Poultry farming in the United States involves over 233,000 locations. Over 8.54 billion broilers are produced each year through this industry, along with approximately 100 billion eggs and over 238 million turkeys. The combined value of all of these agricultural products is about $50 billion per year. This figure is up over 9% from what the industry was able to achieve in 2013. When you include figures from around the world, the revenues and output triple thanks to large operations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Although poultry farming is a process that produces an image of hundreds of small birds crammed into a small cage, unable to move, this is not the industry standard. Intensive agricultural practices are different than unethical ones. Hens begin laying eggs at 16 to 20 weeks, but their product levels begin to decline in 1-2 months. That is why these hens are considered economically unviable and sent for meat products.
Chicken is one of the most consumed meat products in the world today. Eggs and turkey items are also increasing in popularity. When taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages of poultry farming, there is a definite need to balance the requirement for profits and an ongoing food supply with the humane treatment of these birds during their lifetime.
List of the Advantages of Poultry Farming
1. Poultry farming can include more than chickens.
Although over 5 billion chickens are raised each year in just the United States to be a source of food in both eggs and meat, that is not the only option that is available to you in poultry farming. You can raise a variety of birds, including turkeys, geese, and ducks for a variety of unique products. Some farmers even take care of their birds because they harvest their feathers as a material product for stuffing.
If you don’t like the idea of slaughtering chickens, then you can get involved by raising some layer hens and incorporating other poultry products into your portfolio to still create a profitable business.
2. It doesn’t require much capital to become a poultry farmer.
This advantage is one of the most significant to consider for many households when they begin to contemplate the idea of starting an agricultural business. You only need to have the capital available that can help you to start raising poultry in the first place. Research from the University of Wisconsin indicates that your net income per bird, not including family labor or capital, is approximately $2.24 if you run an operation with at least 4,000 chickens sold. If you go up to 10,000 birds, then your net income is $2.19 per bird.
As long as you can afford the initial purchasing cost, feed, and protective structures for the animal, you can start a small-scale operation for less than $5,000 in most situations. Many families can begin a poultry farm for less than $1,000 with a few birds.
3. You don’t need a lot of available space to begin poultry farming.
Unless your plans involve the start of a significant commercial poultry farming operation, then you won’t need a lot of space to get this business opportunity off of the ground. Many households will raise their first few chickens in their backyard using a single coop or cage to protect them from nighttime predators. Raising the chicks can be as simple as having a heat lamp in a garage and a children’s plastic swimming pool for them to wander around in with a little bedding.
The spatial requirements are so minimal that many suburban communities offer zoning options that allow for families to raise chickens in their backyard, even if they have less than 0.25 acre of space.
4. Poultry farming can be immediately lucrative.
If you decide to take your poultry farming idea to a commercial scale, then there is an excellent opportunity to ensure that you receive a significant return on your initial investment. Because some poultry birds, like broiler chickens, only take a couple of months to reach a mature stage, you can raise several “crops” of birds for meat products over the course of a year using the same infrastructure that you initially purchased for the first batch. If you are dedicated to the process, it is not unreasonable for a first-time farmer to produce 3-5 batches of chickens that can then be sold to your family, friends, and neighbors.
5. There are fewer maintenance requirements to consider for poultry farmers.
A poultry farm does not typically require a high level of maintenance, especially if you are thinking about operating your business as a family operation. When you follow the recommended guidelines for hygiene and care when working with your birds, then you can easily prevent the spread of disease and illness throughout your population. This effort will prevent the transmission of germs from them to you as well.
Even if you have robust concerns about the health of your family when pursuing the idea of being a poultry farmer, you can choose birds that have an exceptionally low risk of disease development. Turkeys and quail can be just as profitable as chickens in some markets, especially if you establish organic growing conditions that the government can certify for you.
6. Most poultry farmers do not require a license to get started.
Most of the birds that you will consider raising as a poultry farmer are domestically-based, which means there is no need for a special import/export license before you can get started with your work. Most households will select a farm or poultry catalog, choose the species they want to raise, and then pick up their chicks at the local post office when they arrive. You can then purchase an incubator to start hatching your own eggs at home to continue building a chain of food products for sale.
That does not mean you can be completely license-free as a poultry farmer. Most jurisdictions will require that you hold a business license to sell your products. A health inspection of your property may be necessary. If you want your poultry items to be certified as organic, then additional regulations may also be necessary.
7. You are raising agricultural products that have immediate demand.
New poultry farmers do not realize how easy it is to market their products until they actually start trying to do so for the first time. The average price per pound that you can receive for a chicken is about $2.20, with some markets seeing double that rate because you’re offering a homegrown product. People eat poultry products all of the time, and there is also a growing desire to know exactly where the food comes from before eating it.
This advantage means that you are providing a food product that is nutritious and fresh. You can supplement those profits with additional items like eggs and feathers. Then you can work with the established marketplace to create sales almost anywhere. There is even an excellent chance that you could have your products represented in your local grocery store.
8. It creates employment opportunities on multiple levels.
Because a poultry farm is typically a family business, you can teach your children the benefits of holding down a good job from an early age. They can be actively involved in the care of the poultry, collect the eggs, or even capture the animals as they get shipped off to the local processor. It can provide income as a side hustle while you work a full-time job, or it can be a large-scale commercial enterprise if you have enough capital and land to get your farm started. If you grow large enough, then you can hire people from your community to earn some extra income as well.
The demands of a poultry farm for workers is quite minimal. Almost anyone can complete the necessary chores while still maintaining their usual daily activities.
9. Most financial institutions will approve lending packages for poultry farmers.
Assuming that you do not need to purchase the land for your poultry operations first, you will discover that banks and credit unions are eager to support this segment of the agricultural industry. Lending offers are approved across the board for this venture because it can be immediately profitable. Even if you do not have an attractive credit score, you will find that there are some low-value loan options that can help you to prove the concept to a local lender.
10. It is a way to teach responsibility.
Poultry farming is arguably one of the easiest ways to enter into an agricultural business. You don’t need to worry about plowing fields, understand crop science, manage milking schedules, or keep unusual hours. Even if you miss collecting eggs for a day or two, it isn’t the end of the world. You can teach the habit of responsibility in a meaningful way without placing a lot of added stress on people, even if you initiate a large-scale operation.
As an added benefit, the chores required for poultry farming are easy enough to do that you can easily find people to fill-in for you when you want to take a vacation. Allowing them to keep the eggs while providing a small stipend for the work will often get you an enthusiastic “Yes!” as a response.
List of the Disadvantages of Poultry Farming
1. You still need to have capital in place to start a poultry farm in the first place.
If you want to begin a large-scale commercial operation for your poultry farm, then you are going to need about $250,000 available that you can use to build structures, purchase chicks, hire help, and secure whatever licensing you may require. Then there are the processing costs to consider before you can start selling your first birds. That is why most poultry farmers start with a family operation.
If you start raising poultry in your backyard, then the cost per bird typically ranges from $3 to $30 over the lifetime of the animal. You will need to add a coop of some type, which might not cost anything if you build it yourself, but it could also run between $500 to $2,000 depending on the features you want. The cost for feed is about $15 per month for 3-6 birds, while your other costs are about $10 per month.
2. It is possible to lose an entire batch of chicks with poultry disease.
Although the diseases that spread through poultry are typically easy to manage, you do not have any control over this process until the chicks or birds are in your possession. There are six common health problems in chickens, for example, that you can resolve by improving their overall nutrition. Fowl cholera, coccidiosis, avian flu, fowl pox, Newcastle disease, and salmonellosis will happen at some point during your time as a poultry farmer. If you know how to respond and offer the correct nutritional content in the feed of your birds, then managing this issue isn’t as much of a disadvantage as it could be.
3. There is a slight risk of bird-to-human transmission of the avian flu.
The avian flu strain that the World Health Organization is concerned about is called H5N1. It is a highly infectious and severe respiratory disease that is found in birds. Transmission from an infected bird to a human is difficult, but not impossible to achieve. Even spreading it from human-to-human after receiving the virus from an animal is a rare occurrence. The mortality rate for this strain when it spreads to people is consistently around 60%. If you are running a backyard operation, this risk of this disadvantage of poultry farming is virtually zero.
4. Some birds do not excel in some environmental conditions.
You can theoretically start a poultry farm almost anywhere on the planet. The problem that you face is when the weather becomes too hot or cold for the birds that you intend to raise. There can be health issues with some species when there is too much or too little humidity in the air as well. Before you decide to begin operations, it is a good idea to look at the optimal conditions for each species that you want to raise.
Some birds, such as geese and turkeys, can thrive in a variety of conditions without much care beyond access to food and water. If you want to raise broiler chickens for profit, then you may need to install specific resources on your property to support those activities. Most farms work the best when the poultry and the environment work together for a successful result.
5. There are zoning issues that you may need to follow before starting your farm.
If you work with a processor for your poultry (and most jurisdictions require that you do so unless you are licensed as a butcher, slaughterhouse, or processor), then you must provide evidence that your farm meets all of the current zoning and licensing regulations for your geographic area.
Perdue Farms specifically states that they require farmers who raise poultry to adhere to all federal, state, and local regulations that involve their work. That includes zoning requirements and environmental stipulations that might be present. There may also be a set of best practices that you are asked to follow as part of your operations. If you do not provide evidence that you are in compliance or you fail an inspection, then you can lose your potential for profit just as quickly as you created it.
6. You must provide your birds with adequate feed to be successful.
Even if your goal is to raise free-range birds that are largely self-sustaining, you must provide supplemental feed that supports the natural growth of the animal. The amount of feed that is necessary to negate this disadvantage depends on what you decide to raise. Some chickens can eat up to 0.25 pounds of food each day. Layer hens require more than this, while broilers might eat between 0.6 to 1 pound to support their development.
Geese, turkey, ducks, and other poultry species have their own unique feed requirements to consider as well. If you do not provide food that contains calcium, Vitamin D, and other essential minerals, then the quality of the meat or eggs that you produce may not reach the required minimum standards for sale.
7. Poultry farming requires the presence of non-acidic, clean water.
You must have the quality of your water tested periodically if you decide to start a poultry farm, even if you live in the suburbs and use tap water for this need. When the acid levels are too high, then there are multiple negative impacts that can affect the livelihood of the birds. Poultry must have access to drinking water that is colorless, odorless, clear, and tasteless to be beneficial to the farming process.
If you have cloudy water, then there may be clay or silt that could create adverse effects on your flock. Red coloration in the water can indicate an excessive level of iron. Blue coloration indicates the process of copper, while a rotten egg smell is evidence that hydrogen sulfide is present. Even if there are salts in the water, the poultry may find the liquid to be bitter and refuse to drink it.
8. There is the issue of antibiotic use to consider with poultry farming.
Because bacterial disease can quickly sweep through large-scale commercial farms, it is not unusual to treat the birds with antibiotics to ensure that they stay health. Some farmers even resort to the proactive use of these drugs to minimize the impact of poor health on their profit margin. Not only does over-medication impact the quality of the meat, but it might also be an unreliable option if farmers try to purchase these items outside of their veterinarian.
Humans that eat chicken meat that consume regular antibiotics are at a higher risk of developing antibiotic-resistant gastrointestinal infections. There is the potential for more urinary tract infections as well. Even if you have an illness in your flock, the concerns with drug use are so high with processors that any antibiotic use might prevent you from being able to send your birds to market.
9. It can still be a lot of hard work for your family.
If you are only managing a handful of chickens, then this disadvantage may not apply to you. When you start working with a couple dozen birds, you might find that nighttime predators start to scope out your property. The presence of coyotes, wild dogs, opossums, raccoons, and others could create additional safety risks for your family. There will also be more rodents around your property as mice and rats steal any leftover feed that you leave out. You must be proactive in managing this issue to prevent loss.
A Final Thought on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Poultry Farming
The advantages and disadvantages of poultry farming must balance the work, time, and cost requirements with the potential for profit in some way. Some households find that there is a great satisfaction in being self-sufficient with some food products, so monetary profits are not even a consideration. From a commercial standpoint, this agricultural sector carries with it a similar risk that any other business owner would face.
Many people find that raising chickens, ducks, geese, and other poultry is a fun and relaxing experience. The chores are minimal compared to the benefits that are possible. If you can balance the potential disadvantages of this experience in some way, then you will likely enjoy being a poultry farmer – even if it is only in your backyard.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.