Raising Backyard Poultry

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Backyard poultry has become increasingly popular across our area in recent years. For some, one or two chickens are kept as they supply the family with a steady supply of eggs. Others get one or two chickens and a passion develops, quickly turning from a hobby into a small business. Whatever your case may be, if you have backyard poultry, it is important to manage them so that they can meet your goals while understanding the laws if you plan to turn your hobby into a business.

First, the end goal of the chicken must be considered. Are you interested in raising chickens for egg production, for meat production, or as pets? The answer will determine how you should manage your chickens, as well as what laws you should be aware of. Many people who get backyard chickens quickly realize just how many eggs chickens can lay, and become interested in selling eggs, either at farmer’s markets or roadside stands. If you decide to begin raising chicken eggs to sell, there are some state laws you should be aware of. First, if selling more than 30 dozen eggs per week, then eggs must be graded and cartons must be labeled with that grade. Remember, if marketing eggs as “fresh,” then eggs must meet the USDA grade A or AA standard. If selling less than 30 dozen eggs per week, eggs do not need to be graded, but cartons should be labelled and clearly marked as “eggs” and with the words “ungraded eggs.”  If they are not separated by size, they should also be labelled “mixed size.”  The label must include your name or farm name and address as the producer.

Even if you are just raising birds for personal egg consumption, chicken egg production is highly dependent upon light. Chickens lay eggs when exposed to 14-16 hours of light per day. With supplemental lighting, a chicken can continue producing eggs for 10-15 months. After this time, she will need a rest period and will need to go through a molt. This allows her body to recover from the stress caused by laying eggs. A good diet will also be essential in continuous egg production.

Eggs should be gathered at least twice a day from the flock, and should be cleaned and refrigerated as soon as possible. Eggs with cracked and deformed shells, or eggs which are excessively dirty, should be discarded. Remember, you do not need a rooster for chickens to produce eggs. Some who begin raising backyard chickens become interested in meat production. Some producers may be required to become registered as a meat and poultry handler with NCDA&CS, but some small scale producers may fall under certain exemptions. If raising less than 1,000 birds per year, a producer is allowed to slaughter and process poultry that they have raised. Similar exemptions exist for producers raising less than 20,000 birds per year when certain conditions are met. This allows small producers to sell meat or eggs at local farmer’s markets.

Whether raising birds for eggs, meat, or pets, there are certain things that should be noted. Backyard birds do best when they are all of approximately the same age within one confinement. This helps to prevent establishment of a pecking order and fighting within the flock. Chickens are susceptible to a variety of diseases. Always buy from a reputable hatchery, which should vaccinate chicks to help prevent disease. The best way to prevent diseases in your flock is to practice biosecurity. This means preventing contamination from other flocks. You should have one pair of shoes that you wear around your birds which does not leave your property. If bringing new birds into the flock, be sure to quarantine them for 2 weeks and watch for any signs of disease.

Backyard chickens can be a great hobby for families and also a way to start a small side venture into farming. If you have questions about backyard poultry, egg, or meat production, contact North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cherokee County Center at 828-837-2210 or visit Growing Small Farms for more information.