WW-03605 Reviewed 2008
At one time most Minnesota farms had their own poultry flock. Now few farms have poultry on them, so small flockowners find a ready market in their own area. You have to have suitable housing and be willing to process the birds for most of your customers. By waiting until the cold weather is over you minimize housing needs and reduce brooding costs. You usually won't be able to compete with the production costs of commercially grown poultry, but your farm poultry may bring a price that gives you a very satisfactory labor return.
In most areas there is a limited market for live poultry. You might be able to get rid of a few birds to customers who are willing to process their own chickens, ducks, geese, or turkeys. Do not raise more birds than you are willing to process yourself until you have investigated the potential of the live market in your area.
If there is a local locker plant that processes poultry, you could sell live birds to customers who would have them custom processed at the locker plant. There are not many locations that have a local locker plant that custom processes poultry. If you are willing to process your birds in a clean, sanitary manner and they are well-fleshed birds free from major defects, you will find an almost unlimited market for your product. Under my interpretation of the regulations you would be permitted to raise and process on your farm for sale to household customers up to 1,000 birds per year.
There is a market for broilers or fryers at any time of the year. Ducks and turkeys are being consumed more on a year-round basis, but there is still a peak demand for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. There is little demand for geese except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
By using an existing building you will have no housing costs. If you do not have equipment, you may be able to find some used equipment in the area from producers who no longer have poultry flocks. You will need a brooder as a source of heat, feed troughs, and waterers as your major items of equipment. This equipment should be satisfactory for several years of use. Feed will be 70% of production cost. Other costs involved will be the cost of day-old birds, electricity or fuel for brooding, and litter.
Broilers or fryers should weigh at least 3½ to 5 pounds in 8 to 10 weeks. They can be fed to heavier weights and used as roasters, but heavier birds require more pounds of feed for each additional pound of gain. To obtain a favorable feed conversion, you need meat type birds and a quality ration. On the basis of a feed conversion of 3 pounds of feed per pound of gain, it would take 15 pounds of feed to grow a 5-pound fryer. Assuming a 75% dressing percentage, the 5-pound fryer would weigh 3¾ pounds dressed. With fryer feed at $12.00 per 100 lbs., this would result in a total feed cost of $1.80, or $.48 per pound dressed weight. To this would have to be added the per pound cost for the chick and other production costs. You can see that it would be difficult to compete with the retail store price for raising fryers, but your farm raised product may command a price of $.90 or $1.00 a pound dressed weight. This would allow a reasonable labor return for your efforts.
Commercial producers of ducks can raise 6 - 7 pound ducklings in 7 weeks on 17 - 20 pounds of feed. Pekin ducklings raised under farm flock conditions will consume a few pounds more feed and take a longer time to reach the same weight. Rouen ducks may take 5 months to reach these weights in the farm flock. Many small flockowners manage their birds using green feed and other materials picked up in the yard along with a supplemental lower-energy growing ration. Birds reach desired weights for fall slaughter under this less intensive management system.
Farm flock geese are sold in time for the holiday market in late fall when they are 5 - 6 months old. They will weigh 11 - 15 pounds, depending on strain and breed. Many producers feed their goslings a starter ration for the first 3 - 4 weeks. If adequate pasture is available, geese need little grain feed until about 4 weeks before slaughter, when they should get a corn or finisher diet. Supplemental grain feeding during the growing period will increase rate of gain, but increase feeding cost. Feed costs are quite variable, ranging from $1.50 - $3.50 per bird depending on quality of pasture and amount of grain fed. Goslings cost $2 - $3 each, so any death loss rapidly reduces potential profits. The value of live geese may be in the 40 - 50 cents per pound range. Processed ready-to-cook geese may sell for $1.50 or more per pound.
Producers of farm flock turkeys must realize that under current merchandising practices, many stores sell holiday turkeys at very attractive prices to consumers to get the rest of their holiday food shopping business. Your profit will be dependent upon producing a high percentage of Grade A carcasses and obtaining feed at a favorable cost. Turkey hens are grown to weights around 15 pounds at 16 - 18 weeks of age and toms to 28 pounds at 20 - 22 weeks of age. Turkeys eat a lot of feed45 pounds per hen and 85 pounds per tom.
Obtain chicks of one of the Cornish Rock crossbred commercial strains for chicken meat production. These crosses have been bred for the most economical conversion of feed to poultry meat. Other breeds generally don't grow as rapidly or gain weight as efficiently. These same crossbred chicks are used for Cornish game hens, broilers or fryers, or roasters.
Provide ½ square foot brooding space per chick at the start. Increase this to one square foot at 6 weeks of age. Chicks must be started in a heated area. A general guideline is to start the chicks at 90 to 95° F measured at the level of the chick. Reduce the temperature 5 degrees per week until supplemental heat is no longer needed. Most hover-type brooder units will brood up to 500 chicks. Infrared lamps can also be used as a heat source for brooding small numbers of birds. These lamps provide radiant heat only to the area immediately under them, so they are not as effective in cold weather.
The Pekin and Rouen are the most popular farm flock meat ducks. The more rapid growth rate and white feather color tend to favor the Pekin. Rouens will set and hatch their own young, in contrast to Pekins, which are poor setters and seldom raise a brood. The two large breeds of geesethe Emden and Toulouseare popular choices for farm flock meat production. Commercial strains of Large White turkeys are also used for the farm flock. Brooding management for other kinds of poultry is quite similar to chickens. Since the young birds are larger, they require more brooder space and feeder and waterer space. A more rapid increase in size also increases floor space requirements sooner.
Feed a complete feed from your feed supplier, or if you can mix your own feeds, prepare the appropriate ration from a concentrate, following the directions of the supplier. Meat birds are fed a starter feed containing 20 - 24% protein for the first few weeks. The birds are then fed a finisher diet containing 15 - 20% protein until processing time. Nutrient requirements for rapid growth in young turkeys are greater than for other poultry, so they should be fed a turkey ration appropriate for their age.
Diseases can be costly to the producer. Isolation from other birds and good sanitation prevent most disease problems. It is easier to control diseases and parasites if the birds are kept confined. Coccidiosis can be prevented with a low-level coccidiostat drug in the feed of chickens and turkeys. Turkeys are also susceptible to blackhead disease, for which there are also preventive drugs that can be incorporated into the feed. Disease problems can be minimized by keeping different kinds and ages of birds separate. Ventilation must be adjusted to avoid moisture and ammonia buildup in the house. Cannibalism and feather picking are problems that are frequently encountered in flocks of poultry meat birds.
Starting with day-old birds is most realistic for most enterprises. The genetic potential of the birds you obtain from most commercial sources is backed up by an extensive breeding program. Most small flockowners will find it difficult to economically justify keeping a breeder flock. Raising meat birds in a flock basis allows the grower to clean out the facilities between flocks. A period of cleanup and depopulation is an excellent aid in disease prevention.
In most instances the birds will be slaughtered and sold as dressed carcasses. Some customers may be willing to pay a higher price for cut-up broilers or fryers. Your success will depend largely on your ability to produce a high percentage of attractive, well-fleshed carcasses free from defects such as breast blisters, discolorations, and skin tears. Birds must be processed when they are not in a new feather cycle with a lot of pin feathers. Most producers prefer to raise white-feathered birds so any pinfeathers are less visible and pigment from broken feathers does not discolor the skin. Proper processing is important to establish a clientele for repeat sales. You need to be able to get together a crew to process the birds when they are at the appropriate weight. If you keep birds too long, your feed costs will increase.
You will not get rich from a small poultry flock. If you have the housing and labor available, you can produce good quality meat birds if you start with good quality chicks of a meat strain and follow good feeding and management practices. Properly processed, these birds have brought a reasonable labor return to those families who have been willing to pitch in to provide the processing labor.
Melvin L. Hamre
Extension Animal Scientist, Poultry
Department of Animal Science.
In partnership with the Department of Animal Science
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