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    Guide to Raising Poultry

    Raising poultry can be a great way to get your feet wet owning livestock. This poultry care guide makes it easy to learn the basics for starting your flock, feeding, housing and even poultry first aid. Whether you choose to raise birds for eggs, meat or companionship we’ll help you start and maintain your poultry journey out here. 

    Brooding Your Flock

    Brooding is the period in your young birds’ lives when they require specialized care and an optimum, heated environment where they can grow and thrive. You are standing in for the mom until the newly hatched poultry grows to about 6-8 weeks of age and can regulate their own body temperatures efficiently. All brooding poultry need a warm, clean, dry environment and immediate access to water. Dip their beaks to show them where it is!

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    Brooding chicks: Your recent hatchlings will require some basic supplies, patience, and protection before they’re ready to be introduced to any existing chickens and their new coop at 8-12 weeks. At a minimum, you will need a brooding box, litter/bedding, heat lamps and plates, plastic or metal feeders, starter feed, a lid or other secure protection for your brooding box, a crate or run for outside time and sanitizers/cleaners.

    Brooding ducks: The main difference in brooding waterfowl like ducks and geese is providing enough water. In fact, they need water to properly swallow their food and deep enough water to at least dip their heads and clean their bills every day (don’t give baby ducks more than ¼ inch of water to help prevent drowning). Ducklings will also tend to grow much faster than chickens and can imprint or develop a strong, friendly bonds with their caregivers.

    Brooding game birds: Game birds such as turkeys, guineas, pheasants and quails, will need more space during brooding to help prevent pecking and pulling, as game birds can be cannibalistic. Guineas, pheasants and quails should also be started with feed on flats for easier access and scratching. Many of these fowl are flyers, so they may need to be transferred to a coop sooner. Some areas don't consider game birds livestock, so even if backyard chickens aren’t allowed in your town game birds may be ok with a permit or license. 

    Housing Poultry

    Housing needs for raising poultry varies based on type and flock size, but all kinds of fowls need a safe, clean, ventilated space to sleep at night, even if they spend most of their days outdoors. Coops, houses, and shelters can be created using existing structures like sheds or barns, be pre-built or custom made. Most will also need an attached pen or run, portable run or fenced area where they can have outside time while still being protected from escape and predators.

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    Chicken coops: Chickens need a secure coop with elevated roosts for sleeping at night and nesting boxes for laying eggs out of the elements and away from predators. Consider your budget, the space/location and flock size and review the variety of coop designs available to help inspire you. All coops need good ventilation, space for each chicken and their needs, security from predators and an outdoor area or run. For tips to keep your coop clean, read How to Clean a Chicken Coop.

    Duck houses and shelters: Ducks don’t require a fancy set-up, just a safe, well-ventilated space to sleep. They don’t need roosts or nesting boxes like chickens do, and are perfectly happy to bed down in hay and lay their eggs in the corner of the shed, house, or coop. They also don’t need overnight food, water, or a heat source in their houses. Because of their thick layers of feathers and down, ducks enjoy being outdoors year-round, but will need an area in their pen that blocks wind and flying predators where they can shelter. This could be made with nets, tarps, plywood, or landscaping. 

    Game bird coops and pens: Turkeys will need plenty of low places to perch, soft bedding, floors with good traction, and should always be housed and raised separately from chickens to prevent the spread of disease. Pens for smaller game birds need to be fully enclosed to keep them from escaping and keep wild birds out. Game birds tend to startle easily, so keeping their coops and pens away from loud areas and including a barrier around the pen to distance other livestock and predators is recommended. Including landscaping or vegetation in a pen is a good way to give game birds places to roost and forage. 

    Feeding Poultry

    There is so much to learn about poultry feed, treats and supplements that will help keep your flock healthy and productive. Get all the basics for feeding your chickens, ducks, and game birds from food types to feeders.  

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    Feeding chickens: There is a large variety of poultry feed available for chickens, with the main types being chicken starter feed, layer feed (18% protein or higher), grower feed and organic feed. There are also medicated feeds and feeds with added prebiotics and probiotics for digestive health. Chickens should be fed about ½ cup of feed per day in the morning and evening. Chickens should receive a balanced feed that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates plus fat, and vitamins A and E. Healthy treats such as mealworms, sunflower seeds and fruit or veggie scraps can provide additional nutrients and feed can be supplemented if needed. When choosing a chicken feeder look for easy set up and cleaning, pest, waste and mess prevention and a waterproof design.   

    Feeding ducks: All poultry need constant access to water, but for ducks’ water is essential to eating. Water helps ducks swallow food and keeps beak vents clean. Duck food comes in the forms of pellets and crumbles. Pellets are great for consistent, less wasteful feeding, but crumbles are preferred for ducklings because they’re easier to eat. Like chicken feed, duck feed comes in the forms of starter feed, layer feed, grower feed and organic feed, but the two aren’t interchangeable. Baby ducks need more niacin (B3) than chicks and high protein diets can cause health issues in adult ducks. Additional feeding needs for ducks can include oyster shells (for calcium) and grit (for grinding up food). Small insects, worms, and finely chopped fruit, veggies and greens all make great treats for ducks. 

    Feeding game birds: Turkeys grow quickly and eat quite a bit. Pheasant, quail, and turkey diets are high in protein, starting at 30% for poults and chicks, and reducing to about 20% for adult birds. Like ducks, turkey, quail, and pheasant hens may need extra calcium when laying eggs and access to grit for digestion, if they can’t forage. Like chickens, game birds are susceptible to coccidiosis (intestinal tract disease), so medicated food for poults and chicks is often needed for healthy flocks. You likely won’t find separate feed for different birds, so anything labeled game bird feed should meet their needs. Guinea keets, pheasant and quail chicks should be fed on flats for easier access to food and so they can scratch. 

    Poultry First Aid

    The keys to keeping poultry healthy are prevention and preparedness.

    Prevent: Also known as biosecurity. The USDA defines this as, “keeping viruses, bacteria, funguses, parasites, and other microorganisms that cause disease away from birds, property, and people.” Some measures to put in place include: limiting flock visitors and ensuring everyone who encounters poultry washes their hands before and after, keeping equipment, feeders, coops and bedding dry, clean, and disinfected and securing poultry housing and pens against pests and predators. Feed a well-balanced, appropriate diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals, providing ample clean water, especially for ducks, and prioritizing health over egg production.

    Prepare: The best ways to prepare are to have a quiet sick bay where ill or injured fowl can be kept separate and safe, a poultry first aid kit that is stocked with all the essentials and a poultry-trained veterinarian or specialist lined up when you need additional help. Raising poultry of any kind requires you to be a good, daily observer. Look for subtle signs that your birds are unwell and learn to identify common warning signs of disease, pests and other issues. Make sure to report sick birds to the USDA and have your state’s poultry pathology lab or extension service contact information on hand. Lastly, plan for slow re-introductions to the rest of your flock once your bird is on the mend.

    First aid kit: Try to always keep your poultry first aid kit stocked with your most-used basics. Use this list as a starting point:

    • Non-stick gauze pads
    • VetWrap
    • Liquid bandage
    • Disposable gloves
    • Flashlight or headlamp
    • Tweezers
    • Scissors
    • Triple antibiotic ointment (without pain reliver)
    • Vetericyn (wound and skin care)
    • Dog nail clippers or a Dremel (for beaks and toenails)
    • Aspirin (Not baby aspirin)
    • Syringe
    • Epsom salt
    • Wooden craft sticks
    • Antimicrobial spray
    • Vitamins and electrolytes
    • Prozyme (digestive enzymes)

    Everything you need for poultry out here


    Learn about poultry breeds by use and temperament.

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    Get what you need for your coop.

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