Chicken farming can be fun and profitable activity, even for a small enterprise. It’s rewarding and hands-on, requiring easily obtained knowledge to maintain the health and wellbeing of a flock. In this article, we will look at different types of chicken farming and what you’ll need to set one up. Are you ready to learn how to start a chicken farm? Let’s take a look!
What You'll Learn Today
- Types of Chicken Farm
- How do I Start a Chicken Farm?
- How Much Does it Cost to Start a Poultry Farm?
- Are Chicken Farms Profitable?
- Feeding Chickens
- Do I Need Roosters?
- Chicken Housing
- Caring for Chickens
Types of Chicken Farm
Having an interest in chickens is definitely going to be helpful if you’re considering starting your own chicken farm. They are fascinating creatures, all with their own traits and personalities.
Whatever your reasons are, a specific type of chicken farming will likely suit you best.
There are various types of chicken farming, including those specializing in:
- Egg production – Organic, free-range, barn, or battery
- Meat production (broilers) – Organic, free-range, barn, caged
- Breeding (hatcheries)
- Rare breeds (specialist hatcheries)
The advantages and disadvantages of these various different types will no doubt play a big part in which you choose.
If you want to sell eggs, there are a range of things that need to be taken into account:
- Size of your operation – Do you have lots of land, barns, and processing space, or do you just have a large backyard?
- Market – How will you sell your eggs? At farmer’s markets, in local stores, or on a broader scale?
- Type of Chicken – Depending on the kind of enterprise you wish to operate, you’ll need to select the best types of chickens for your purposes.
Rhode Island Reds are popular for laying many large brown eggs and are good to use as free-range birds. While commercial White Leghorns lay many large white eggs and are often used in barns or for caged laying.
Heritage breeds are easy to keep, and while not laying as many eggs as the most popular commercial breeds, can still produce a large number per year. There are many amazing varieties, but some of my favorites are Australorps, Plymouth Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Copper Marans, and Sussex.
There are, of course, many other breeds, and if you wanted to sell specialty eggs, you might choose the Ameraucana or Easter Egger to lay blue and green ones.
A new blue egg breed is being developed by the University of Arkansas. It’s called, not too surprisingly, the Arkansas Blue and is a cross between a Leghorn and Araucana. Their egg-laying ability is higher than either the Ameraucana or Easter Egger at 200 to 300 eggs per year.
BROILER CHICKENS – MEAT PRODUCTION
As with egg production, raising chickens for meat will also require you to make some decisions.
To compete with the big commercial meat producers supplying large chain grocery stores, you’ll need a vast enterprise. Niche markets, such as raising specialty organic, pasture-raised birds, are probably a better bet for small concerns.
The best breeds of chicken for meat production will depend on which market you’re serving, but popular ones are:
- White Cornish Crosses – these are a mix of a Cornish rooster with a White Plymouth Rock hen. They are referred to as ‘Meat Kings’ due to their efficiency in converting the food they eat into muscle.
- Bresse – for tasty, tender chickens, the Bresse breed is often stated as being the best.
If you’re more interested in breeding chickens and fancy helping save one or more of the many endangered varieties, then running a hatchery might be your ideal.
Hatcheries can focus on producing just a few chicken breeds or many. Some are small and mainly service the backyard market, while others supply large egg or broiler farms with new stock.
The different varieties of heritage chicken breeds are often adorable birds that enjoy human interaction. If you’re an animal lover, raising these birds is not merely a job but often a passion.
Some breeders focus on improving various types of chicken using careful selection. This can be beneficial for enhancing the popularity of rarer breeds and helping secure their future.
Hatcheries have several different income stream options. They can sell hatching eggs for buyers to hatch themselves, chicks, that can either be sexed or unsexed, Pullets, which are young hens coming into lay and laying hens.
If you sell rare breeds, the cost per egg/chick/bird will be higher than for more common types, but the likelihood is that demand may be smaller. When starting out, it would be advisable to offer both and see which works best in your area.
How do I Start a Chicken Farm?
Once you’ve decided what type of chicken enterprise you’d like to have, you’ll need to:
- Draw up a sound business plan.
- Find the required capital.
- Purchase or rent a suitable property for your business idea.
- Buy all the necessary equipment you’ll need to run your chicken farm.
- Get your starter flock.
- Commence your operation.
- Market your product.
Making a detailed business plan that includes an accurate budget is really essential. Being honest and precise with the costs right down to the fine detail will help ensure you are successful.
Shortcuts here can lead to a financial disaster, so if necessary, get professional assistance and get it right.
Capital can be raised in several ways:
- You may be lucky enough to have a large nest egg (excuse the pun) you can use
- Or perhaps you’ve inherited some money you’d like to put into a business venture
- A bank may be willing to give you a loan, but beware! Ensure you think carefully and do your homework well before taking on any form of credit, as if things go wrong, you could lose everything!
- Maybe the property you currently own can be sold to fund your chicken farm project
However, you raise your capital, always ensure you have more than you think you’re going to need. Inevitably something you never even thought of will require money investing in it.
One of the main reasons new businesses fail is a lack of starting capital. Quite simply, they run out of money before they start turning a profit.
Matching your property to the type of farm you want to run is crucial. Things you’ll need to consider are:
Be sure to check local, state, provincial, and federal laws. Many states have zoning laws specific to farming that prohibit the keeping of chickens in residential areas.
Other rules may also be in force in your area. Some states require you to have a permit, while others will only allow a certain number of birds and so on.
Once you’ve got your property, next, you’ll need to equip it with housing, enclosures, fencing, and everything else you’ll need to keep your birds. Precisely what will be required depends on the type of business you intend to have.
Examples of things you may need include:
- Housing – Coops or buildings that are easy to clean, well ventilated, and insulated.
- Feeding equipment – Rodent-proof, easy clean.
- Watering equipment – Automatic, nipple, or manual.
- Outside enclosures – Chicken runs should be predator-proof and preferably movable.
- Fencing – For free-range pasture birds, you can choose to use electric or mesh fencing around the perimeter.
- Incubator/brooder – Depending on how many chicks you want to hatch, various types of incubators are available. Large cupboard incubators also act as brooders to keep your young chicks safe and warm.
- Brooder – If you’re going to raise young chicks, you’ll need a suitable brooder to put them in. Even if you hatch chicks under a broody hen, it is often safer to raise them away from their Mom.
I have lost many chicks by letting Mom take care of them. If they get wet, they die; if they get lost, they die; if Mom accidentally stands on them, they die, it is both sad and frustrating!
- Heating – If you’re going to barn raise your chickens, you may require heating during the year’s colder months.
- Fans – As with heating, if you barn raise, then fans might be necessary to help with cooling, ventilation, and air movement.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and every aspect of your chickens’ health and wellbeing needs to be taken into careful consideration.
Once you’ve got everything you need, you’re finally ready to get your first hens. YAY! It can be very tempting to jump to this part too quickly, but to do so is a mistake, so try to be patient and get everything ready first.
Do plenty of research on the breed or breeds of chicken you want to have. Things to think about include:
- Heat or cold hardiness, depending on your climate
- Known health problems for the breed/type of chicken
- Flightiness, are they going to fly away or be challenging to handle?
- Personality, are they friendly and get along with their flock mates well?
- Suitability for the environment you will be keeping them in. Will they tolerate being caged, or do they need to be free-range?
- Number of eggs they lay per year
- Amount of meat they give and at what age
When sourcing your chickens, there are a few choices. To get established quickly, it is probably best to use a commercial producer and buy pullets of your desired breed.
You may also find suitable birds from local independent sellers. These could be less expensive, but be aware that their pedigree is often not guaranteed.
You could raise chicks or even hatch eggs yourself, but by doing this, it will be a long while before you see any return on your investment.
Good marketing can make or break a business. Getting your product known, particularly to the people who are most likely to buy it, is absolutely critical to your success.
Ways of promoting yourself include:
- Word of mouth – Talk to as many people as you can
- Local press and radio
- Shows and exhibitions
- Social media – Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on
- The Internet – A good website with online purchasing, blogs, and articles
- Leaflet drops
The more you market yourself, particularly if your marketing is well targeted to your niche audience, the larger your returns are likely to be.
This handy video lays out many of the things you’ll need to consider when starting a chicken farm.
How Much Does it Cost to Start a Poultry Farm?
The costs involved in starting a poultry farm depend entirely on the type and scale of farm you want to set up. Things you’ll need to take into account include:
- The price of your land and buildings
- The cost of all the equipment you will require
- How much your starter flock costs
- Any labor or additional expert help you may need
- License fees, if they are applicable where you are situated
Several websites suggest a figure of between $5,000 to $25,000 USD, but this is really just a stab in the dark.
The only way to honestly know what the cost will be is to carefully price everything up. You’ll need the figures to put into a business plan anyway, so it is well worth doing the legwork.
Are Chicken Farms Profitable?
Chicken farming can be profitable even if your enterprise is relatively small in scale. Success comes from hard work and choosing the right niche, and doing that requires research.
Animal welfare and environmental concerns are becoming a great worry to many in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.
Organic chicken farming, where you raise pasture-kept birds organically, is not only animal friendly but also environmentally sound, and the products are in high demand in a growing market.
Broilers can be turned around quickly, in as little as 10 to 12 weeks if you start with day-old chicks of the right breed. You can sell multiple batches of birds each year, providing you set up your operation well.
Another advantage of meat chickens is that you won’t need vast amounts of land. A quarter of an acre can sustain around 100 birds without detrimental effects to either the chickens or the ground.
Free-range egg or meat birds need minimal care and are generally healthier than barn or caged ones. They typically eat less feed too, making them more cost-efficient.
Because organic and free-range products are popular, they carry a significantly higher price tag, giving room for a healthy profit margin.
Feeding chickens must be done in accordance with their age, use, and time of year.
There are various types of chicken feed specially formulated to suit the age of your birds.
Treat foods can also be given sparingly to increase variety and to enrich the life of the birds. We have an article detailing what chickens can and can’t eat.
There is a commercial chicken feed for every stage of a chicken’s life. They vary slightly depending on what brand you use. They typically include:
- Chick Starter – 0 to 6 weeks of age. For broilers, it has 22% to 24% protein content. For layers, it is around 20% protein. You can get two forms, either medicated or unmedicated.
- Pullet Grower – 6 to 14 weeks of age. Again protein content is higher for meat birds than for layers.
- Pullet Developer/Finisher – 14 to 20/22 weeks of age. Some feed brands don’t produce a grower and finisher feed and just combine it with Pullet Grower.
- Layer Rations – 21 weeks onward for laying hens. This feed is balanced to produce good-quality eggs with the addition of calcium and minerals. It has 16% to 18% protein.
- Broiler Rations – between 14 and 20 weeks onwards. Meat birds mature quickly and are fed a higher protein food than layers. This feed has 18% to 20% protein.
- Feather Fixer – Designed for birds going through a molt in fall. This is when they grow new feathers. It can, however, be fed at any time of year.
- Medicated Feed – Chick and starter feeds can be medicated to build up immunity to coccidiosis. This is a potentially fatal disease contracted from soil or chicken droppings. Mature birds are immune. If good hygiene practices are implemented, medicated feed is usually unnecessary.
- All Flock –Designed for a flock that has both layers and broilers. The protein content is around 17% to 18%.
- Scratch Grain – A mixture of grains such as corn, wheat, oats, or barley that allows a chicken’s normal scratching behavior. This feed is low protein, high carbohydrate, and should be fed sparingly on a 90:10 ratio of 90% feed to 10% scratch grain or other ‘treat’ foods. During a hard winter, this can be increased to help the birds maintain a good body weight.
For laying hens, crushed oyster shells should also be available to provide extra calcium for hard eggshells and strong bones.
All chickens should be given insoluble grit to eat, as they don’t have teeth to chew it. Their digestive system relies on it to grind the food in their gizzard.
Do I Need Roosters?
You only need a rooster if you want to breed chickens, as roosters are required to fertilize your chicken eggs. If not, they aren’t necessary to include in your flock.
Some people say having a rooster increases egg production in their hens, but I have never found this to be the case.
Some roosters help protect their hens from predators and may be helpful in a free-range situation.
The type of housing you choose for your chickens will depend on many factors, most importantly the number of birds you intend to keep.
Whatever type of housing you choose, there are some essential factors. Ensure it is:
- Easy to clean
- Well ventilated, but without drafts
- Insulated from cold and heat
- Providing adequate space for each bird
- Vermin and predator-proof
To learn more about housing your chickens, you can read our article.
Caring for Chickens
Chicken care is not complex and provided they are given good quality food suitable for their age and type, solid, hygienic housing where they can shelter from the weather, and plenty of fresh, clean water, they generally do well.
A regular schedule should be drawn up for applying a product to kill lice and mites that live in the feathers and housing of the birds. Similarly, a de-worming regime needs to be kept.
If you are keeping your birds organically, you can do things that may render the use of chemical products unnecessary. Feeding pumpkin seeds can help with worms, and applying diatomaceous earth can be effective against lice and mites.
Ensuring they have grit to eat of the correct grade is vital to aid digestion, and ground oyster shells to keep eggs hard helps prevent problems with laying.
The regular collection of eggs is important for several reasons; it prevents them from becoming dirty or broken, stops the hens from eating them, and ensures they stay fresh. When collected, you should mark them with the date.
Starting a chicken farm can be a fun and profitable activity. Broiler chicken is the most commonly eaten meat in America, and this trend is likely to continue.
More than 285 eggs are eaten per person per year in the U.S., and the market share for free-range eggs is growing steadily.
Done well, chicken farming is a sound investment, and good profits can even be obtained from relatively few birds.
The information in this article is meant as a guide only.