Commercial Poultry Production

Factors in Planning a Poultry Operation Independent or Contract Production
  1. Independent egg producers have the total responsibility for all planning, producing and marketing of eggs. They must provide houses, equipment, birds, feed, all supplies and management. Their risks are greater but potential profit or loss is also greater.
  2. Contract poultry producers (broilers and eggs) provide land, labor, houses, equipment, taxes, utilities, and insurance. The contractor furnishes birds, feed, medication, supervision, and markets the product. The contractor picks up eggs or broilers at the farm and the producer is paid a base price per dozen or per pound plus an incentive bonus as stated in the contract.
In planning for a poultry operation, a determination should be made of all contractors operating within the area and the type of contract available.


Independent egg farms could be located in any place, however, make sure a market is available and zoning laws permit poultry farming. It would be well, however, to consider locating new farms well away from populated communities.


With building and equipment costs continuing to rise, it is difficult to set an accurate investment cost necessary to build and equip poultry houses. Today's investment for buildings and equipment alone are running approximately $5.00 - $7.00 per bird for layers, depending on the degree of mechanization. Broiler houses and equipment will run approximately $3.50 per square foot. Broilers are usually housed at about 0.8 square feet per bird.

Independent egg farms may be any size. New egg farms usually have 50,000 layers per farm. Broiler farms have 25,000 - 90,000 bird capacity per farm.


Farms must produce eggs for a specific market. They can no longer produce eggs and then hope to sell them for a profit if they have to take a wholesale price for all eggs. In planning for an egg operation, the most important consideration is to have a specific market or a firm contract from a producer. One of the biggest advantages which a farmer has in producing eggs under contract is the freedom from concerns of marketing.


The most successful poultry operations are those in which the owner and the owner's family are actively involved in managing and working on the farm. Since poultry farming requires some work every day, the manager is responsible for labor seven days per week and must understand the need for this constant attention to details. The most successful poultry farmers enjoy this type of work.


Breeds and Strains Selection

  1. Contract production - The contract egg producer usually has no voice in determining which strain of bird will be placed on the farm. The contractor will select the best bird for egg market.
  2. Independent production - There are several top strains of egg production layers available. The producer should pick the strain to fit the market demand, such as egg size, egg shell color, shell quality and feed efficiency. Chicks should be obtained from reputable hatcheries. By studying the Official Directory of Florida Breeding Flocks and Hatcheries (Published annually by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tallahassee, FL) the producer can find a source of quality chicks.
Housing and Equipment

Essentially all commercial layers in Florida are housed in cages. If an egg farm is going to produce eggs under contract, the producer will be able to get construction details from the contractor and often must build and equip the house following the contractor's directions. Since many contractor-owned complexes are built with closed sided, evaporative cooled houses, contract producers may be required to provide similar facilities.

Poultry House Essentials

  1. Locate on well drained land. High, sandy, black jack oak ridges make ideal locations.
  2. Build on an elevated grade with good drainage between houses.
  3. Consider acreage and location of buildings for future expansion.
  4. Open houses should be built with ridge ventilation which can be opened and closed.
  5. If houses are equipped with side curtains, the curtains should be adjustable.
  6. Adequate house eaves (24-36 inches) to keep out blowing rain and direct sun are important.
  7. Consider ease of manure clean out.
  8. Make sure adequate land is available for manure disposal (approximately 1 ACRE/1000 birds).
Feeds and Feeding

  1. Feed and feeding instructions are provided by the contractors for farmers producing eggs under contract.
  2. The independent producer should look at economics and buy high quality feed from a company offering good service as well as quality feed. Feeds are composed of important groups of ingredients called nutrients. A high quality feed will contain a proper balance of nutrients balanced for the purpose for which it is to be fed.
  3. Most independent producers should start out buying complete feed. As he grows in size and gains experience, he may want to consider mixing his own feed. Investigate the economics, time and management necessary to mix a quality feed and maintain quality control. Details in formulation and feed mixing can be obtained from the Extension Poultrymen.
  4. A feeding program should be developed to maintain quality. Check feed tanks for old, caked feed. Empty and clean tanks occasionally. Do not allow food to get wet.
Flock Health

  1. The contractor service person is trained to spot health problems before they develop into major problems and advise the producer.
  2. The independent egg producer can best maintain healthy flocks by: 
    (a) Using the all-in-all-out method of management.
    (b) Practicing good management.
    (c) Keeping his farm and houses off limits to visitors.
    (d) Using a good vaccination program.
    (e) Becoming familiar with important diseases and diagnostic lab procedures.
  3. Vaccination:
    (a) Marek's Disease: 1 day (at Hatchery)
    (b) Bronchitis: 10 days, 4 to 5 weeks, 14 to 16 weeks
    (c) Newcastle Disease: 2 weeks repeat every 2 to 3 months
    (d) Fowl Pox: High Risk Area - 1 to 2 weeks, 12 to 16 weeks; Low Risk Area - 8 to 16 weeks
    (e) Vaccination schedules may vary depending on the disease condition in the area. 

BROODING Floor houses
  1. Clean and disinfect houses and equipment completely.
  2. Put in 4 to 6 inches of clean liter.
  3. Have water and feed available when chicks arrive.
  4. Inspect and adjust brooders prior to arrival of chicks.
  5. Follow manufacturer's directions for brooder capacity.
  6. Adjust brooder temperature at edge of hover at 95 degrees F. for the first week and reduce 5 degrees each week.
  7. Use brooder guards for first 7-10 days.
  8. Isolate brooder house and keep visitors out.
Cage Brooder houses

Many poultry farmers are now brooding pullets in cage brooders. Follow manufacturer's directions on heating systems. Use the same management recommendations for preparing house, feeding, watering and chick care.

Pullet Management
  1. Isolate pullet houses and keep visitors out.
  2. Remove unthrifty pullets as they appear.
  3. For feeding and lighting details check with an Extension Poultryman.
  4. Weigh a sample of birds bi-weekly to check body weight against strain standard.
  5. Debeaking - There are several satisfactory methods and programs of debeaking. The poultryman should select the program which fits his operation. 
The following methods are used:
    1. Early Precision Debeaking
      • Age of bird between 6 and 9 days.
      • Both beaks inserted into a 10/64 or 11/64 inch hole.
      • Hot blade (1,700 degrees F) cherry red.
      • Hot blade is held against beak for 2.5 seconds.
      • When done properly, one debeaking will last for the expected life of the bird.
    2. TT Method
      • Age of bird between 8 and 10 weeks.
      • Sometimes used in addition to early precision.
    3. Conventional Method
      • Age of bird between 12 and 18 weeks.
      • Independent block cutting of both beaks.
      • Permanent and gives good protection during laying period.
Layer Management
  1. House only well developed, well fleshed pullets.
  2. Use artificial lights to provide 15 hours of total light per day, and start with 1 foot candle intensity at the bird level.
  3. Feed a balanced diet - Keep feed intake records.
  4. Weigh a sample of birds monthly.
  5. Remove obvious culls.
  6. Observe birds often to spot problem areas early.
Egg Handling for Quality
  1. Keep cages and egg gathering equipment in good repair to prevent cracks.
  2. Handle eggs carefully.
  3. Clean dirty eggs using clean, warm (110-120 degrees F) water with a detergent sanitizer.
  4. Cool eggs quickly and keep them cool. Hold at a temperature of 50-60 degrees F. with a relative humidity of 70-80%.


All broilers are produced and marketed by firms which own or control hatchery, feed mill, processing plant and market arrangements. Birds are grown by farmers under contract and under supervision of the contractor. The farmer provides land, labor, houses, equipment, taxes, utilities and insurance. The farmer is paid a base price plus bonus according to the contract.


Flock Management: Keep birds healthy, use 10 males per 100 broiler breeder females or 8 males per 100 egg breeder females.

Feed: Feed a breeder diet which is specially formulated for high hatchability.

Care of Hatching Eggs

  1. Select eggs for size, shape, shell color and texture, 23-28 oz. per dozen is best for hatching.
  2. Hold eggs at a temperature between 55-65 degrees F., humidity of 70-85% and for not more than 7 to 10 days before setting.

Principles of Poultry Husbandry

The quality and class of stock If the enterprise is to be successful it is necessary to use stock known to be of good quality and of the appropriate genotype for the commodity to be produced in the management situation to be used. The obvious first decision is to choose meat type for meat production and an egg type for egg production. However, having made that decision, it is then necessary to analyze the management situation and market to select a genotype which suits that management situation and/or produces a commodity suitable for that market. A good example is that of brown eggshells. If the market requires eggs to have brown shells, the genotype selected must be a brown shell layer. Another example would be to choose a genotype best suited for use in a tropical environment. The manager must know in detail the requirements of the situation and then select a genotype best suited to that situation.
The provision of good housing There are three requirements that the poultry house must satisfy. The following are of major importance in achieving a high standard of production efficiency:

1.      Confine the birds
2.      Provide protection from a harsh environment
3.      Satisfy the welfare needs of the birds
Confining the birds Confining the birds will provide a number of advantages:
  • Provides a degree of protection from predators
  • Reduces the labour costs in the management of the birds
  • Increases the number of birds that can be maintained by the same labour force
  • Reduces the costs of production
  • Better organises the stocking program
  • Better organises management to suit the type and age of the birds housed
Importantly, the confinement of the birds at higher stocking densities has a number of disadvantages also including:

1.      Increases the risk of infectious disease passing from one bird to another

2.      Increases the probability that undesirable behavioural changes may occur

3.      Increases the probability of a significant drop in performance

4.      Birds housed at very high densities often attract adverse comment from the “welfare” lobby

Protection from a harsh environment A harsh environment is one outside of the comfort range of the birds. In this context high and low temperature, high humidity in some circumstances, excessively strong wind, inadequate ventilation and/or air movement and high levels of harmful air pollutants such as ammonia are examples of a harsh environment. Much effort is made in designing and building poultry houses that will permit the regulation of the environment to a significant degree.

It is the responsibility of management responsible for the day-to-day management of the birds, to ensure that the environment control systems are operated as efficiently as possible. This will require a good knowledge of the different factors that constitute the environment and how they interact with each other to produce the actual conditions in the house and, more importantly, what can be done to improve the house environment.

Welfare needs A good poultry house has to satisfy the welfare needs of the birds. These needs vary with the class, age and housing system. Failure to satisfy these needs will, in many cases; result in lower performance from the birds. These needs include:
  • The provision of adequate floor space with enough headroom
  • The provision of good quality food with adequate feeding space
  • The provision of good quality water with adequate drinking space
  • The opportunity to associate with flock mates
  • The elimination of anything that may cause injury
  • The elimination of all sources of unnecessary harassment

The maintenance of good health The presence of disease in the poultry flock is reflected in inferior performance and it is a must that the flock is in good health if their performance is to approach their potential. There are three elements of good health management of a poultry flock. These are:

1.      The prevention of disease

2.      The early recognition of disease

3.      The early treatment of disease

Prevention of disease The prevention of disease is a much more economical way of health management than waiting for the flock to become diseased before taking appropriate action. There are a number of factors that are significant in disease prevention. These are:

1.      Application of a stringent quarantine program:

  •  The isolation of the farm/sheds from all other poultry.
  • The control of vehicles and visitors.
  • The introduction of day old chickens only onto the farm.
  • The prevention of access to the sheds by all wild birds and all other animals including vermin.
  • The provision of shower facilities and clean clothing for staff and visitors.
  • The control of the movement of staff and equipment around the farm.

2.      The use of good hygiene practices:

The provision of wash facilities for staff, essential visitors and vehicles prior to entry.

The use of disinfectant foot baths at the entry to each shed.
The thorough cleaning and disinfection of all sheds between flocks.

3.      Maintaining the flock in a good state of well being by good stockmanship, nutrition and housing.

4.      The use of a suitable vaccination program.

5.      The use of a preventive medication program.

6.      The use of monitoring procedures to keep a check on the disease organism status of the farm, to check on the effectiveness of cleaning and sanitation procedures and to test the immunity levels to certain diseases in the stock to check the effectiveness of the vaccination program.

The early recognition of disease One of the first skills that should be learned by the poultry flock manager is to be able to tell when all is not well with the stock. Frequent inspections looking for signs of sickness are required. It is accepted that all birds should be inspected every day as a first task on the farm for signs of ill health, injury and harassment. At the same time feeders, drinkers and other equipment can be checked for serviceability. If a problem has developed since the last inspection, appropriate action can be taken in a timely manner.

The early treatment of disease If a disease should infect a flock, early treatment may mean the difference between a mild outbreak and a more serious one. It is important that the correct treatment be used as soon as possible. This can only be achieved when the correct diagnosis has been made at an early stage. While there are times when appropriate treatment can be recommended as a result of a field diagnosis i.e. a farm autopsy, it is best if all such diagnoses be supported by a laboratory examination to confirm the field diagnosis and to ensure that other conditions are not being masked by that originally diagnosed. When treating stock it is important that the treatment be administered correctly and at the recommended concentration or dose rate. Always read the instructions carefully and follow them.

Nutrition for economic performance Diets may be formulated for each class of stock under various conditions of management, environment and production level. The diet specification to be used to obtain economic performance in any given situation will depend on factors such as:

1.      The cost of the mixed diet

2.      The commodity prices i.e. the income

3.      The availability, price and quality of the different ingredients

Maximizing production is not necessarily the most profitable strategy to use because the additional cost required providing the diet that will give maximum production might be greater than the value of the increase in production gained. A lower quality diet, while resulting in lower production may bring in greatest profit because of the significantly lower feed costs. Also the food given to a flock must be appropriate for that class of stock - good quality food for one class of bird will quite likely be unsuitable for another.

The following are key aspects in relation to the provision of a quality diet:

  • The ingredients from which the diet is made must be of good quality.
  • The weighing or measuring of all ingredients must be accurate.
  • All of the specified ingredients must be included. If one e.g. a grain is unavailable, the diet should be re-formulated. One ingredient is not usually a substitute for another without re-formulation.
  • The micro-ingredients such as the amino acids, vitamins and other similar materials should not be too old and should be stored in cool storage - many such ingredients lose their potency over time, and particularly so in high temperatures.
  • Do not use moldy ingredients - these should be discarded. Mould in poultry food may contain toxins that may affect the birds.
  • Do not use food that is too old or has become moldy. Storage facilities such as silos should be cleaned frequently to prevent the accumulation of moldy material.
The practice of good stockpersonship The term “stockpersonship” is difficult to define because it often means different things to different people. However, “stockpersonship” may be defined as: the harmonious interaction between the stock and the person responsible for their daily care. There is no doubt that some stock people can, under identical conditions, obtain much better performance than can others. The basis of good stockpersonship is having a positive attitude and knowledge of the needs and behaviour of the stock under different circumstances, of management techniques and a willingness to spend time with the stock to be able to react to any adverse situations as they develop to keep stress to a minimum. Having the right attitude is also a very important element. The stockperson who spends as much time as possible with the stock from day old onwards - moving among them, handling them and talking to them will grow a much quieter bird that reacts less to harassment, is more resistant to disease and performs better.

The maximum use of management techniques There are available for use by stockpersons a number of different management techniques that, while not essential for the welfare of the stock, do result in better performance. Examples of these are the regulation of day length, the management of live weight for age and of flock uniformity. The good manager will utilize these techniques when ever possible to maximize production efficiency and hence profitability.

The use of records There are two types of records that need be kept on a poultry enterprise:

1.      Those required for financial management - for business and taxation reasons

2.      Those required for the efficient physical management of the enterprise

For records to be of use in the management of the enterprise, they must be complete, current and accurate, be analyzed and then used in the decision making process. Failure to use them means that all of the effort to gather the information will have been wasted and performance not monitored. As a result many problems that could have been fixed before they cause irreparable harm may not be identified until too late.

Marketing There are three important elements to good marketing practice:

1.      Produce the commodity required by the consumer - this usually means continuous market research must be carried out to relate production to demand.

2.      Be competitive - higher price is usually associated with good quality and/or specialised product. Therefore, it is necessary to relate price to quality and market demand and to operate in a competitive manner with the opposition.

3.      Reliability - produce a commodity for the market and ensure that supply, price and quality are reliable.