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The Sustainable Poultry Flock
Breeding, Growing, and Marketing Poultry at Any Scale

Poultry statistics:

• As of 2014, 22 million chickens are consumed in the United States each day!

• As of 2014, 50 billion eggs are produced in the United States each day!

• In 2014, over 45 million turkeys were eaten for Thanksgiving!

• Annual retail turkey sales in 2014 – 3.7 billion!

In 1950, more than 1.6 million farms spread across the country were growing chickens for American consumers. By 2007, 98% of all those farms were gone, even though Americans were consuming more chicken! More than 85 pounds per person, per year according to USDA.
Over the same period, broilers sales jumped by 8 million birds, more than 1400 percent, also according to USDA.

Also, in 1950, 95% of all broiler producers were independent; within (5) years, 88% of all broilers produced were done under contract. 2% were produced in company owned broiler facilities.

• In 1950 – 1.6 million farms produced 581 million broilers!

• In 2007, 27,000 farms produced over 8.9 billion broilers!

Our core convictions:

1. Small farms are BEST for people everywhere.

2. Poultry are a GREAT source for food! Both MEAT & EGGS.

3. Compared to large livestock (such as swine or cattle), poultry are INEXPENSIVE to get started with.

4. The best farming approach is MULTIPLICATION not addition.

Workshop Goals:

1. Equip you with an OVERVIEW of Sustainable Poultry Production!

2. Equip you with the necessary tools to BEGIN your own poultry enterprise.

3. Equip you with the VISION to develop further a SPP model.

Session #1 – Purpose

“What does sustainable poultry production look like?”

Define poultry terms:

1. SUSTAINABLE: The ability to survive without relying on outside resources to sustain your poultry enterprise. In order to accomplish this, your poultry species must be able to reproduce, naturally!

2. POULTRY: Domesticated poultry includes, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guineas!

3. PRODUCTION: To breed, grow and market poultry that are productive!

4. MODEL: A sustainable poultry farm that is REPRODUCIBLE!

A sustainable poultry production model is one that breeds, grows and markets standard bred poultry that can naturally reproduce and be genetically maintained. This entire process of sustainable poultry production can be completed on one single farm, within a community or region; depending on the desired number of birds to be produced. SPN recommends a working relationship of farmers working together within (no more than) a twenty-five-mile radius.

BREED: Breeders are those who maintain breeding stock with a commitment to improving the productivity and quality of a specific breed.

GROW: Growers are those who receive the day-old chicks/poults from the breeders and grow out the birds until the proper age of processing.

MARKET: Marketing is the hard work of selling; seeking out food citizens and getting the “ready to eat” poultry products onto the kitchen tables of families.

Overview of Sustainable Poultry Production Models:

HOMESTEADING Model: (bird count: 02-1000 annually)
A homesteading model is the one family unit who desires to be completely sustainable with a breeding flock of poultry; hatching their own progeny, growing them out and processing them for family consumption. The entire process is completed on the one homesteading farm.

COMMUNITY Model: (bird count: 1000-20,000 annually)
A community model involves multiple farmers all participating in breeding, growing, processing and marketing sustainable flocks of standard bred poultry. For the community model to be most effective, breeding and growing must be done on separate farms. Both on-farm processing and small processing plants may be necessary to be efficient, productive and profitable.

REGIONAL Model: (bird count: 20,000-100,000 annually)
A regional model must have separate breeders, growers and will require a separate USDA processing plant as well as an independent feed mill.

Five Foundational Pillars of a Sustainable Poultry Production Model:

Breeder defined: Breeders are those who maintain breeding stock with a commitment to improving the productivity and quality of a specific breed.

Grower defined: Growers are those who receive the day-old chicks/poults from the breeders and grow out the birds until the proper age of processing.

Feeds/Feeding issues: The cost of feeding poultry is approximately 70% of your expense. Because of this, it is critical to assess the local opportunities to grow grain and develop a complete feed recipe that includes proper nutrition for maximum growth and production of the bird.

Processing Includes: Proper killing, packaging, labeling and cold storage!

Marketing is the hard work of selling; seeking out food citizens and getting the “ready to eat” poultry products onto the kitchen tables of families. It also includes cooking preparation and techniques.

Notes: breeder/grower relationship! “What it looks like!”

Session #2 – Product
“What does our End Product Look Like?”

End product: STANDARD BRED Poultry.

Standard Bred Poultry defined:
1. Bred to a written STANDARD.
• Heritage: defined as a bird that was developed prior to 1950.
• In North America we breed to the STANDARD OF PERFECTION. (Published by the American Poultry Association)

2. Standard Bred poultry are able to NATURALLY reproduce.

3. Standard Bred poultry were developed for a SPECIFIC purpose in a specific REGION.
OUTDOORS verses confinement!
• Warm climates verses cold climates.
• Chicken female production: 4-6 years!
• Chicken male production: 5-7 years!

• America: Wyandotte
• England: Dorking

4. Standard Bred poultry grow at a normal, SLOW normal growth rate!

Understanding industrialized/commercial poultry:

1. FAST growth! Average processing age: 37 days!
• 1950 – 10 weeks = 3 pounds.
• 1980 – 7 weeks = 4 pounds.
• 2011 – 6 weeks = 6 pounds.

2. UNIFORM type!

3. FEED conversion – Defined: Pounds of feed consumed/Per Pound Gained!
• Cornish Cross in confinement: 2/1
• Pastured Cornish Cross: 3.5/1
• Standard Bred, heritage breeds: approximately 5/1

1. TERMINAL bird!

2. CANNOT naturally reproduce!

3. Genetics are CONTROLLED! They cannot be reproduced locally!

4. PHYSICAL complications! – Leg deformities & congestive heart failure! (welfare)

5. POOR immune systems – inability to live OUTDOORS!

6. Nutritional VALUE! Takes five industrial birds to equal one slow growing bird!

Classifications of Standard Bred Poultry are divided into:

• CLASSES – General area/region where the bird originated!
o SIX Large fowl classes.
o ONE Classification of turkeys. EIGHT varieties recognized by the APA!

• BREED – General body type (shape) of the bird. (Specific Breed Characteristics)
o COMB – APA Standard of Perfection identifies (8) different kinds of combs.
o BACK Line
o TAIL carriage

VARIETY – Color of the plumage and sometimes comb type.

Session #3 – Process
“What does the process look like?”

In this session, we will look carefully at the (5) Foundational Pillars of a sustainable poultry production model!

I. Overview of Breeding:

Breeding Defined:
Poultry breeding refers to the REPRODUCTION and inherent IMPROVEMENT of domestic fowls. To not only involves the replacing of older individuals with younger ones but implies exchanging of the poor or even the good for the inherently BETTER!

Breeding Purposes:
1. To REPRODUCE individuals for a specific purpose.
2. IMPROVEMENT of the population to suit its purpose better.
3. CONTINUATION of the population.

Breeding Terms Defined:
CHARACTER: Genetically, a character is any detail of structure, form, size, color or function in an individual. Examples of character are number of toes, size of egg, color of plumage and hatchability.

DOMINANT and RECESSIVE Characters: Genes may either be dominant or recessive, depending on how they behave when combined in matings.
o Examples of Dominant characters:
 Rose comb over the single!
 Feathered shanks!
 Five toes!
 Crests!

INHERITANCE: All inherited from generation to generation! Received from one or both of the parents. Depending on the dominant or recessive genes. Inherited characters include: color, combs, crests, feathered shanks, number of toes, egg laying ability, rate of growth and broodiness.

VARIATION: Even in line breeding or inbreeding where ancestors have been reduced considerably, there are to be found fluctuations of size, shape and color. Note: This is why it is to your advantage to hatch as many progenies as you are able.

INBREEDING: mating together of fowls which are related so that the resulting off spring have one or more ancestors that occur on BOTH the sire’s side and the dam’s side of the pedigree.

LINE Breeding: A form of inbreeding that seeks to concentrate the genetic impact of a single excellent individual (rather than several) throughout a population. The goal is to create a group of birds as much like the excellent individual as possible.

Methods of Mating Defined:
1. FLOCK Matings: (sometimes referred to as mass mating) simply means that a number of males are allowed to run with the entire flock of females. Flock breeding is primarily practiced for the multiplication of large numbers used for production. The number of males used in a flock depends on the size of the flock and the breed. The approximate numbers should be used:
Dual purpose breeds: 1 male/10-15 females.
Mediterranean breeds: 1male/16-20 females

2. PEN Matings: one male bird to multiple females of the same breed. Within SPN breeding practices, we call the birds in these pens, “families”!

3. PEDIGREE (single) Matings: With the single mating term, you could also use the term pedigree because you can clarify the exact ancestry. This would be ONE male mated to ONE female.

SELECTING YOUR BREEDING STOCK – (3) Most Important Qualities

Quality #1 – VIGOR

First prerequisite for the bird that will be used for breeding.
• Interested in things going on around them.
• They walk, run, fly, forage, scratch, and sing, cackle or crow and show sex interest.
• Birds with good vigor have a broad, long, deep body, with a good capacity for handling feed and manufacturing eggs.

Cornell University study:
Group #1) 5 males with good vigor mated 132 times during 24-hour observation period.

Group #2) 5 males with average vigor mated 64 times during a 24-hour observation period

Group #3) 5 males with low vigor mated 39 times during a 24-hour observation period.

Vigor Characteristics of Breeding Birds:
• Activity:
• Attitude:
• Voice:
• Sex interest:
• Appetite:
• Roosting:

Quality #2 – STANDARD Characteristics:

• Individuals should be selected that are free of general disqualifications.

• They should conform to the description of the breed and variety given in the Standard of Perfection.
o Tail development and angle.
o Ear lobe color and shape
o Eye & shank color
o Back development & breast
o Feather quality
o Weight

Why the Standard of Perfection MATTERS:

“Standard type is productive type.” Francis LeAnna, Green Bay, WI

• It was written when birds were used COMMERCIALLY!
• Each BREED was designed for a specific PURPOSE!
• The top BREEDERS of each breed were consulted for the breed.
• The most productive size and shape are SELECTED for their purpose.
• Breeds can be RELIED upon to consistently produce a product within a system in an efficient manner. (when you breed: Plymouth Rock male + Plymouth Rock female = Plymouth Rock progeny)


Quality #3 – PRODUCTION Characteristics: Includes meat and eggs!

Meat qualities:
• Rate of growth
• Live weight
• Dressed weight

Egg qualities:
• Egg production qualities
• Molting
• Amount of eggs laid per year!

Most important step to getting started: Highest quality breeding stock:

A breeding strategy for the beginner:

• Buy as many chicks/poults of ONE breed as possible.
• Seek out a mentor; at 16 weeks for chickens/ 24 weeks with turkeys – SELECT the breeders. Set up a minimum of 3 breeding families.
o Chickens: ONE male to 12-15 females.
o Turkeys: ONE male to 10-12 females.

Sourcing your day-old chicks or poults: WARNING: Do not go to large hatcheries!

1. Quantity verses QUALITY!
2. No SELECTIVE breeding – for production of eggs and meat!
3. No culling for UNDESIRABLE traits: aggressive birds, cannibalism and docile temperament.
4. Welfare Issues: Males are DESTROYED by the thousands!
5. USPS Shipping!

Deciding on a breed: chickens, turkeys, ducks or geese.

• What am I trying to accomplish?
• Do I want to raise birds for meat or eggs? (or both)
• Do I want brown or white eggs?
• Opportunities for preservation, marketing and exhibition.

• How do I know if I am a breeder type person?
o Love to be with the birds!
o Enjoy paying attention to details!
o Willing to keep detailed records!

II. Overview of Growing

1) Even with the very best feed, UNLESS fowls are properly “cared for” they will NOT develop and grow at their maximum potential. The proper husbandry includes:

2) Key: LIMIT STRESS! “Stress breaks down immune systems!”

What creates stress?
2. NO feed or water!
3. CHANGING feeds.
4. Weather changes – BOTH hot and cold!
6. Predators.

3) Proper ENVIROMENT from day ONE!

4) AIR quality – Poor air quality includes DUST & AMMONIA!

5) SPACE – cannot be crowded!
o Floor space with pasture: Chickens: TWO square feet per bird up to 12 weeks!

o Adult breeding chickens: FOUR square feet per bird.

o Turkeys:
a. Day old to eight weeks: THREE square feet per bird.
b. Twelve weeks to adult: FIVE square feet per bird.

o ROOSTS: Every bird MUST be able to roost! – When no roosts are provided, birds begin to
develop bad habits of “sleeping on the floor!”
o ONE foot per adult chicken.
o TWO feet per adult turkey.
o Pasture: 10 square feet per chicken.
o 200 Chickens per acre/100 Turkeys per acre.

6) SHADE shelters!

7) PEER development!
o All birds must be the SAME age!
o Separate males & females as soon as the sexes can be RECOGNIZED! No later than 8 weeks for chickens & 14-16 weeks for turkeys!

8) Best husbandry practices must include DAILY “walking the flock”!

9) Different species of poultry should NOT be fed/raised together! Primarily because of SIZE, specific kinds of feeds to be fed and habits of what certain species do. (example: waterfowl quickly “dirty” the water)

III. Overview of Feeds & Feeding:

Fundamentals of Poultry Nutrition – “Six Food Elements That Poultry Must Have”

Need for Water:
I. Fowls have no teeth and cannot chew as we do, but they have an organ that we do not have – the CROP. The crop is a temporary storehouse for food! When the fowl drinks water, the food in the crop is softened, and this makes easier the work of grinding the food in the gizzard.

II. Water helps in the processes of digestion and absorption of other nutrients.

III. Water REGULATES the body temperature. Fowls have no sweat glands as we have. On hot days, we get relief through perspiration. A fowl gets relief ONLY by drinking water which cools the body.

IV. Water helps in the food TRANSPORTATION system within the fowl, carrying the products to the proper place, and aiding in the elimination of waste products.

V. Without water, the joints and muscles of the fowl cannot function properly. In this use, water is a LUBRICANT!

Value of Proteins: Proteins form about 12% of the weight of a fresh egg and about 20% of the weight of the fowl’s body. Because they are such an important nutrient, we should know something of their composition, their uses and where they are found.

Proteins like water, contain hydrogen and oxygen and in addition carbon and nitrogen. Certain other elements, such as sulphur, phosphorus and iron, may also be found in some proteins. Of all the elements found in proteins, nitrogen is most important!

Remember, there are significant nutritional DIFFERENCES between commercial /industrialized poultry and standard bred (heritage) poultry. Protein percentages in diets are listed below. Most common poultry rations found in local feed stores are formulated for commercial hybrid, non-breeder type fowls.

Standard bred/heritage Chickens:
o Day old chicks: minimum of 20% protein (up to 12 weeks)
o Growing poultry: minimum of 20% protein (12 weeks until point of lay)
o Laying hens: minimum of 15% protein (during actual egg production)
o Adult breeding chickens: minimum of 20% protein

Standard bred/Heritage Turkeys:
o Day old poults: minimum of 28% protein (up to 12 weeks)
o Growing turkeys: minimum of 22% protein (up to sexual maturity)
o Adult Breeding turkeys: minimum of 24% protein

Proteins are the COSTLIEST ingredients in poultry feed.

I. Protein is used for GROWTH. It is critical for the proper growth of chicks & poults.

II. Protein replaces WORN OUT Tissues.

III. Protein is used for the FORMATION of feathers.

IV. Protein BUILDS muscles and all the PARTS of the fowl’s body.

V. Laying fowls must SUPPLY the protein to the egg, as the egg is rich in protein.

VI. All proteins are composed of simpler substances, sometimes referred to as “building stones” technically call AMINO ACIDS. There are over twenty known amino acids, about half of these must be supplied in the diet. Because the bird’s body is NOT incapable of supplying them – they are necessary for satisfactory growth, egg production and reproduction. There is NOT one feed that contains all the essential amino acids, for this reason a variety of feeds that are rich in protein should be used for feed formulas.

VII. Proteins from plants DIFFER greatly from those of animal origin. For poultry feeding, best results are obtained when a COMBINATION of animal & plant proteins are used in the feed rations. But to ONLY use plant protein in NOT sufficient for proper growth!

VIII. Proper levels of LYSINE and methionine are necessary for the first growth in feathers.

Value of Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are of value to the fowl as a source of HEAT and ENERGY. Before plant carbohydrates in the form of starch can be assimilated by the fowl, they must be changed to simple sugars. One of the most important sugars is glucose, which is present in the bloodstream of the fowl. Glucose may be used as a source of fuel or energy. It may also form body or egg fat! When there is a surplus of glucose, not immediately needed by the fowl to supply energy, it is changed to glycogen (an animal starch) and stored in the liver. When needed, the glycogen can be released by the liver and changed back to glucose to furnish more energy to the fowl.

Carbohydrates are chemical compounds consisting of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen and oxygen usually occur the same proportion in which they are found in water; namely two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. Carbohydrates are found in relatively small amounts in the fowl’s body and in the egg of the fowl. This seems strange when we consider the chief diet of chicken is grain and grain is composed largely of carbohydrates. This is explained by the fact that, although plants store their surplus energy in the form of starch, all poultry store their surplus of energy in forms of fat.

Value of Fats: Fats form about 20% of the live weight of an average size fowl and about 9% of the weight of a fresh egg. Fats are often classified as true fats and fat like substances, such as cholesterol ergosterol. Cholesterol is found in animals and ergosterol is found in both plants and animals. True fats are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These three elements (as also are in carbohydrates) but the proportions in fats are not the same as in carbohydrates. There is less oxygen in fats than in carbohydrates. Because of this, fats produce about two and a quarter MORE energy than a similar quantity of carbohydrates.

In the fowl, fat is found under the skin and about such organs as the intestines, gizzard and sometimes the heart. Market fowls, when well fattened, readily show fat through the skin.

• Fat is necessary for fowls to withstand COLD weather!

• The YOLK of an egg is very rich in fat!

• Most poultry feeds are LOW in fat content but rich in carbohydrates which function to fatten the fowl. The digestive system of the fowl is not able to handle ingested fats but must manufacture fats from carbohydrates. For this reason, there is no need to feed oils and animal fats like BUTTER and LARD!

• Feeds used for fattening fowls are largely carbohydrates. The same feeds listed would apply for adequate fat content.

Value of Minerals: Minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese are necessary for BONE DEVELOPMENT! Calcium and phosphorus are necessary for the formation of the egg SHELL. Minerals also help in the utilization of other nutrients.

In the growing chicken, calcium and phosphorus are very necessary for normal bone development. For best results, they must be fed in proper balance and in a form that can be readily assimilated by the chicken. It is generally agreed that a ration for growing chicks should contain twice as much calcium as phosphorus. Chick ration/starters should have about 1.5% calcium and .75% phosphorus. Vitamin D must be present for calcium and phosphorus to be utilized by the chicken.

Minerals form about 10% of the weight of a fresh egg and 3-4% of the weight of a fowl. Practically all the minerals found in the egg are in the shell. Minerals are found in all portions of the fowls’ body although concentrated in the skeleton.

Fowls without proper mineral assimilation, is the CAUSE of a common poultry disease called “Rickets”. Chicks effected by rickets become stunned, feathers become ruffled, the leg joints swollen, and all the bones become soft and pliable. The leg bones and breast bones are most effected and noticeable.
Rickets in chickens can be prevented through the use of the proper amount of calcium and phosphorus in the ration, together with sufficient vitamin D.

• Egg shells contain MOSTLY calcium.

• For muscular activity, sulphur, potassium and sodium are REQUIRED!

• For excellent egg production, calcium must be SUPPLIED liberally. (free choice)
o Supplying oyster shell.
o Calcium carbohydrates in the ration – ground LIMESTONE.

• If not generously provided, females in heavy egg production, will DRAW calcium from their OWN bones – as bones are depleted, they will become crooked and soft. As with baby chicks, females in production, best utilize calcium and phosphorus when there is an adequate supply of vitamin D.

• Mineral requirements for reproduction are similar to requirements for egg production. Good hatches cannot be expected if there is a deficiency of calcium, because the DEVELOPING embryo receives much of its calcium from the egg shell. Hatchability is definitely affected when egg shells of poor quality are produced.

Vitamins have tremendous nutritive importance! Each of the vitamins has a distinct function to perform. The purpose of each vitamin can be best illustrated by what happens when each is not supplied in the proper amount. If a ration is provided which is deficient in a specific vitamin, certain nutritional deficiency diseases will develop.

Vitamins promote:

• Growth
• Produce strong BONE
• Maintain good EGG production
• Improve hatchability of egg in breeding fowls
• Above all, are essential to proper HEALTH Sources of Vitamins:
• Vitamin A – yellow corn, green feed, clover, carrots, cod liver oil and liver.
• Vitamin B – all the cereal grains.
• Vitamin C – not a necessary vitamin for poultry.
• Vitamin D – oil of the liver from codfish, sardine, pilchard and halibut. Cod liver and sardine oil are most commonly used. The BEST source of vitamin D is SUNLIGHT!
• Vitamin E – Cereal grains. Wheat, alfalfa and clover are especially rich in vitamin E.
• Vitamin G – The best source for vitamin G are MILK products, green feed, alfalfa, clover, yeast and liver.

Other feeding notes:

• Cleanliness of feed (keeping feed off the floor) is critical for the health of the fowls! Feeders should be raised to the HEIGHT of the back of whatever fowls are present.

ENOUGH feeders & waterers!
o 100 chickens will drink SIX gallons of water daily.
o Warning: Automatic waterers!
o Recommend two FIVE-gallon waterers per 100 chickens.
o THREE INCHES of feeder space per bird.
o ONE INCH of water space per bird.

• For standard bred (heritage) poultry – FREE choice feeding is ideal for proper growth.

IV. Overview of Processing: Most important issues surrounding processing:

1) Federal & state REGULATIONS and EXEMPTIONS.

2) STUDY humane slaughtering!

3) LEARN the process of slaughtering. (volunteer to help someone)
1. Processing

4) VISIT a local processing plant!

5) DECIDE how you are going to slaughter your poultry.

ON FARM processing equipment:
o Plucker
o Scalder
o Stainless steel tables
o Freezers
o Misc. Tools
o Killing cones
o Labels for bags
o Processing area: structure area will vary in price. (concrete)

Other necessities for on farm processing:

• Knives
• Lung remover
• Coolers
• Crates
• Ice machine
• Shade tents (weather)

NOTE: 1000 birds or less must be processed on farm for a profit! We also recommend that you process at least 200 birds in one setting for it to be profitable!

V. Overview of Marketing & Education

1. Seek to UNDERSTAND your consumer! (food citizens)
• What does your consumer want?

2. Research marketing opportunities – Specifically NICHE markets!
3. KNOW what you’re talking about!
4. Sell your STORY!
5. NETWORKING – build relationships!
Neighbors, farmers markets, natural stores, organic stores, restaurants, schools, 4-H clubs, rotaries, health clubs, co-workers, churches.

6. VALUE people!
7. Develop a PLAN of action!
• Processing
• Prices
• Organic verses natural
• State & federal laws

8. Careful PUBLICITY:
• Website
• Farm visits
• Visit/set up at stores
• Flyers/brochures

9. NEVER stop learning and working with others of like-minded vision and passion!

10. Work HARD!

Session #4 – Programs
“How do we make this all work together?”

(10) Keys to developing your sustainable poultry production model:

1. Define your MISSION:

Mission of SPN: Equipping farmers, chefs and food citizens to Breed, Grow and Market sustainable flocks of Standard Bred Poultry.
• What is your passion?
• What drives you?
• Develop a mission statement for your farm.

2. Define your CORE VALUES: (core Values never change!)
a) Standard Bred Poultry
b) Natural Outdoor Environment
c) Local Sustainable Farming
4) Commitment to Provide Training, Coaching & Mentoring for Farmers
5) Welfare of the Bird
6) Proper Health: Educating Chef’s and food citizens of the Flavor and Nutritional Benefits

3. EVALUATE your time & talents: How are you gifted?
• Are you a breeder, a grower, a marketer or an advocate?

4. Evaluate TREASURES: your land and resources.

5. Recruit & build your TEAM – communicate with family members!

6. SELECT your species/breed.

7. Carefully PLAN your strategy/business plan.

8. Develop a BUDGET.

9. Build a DEBT free business.

10. LIVE by Faith and work WHOLE heartedly!

Copyright © Jim Adkins 2018 Sustainable Poultry Network USA™


Author: OGS

Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.

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