A Beginner’s Guide to Poultry Farming


Contract poultry farming is when a company and a farmer signs a contract to produce broilers, breeders or replacement pullets and commercial laying hens.

This method of production has been used in the poultry industry for more than 50 years and has proven to be one of the most secure and financially successful forms of agricultural production. Its success is based upon the assumption that both parties will do their part to attain maximum performance from the flock.

The company furnishes feed that has been formulated by professional nutritionists to satisfy all the performance needs of the birds. They hatch chicks that have been prepared genetically and otherwise for livability, growth and feed efficiency.

These major items and all other production materials and support attempts to help you maximum performance from your flock.

A prospective poultry producer is expected to furnish and maintain the best possible housing, equipment and daily management to assure maximum performance.

You should be prepared to change types of production (size of birds) as marketing needs change. The industry produces small birds for Cornish hens, very large birds for deboning, and all sizes in between.

Cooperation between the company and poultry producers will help insure success for both. The following are some facts that should help you determine if poultry farming is right for you.

Physical Facilities

  1. An agreement to grow chickens must be reached with a poultry company before proceeding with any plans to build or produce a poultry operation.
  2. Property should be located within approximately 25 miles of complex facilities-feed mill, processing plant, hatchery.
  3. Buildings (poultry facilities) must conform to industry standards and may vary from company to company. Consult company representatives for details.
  4. House equipment must conform to industry standards as to type, amount, installation, etc., which will vary from company to company.
  5. Farmstead, especially immediate area around the poultry buildings, must be prepared to accommodate feed trucks, catch and haul equipment and other vehicular traffic. In addition, poultry houses should be built a reasonable distance from neighbors to minimize problems.
  6. Siting of buildings should be discussed with proper authorities before construction, concerning state and local laws that may affect your operation.
  7. Size and number of houses must be settled with poultry company before construction.
  8. If you are considering purchasing an existing poultry farm, prospective contracting company and/or company representatives should inspect premises, with you, to determine suitability for growing birds. You should discuss what equipment or building upgrades will need to be made before birds are placed.

Financial Arrangements

  1. Meet with lending agencies to determine the availability of funding and level of payments. It is recommended that financial arrangements should be structured so that payments to the lending agency will not exceed 50% of expected income.
  2. Discuss low, average and high expected income from the proposed poultry operation with company personnel as well as other growers. Study contracts carefully. You cannot plan on getting average pay on the contract each brood. You should plan to have reserves to cover your expenses in the case of low pay periods and longer layout times due to market conditions and diseases. There is not a set amount of income you can expect to receive, however, the financial swings in poultry production are less than other commodities.
  3. Be sure to carry enough insurance to cover cost of buildings and loss of income following a disaster – storm, fire, ice, etc. Insurance should be reviewed annually to assure that you have enough to meet increased building costs.
  4. Set up a good financial record keeping system for the poultry operation. Money management and cash flow is very important.

Management and Husbandry Considerations

  1. Your poultry company will have a management program that all growers are expected to follow. Your field representative will work closely with you on what is expected and the best ways to produce a quality product. You must discuss the time required to manage your houses so that you may plan for labor needs.
  2. Keep your buildings and equipment properly maintained and in top working order. Preventative maintenance is a daily job and you must be able to do this (difficult and expensive to hire it done). As house and equipment ages, much more maintenance is required.
  3. Work with your field representative to prepare your houses for bird arrival-cleaning, litter, brooding arrangements, etc. Always be ready in advance for bird delivery. The first few days are critical to good performance.
  4. Be sure that the house is at the appropriate temperature (to program specifications), feed and water are ready and environmental control capabilities are working properly.
  5. Be prepared to spend considerable time with your flock, especially during the first few days, to assure proper environment and husbandry.
  6. Keep good flock records — mortality, feed deliveries, vaccinations, etc.
  7. Housekeeping is very important. Collect and dispose of dead birds daily, control water spillage to prevent wet spots, keep feed and water adequate and fresh, monitor air exchange to keep house environment properly controlled.
  8. Never forget that your primary job is to manage the flock throughout the production period. Report any developing problems to your field representative immediately.
  9. Understand that size of birds produced and time between batches may vary according to market demand.
  10. Vacation and off-time should be scheduled around production cycles.
  11. Limit access to poultry houses to authorized personnel only to avoid transmission of disease. Also avoid going to other poultry farms. Avoid contact with all other forms of poultry.

Summary of Critical Management Factors

  1. Temperature — should be kept at optimum level regardless of age of birds or season. Your system should be able to respond to changing weather conditions night and day
  2. Ventilation — replaces oxygen used by birds, removes moisture and ammonia and must be continually monitored.
  3. Feed and water — Keep plentiful and clean according to production program.
  4. Husbandry — study the flock daily for signs of discomfort, disease, proper feed and water consumption. With experience, you should be able to look at the birds and determine if they have a problem.
  5. Understand that you are working with a live animal that may have special needs.
  6. Culling chickens is a key part of the job.

Outside the House

  1. Disposal of dead birds must be done according to state regulations. Your field manager will recommend proper methods.
  2. Depending on the size of your operation, you may need additional equipment (such as a tractor with a front end loader and scraper blade, a manure spreader and a truck, flat bed trailer or other specialized equipment.)
  3. Have a supply of spare parts for in-house equipment, so that motors and other equipment may be replaced quickly to avert problems.
  4. Keep all drainage around house open and operable. No run-off water should be able to get into the house.
  5. Keep all access roads in good repair with easy access to feed bins and poultry houses.
  6. Keep weeds and grass mowed around the houses and farmstead to reduce rodent and other problems.
  7. Understand environmental challenges created by poultry operations such as dust, smell, nutrient management, etc.
  8. No chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or medications should be used in or around poultry houses without approval by company.

Final Statement

The suggestions listed above may not fit all situations and company programs. Work closely with your field representatives to conform to company policy and assure success in your operation.

  • It is recommended that you work in a poultry operation before getting into the business.
  • Understand that this is a long-term decision