CM-MR-1-Starting poultry copyby Katie Navarra
Poultry are relatively easy to raise and do well with basic food, water and shelter.
While it’s fairly simple to raise poultry it is important to be prepared, plan ahead and do some research prior to bringing chicks or older birds to your property.
First, you’ll have to decide if you’re raising a laying flock or a broiler flock or a combination of the two.

Layers are a long term endeavor and take approximately six months from the time they are chicks to when they will lay their first eggs depending on the breed. Broilers on the other hand will be in and out in a few weeks.
“Broilers only take about 8 weeks to get up to size. Much after that they start to have health issues due to size and breeding,” said Kirk Shoen, Rensselaer County Cornell Cooperative Extension Farm Business Management Resource Educator.
Next, you’ll need to determine if you want to raise a full range flock or one that is fully housed. “I recommend an outside run either way,” he suggested, “you should have some type of housing. It does not have to be anything special but you should have plenty of space.”
Housing requirements
Experts recommend about 1.5 square feet per bird. “I like a little more if they will be inside all winter,” he added. A little extra space for birds kept exclusively in a coop alleviates pecking and stress issues that can arise.
Coops should be designed with bird comfort and ease of use in mind. They don’t need to be insulated, but it’s important they are dry and located out of the wind. “Electricity is nice especially because I run a heated water dish in the winter and extra light to keep them laying,” he said.
Often people forget to consider the waste the flock produces and how to dispose of it. “I am 6 feet tall and can walk through one of those small little dog house coops. So build it for you as well,” Shoen said.
Shoen’s coops are up off the ground on cinder blocks with two large windows for airflow and a huge front door. “I can park the wheelbarrow at the front door and shovel it straight in. I clean them out every spring and fall. I put down half a bag of shavings,” he explained. He also has two laying boxes on the end near the door for easy access and roosts at the other end.
For free range birds, Shoen recommends putting the birds in a coop at night or at least a wire run to deter predators. “I have a 6 foot high 20 by 25 outside wire run with board dug 6 inches into the ground and wire stapled to it to keep predators from digging under,” he said. In the winter, he snow blows the pen and keeps the flock in the coop most of the time.
Once the chicks feather out chicken tractors or temporary pens can be also be used to move the birds on a daily basis.
Be sure to provide the flock with enough feeders and room for all of the birds to have access. “I do free choice and free range which means feed is always in the feeder and they have free run of the property,” he explained, “the birds are cleaner and healthier.”
Water dishes or a water system is critical. “A mistake people often make is not providing enough clean water for their flock,” he added.
Preparing for a flock
Shoen suggests beginning with a few birds as a trial run. “Ag & Markets requires a six chick minimum on sales. Older birds can be sold individually,” he said. Prior to purchasing chicks or birds, consider your goals and plan ahead on how you plan to process broilers.
If you are starting chicks you will need a brooder of some kind, but be careful with heat lamps people burn their coops and sheds down every year. Monitor the flock to ensure their comfort. “If they are always around the outside of the brooder area it is too warm,” he said, “if they are trying to pile on top of each other under the heat it is too cold.”
We see a lot of mites and lice in older flocks. You can buy powder to treat them.
“People have a tendency to buy too many with the idea of selling eggs or birds and then call me to find homes for them,” he said, “it is not that simple. If you plan on selling eggs or birds you should have a market ahead of time. You should also research all the Ag and Markets Regulations.”
Four to five good laying hens should give you a few eggs a day for home use and family members. A huge flock is even harder to take care of in the winter especially when it’s cold and snowy.
Processing broilers takes a lot of work and freezer space. “There are exemptions for selling eggs and processed birds directly to the end user off the farm,” Shoen explained, “selling opens you up to a lot of liability. Thoroughly review the Ag and Markets Laws.”
Purchase chicks or older birds from a NPIP certified hatchery. “Tractor Supply or Agway is fine as well,” he said, “they all have to follow certain rules for selling chicks. If you want a certain breed then finding a local reputable breeder may a good option.”
Avoid buying from unknown sources because you don’t know what you may be getting. The birds can be vaccinated and each hatchery provides different options. “It is a personal choice. You should not have to worry too much about disease from a reputable source,” he said.
For a few days quarantine any birds brought into an existing flock to prevent the potential spread of disease. You also don’t want to bring strange birds into your flock. “Coccidiosis is probably the most common problem, but medicated feed can help with that,” he said. Older flocks are prone to mites, but powder can be purchased and applied to the birds.
Getting started
“A little planning and research before your start goes a long way,” Shoen concluded, “CCE provides poultry programs on a regular basis and has lots of information and kids can join 4-H and learn a lot.”
Consider visiting the websites below for additional details.
Cornell Small farms:
Cornell Beginning farmers:
Circular 854 for egg sales: