for my poultry that don’t feel well. For a small farm a garage, utility room, mud room, or basement can work fine, but I usually have over 300 chickens of all ages and gender on my farm. If I had to do it over again, I would make a poultry healing house first thing.
What ever route you may choose, always try to be a responsible breeder by finding out what the breed standards are supposed to be and have a breeding program to work toward keeping the standard. If you keep your breeders healthy then their offspring will hatch out strong and healthy. We feed our breeders Game feed which is on the high end as far as pricing goes, but I have found that their offspring tend to be much stronger and I don’t have as much a loss from the death of newly hatched chicks.
I'm sure there are many other mistakes that I've made and can't think of right now, but hopefully some of these things will help you make plans if you are considering starting a business selling anything poultry. Be excellent in the poultry business you have, and aim for integrity. Offer to take back chicks that get sick within one week after leaving your farm. If your hatching eggs arrived busted offer to send them more.
Basically, plan for safety from predators, and shelter from bad weather which is good not only for your flock, but you as well. Offer healthy products with the assurance of being NPIP Certified, and always give the best with extras.
I decided that I would aim to have not only a clean place for me and my flocks,
but a pretty place. Just because it's a poultry farm does not mean you have to have chickens hid away in some ugly building that looks more like a death sentence than a place for happy chickens and happy people. Enjoy your business whatever you decide to do, because sometimes it can be rough, but if you enjoy it, the joy will trump the rough times.