Poultry-keeping is a natural starting point for many beginning farmers and homesteaders. Chickens, ducks, and their kin are inexpensive to purchase, are easy to care for, and fit nicely into a small area. Keeping poultry can be enjoyable and rewarding, too.
Whether you are new to poultry or an experienced poultry-keeper looking for some fresh ideas, this Quick Start page will help. Read on to find our favorite poultry-keeping resources.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started with Poultry
Step 1: Determine Your Objectives
There are many reasons people decide to take up poultry-keeping. Raising eggs for home consumption is a common purpose, as is backyard broiler production. Others value the bug- or weed-eating habits of poultry, while still others like to keep a few chickens for show or as pets. Whether your interest is training herding dogs on ducks, preserving a heritage breed, or something even more unique, be sure to consider what your objectives are, as this will influence what types of poultry you keep and how you raise them.
Read more: Choosing a Breed of Chicken »
Step 2: Choose Species & Breeds
Once you know what you want to keep poultry for, you are ready to choose what species you are interested in. Most types of poultry can fulfill multiple purposes, but each comes with its own requirements. Chickens are a common choice for meat and eggs, but ducks and geese can supply the same needs. Turkeys can be used for more than just Thanksgiving dinner—they also produce eggs with a unique flavor. And then there are the exotics to consider! Many homesteaders, with so many choices before them, opt to create a mixed flock for a well-rounded poultry experience.
After you settle on one or several species, you will want to choose breeds. Again, many homesteaders prefer a mixed flock with multiple breeds, as keeping several breeds can leverage the strengths of one against the weaknesses of another. However, if your purpose involves breeding poultry, be sure that you are prepared to separate the different breeds as necessary. Also check that the breeds you select are suitable for your climate and production system. For example, if you plan to sell broilers, you may find that customers do not prefer a leaner meat bird, leaving you with little choice but a Cornish or Cornish cross. Likewise, if you will be housing chickens outdoors, a Silkie may not be the breed for you.
Step 3: Purchase Some Starter Supplies
If you order hatchlings of any species, you don’t need to rush out and buy a coop and all accessories right away. However, you do need a brooder, a safe heat lamp, and some bedding, along with a feeder and waterer suitable for young chicks. If your hatchery of choice offers an electrolyte mix with your order, you may want to buy that, as well, to ensure a good start. Alternatively, you can use table sugar.
For getting started with hatching eggs, your first purchase needs to be an incubator that is equipped to handle your chosen species. You will also need the brooding supplies in just a few weeks, though, so be prepared!
Read more: Getting Started with Guineas »
Step 4: Receive & Care for Eggs or Chicks
Receiving eggs or chicks and getting them off to a good start is not complicated, but it does require some care. Start by tracking your delivery carefully. You will want to pick your poultry up at the post office as soon as possible. Also, have everything ready before you take them home.
Incubating eggs varies depending on the incubator and the species, so be sure to refer to the manual that comes with your particular brand of incubator. Brooding chicks is a little easier. Cover their bedding with newspaper the first day so that they do not ingest shavings. As you unpack the hatchlings, dip their beaks in their water to teach them how to use the waterer. Make sure that the brooder is a comfortable temperature by raising or lowering the heat lamp. Over time you will be able to raise the heat lamp as the chicks grow feathers.
Read more: How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks »
Step 5: Prepare Poultry Housing
Poultry can be housed in many ways. If you are handy with tools, you can find any number of plans for creating everything from elaborate poultry palaces to simple mobile structures. However, if you have more cash than time, you may want to buy a coop kit. Do your research and choose a reputable brand to make sure you get your money’s worth, however!
Also think about how you want to protect your flock from predators. Electric poultry netting is a common choice, but a reliable livestock guard dog is another option.
Read more: Free LSU Building Plans »
Step 6: Move Your Flock Outdoors
When your chicks are fully feathered and have become accustomed to life in the brooder without a heat lamp, it is time to think about moving them outside. Watch the forecast to pick a day when the weather will be dry and warm. If you already have an established flock, you will have to house the chicks separately for a while to give the two groups time to become accustomed to each other.
Read more: Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock »
Step 7: Reap the Rewards
Once your flock becomes accustomed to the great outdoors, you will find yourself settling into a regular routine of basic chores, including feeding, watering, cleaning coops, and gathering eggs. Spending time with your poultry daily will encourage them to become tame and will also give you rapid notice of a problem. Poultry-keeping can be extremely enjoyable, so take time to appreciate it!
Read more: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens »
This guide to America’s favorite chickens covers the factors that make each breed unique—their history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons. Once you have selected several breeds based on their primary purpose, you should be able to use the information in this guide to determine which kinds will best match your climate, production system, and preferences as to appearance, disposition, and level of special care required. Read more »
Although no one fully understands vitamins and their functions at present, scientists continue to make breakthrough discoveries in this important area of study. In this guide, we will summarize the findings to date. We will examine the known functions of each vitamin and its natural sources. We will examine the causes and signs of deficiency, as well as the symptoms of toxicity (overdose). To wrap things up, we will briefly discuss some of the medicinal uses people have found for each vitamin. Read more »
- Can non-frizzle chickens carry the gene for frizzle?
No. The frizzle gene is dominant, which means that it masks (at least partially) the effects of the gene for normal feathers. A frizzle chicken, therefore, has at least one frizzle gene, while a non-frizzle chicken cannot carry any frizzle genes.
- Can you raise green-winged teal on a homestead?
Some hatcheries do offer green-winged teal for sale. However, always check your state’s wildlife laws before purchasing these or other non-domestic waterfowl. Also keep in mind that this species is a talented escape artist.
Species & Breeds
- Breeds of Livestock
- Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts
- Choosing a Breed of Chicken
- Murray McMurray Chick Selector
- What is a Frizzle Chicken?
- Pros and Cons of Dual-Purpose Livestock
- Pros and Cons of Weeder Geese
- 6 Unique Types of Exotic Poultry
- Getting Started with Livestock (Complete Series)
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
- How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks
- Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock
- Getting Started with Guineas
- The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner
- Poultry Predator Patrol
- How To Ground a Wayward Chicken
Housing & Pastures
- Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners
- What is a Chicken’s Comb For?
- Diatomaceous Earth and Parasite Control
- An Egg of a Different Color
- 4 Ways to Get More Eggs With Less Feed
- 5 Ways to Improve Winter Egg Production
- When the Hens Stop Laying
- How to Peel a Farm-Fresh Hard-Boiled Egg
- Eat Your Egg Yolks
- 10 Ways to Use Extra Eggs
- How to Freeze Eggs