Carrol Douglas and M.D. Ouart*

Small flocks can be divided into the following two categories:

Production flocks: Small flocks kept for production of meat and/or eggs. These birds should not be treated as pets.

Hobby flocks: Purebred large fowl or bantam for exhibition or aesthetic value. These should not be kept primarily for production of meat and/or eggs.

Before starting a home flock, the following questions should be answered:

-- Do zoning laws permit keeping poultry?

-- Is There unused labor and, more important, is someone willing to care for the birds daily?

-- Is someone willing and able to process the birds for meat or process the eggs?

-- Is there necessary housing and equipment, or will there be additional expenses for these?

-- Are facilities or proposed facilities designed and located to prevent a nuisance (noise, fly, odor) for your family or neighbors?

-- Do you have a freezer, so that you can make best use of the meat birds you grow?

-- Do you have neighbors who would like to buy some "home-produced" eggs or poultry when you have more than you can use?


Light Weight Egg Type

(1) White Leghorn (white eggs)
(2) Leghorn-type crosses (white eggs)

Medium Weight Egg Type

(1) Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs)
(2) Sex-Link Crosses (brown eggs)
(3) White Plymouth Rock (brown eggs)
(4) Barred Plymouth Rock (brown eggs)

Meat Type

(1) Broiler crosses


Kept for hobby and show. See "American Standard of Perfection" for description of various breeds.


Baby Chicks

(1) Florida hatcheries. For a list of hatcheries, contact an extension poultry specialist.
(2) A reliable feed store.

Ready-to-lay pullets (18-20 weeks of age)

It may be difficult to obtain small numbers of ready-to-lay pullets. The best sources arc youth with 4-H poultry projects who often have quality pullets for sale. Contact the County Extension 4-H Agent for possible sources.

Adult Birds

It is best to keep only one age bird at one time on your property. If not possible, keep young and old birds separated. If adult birds are added to your flock, keep them separated for 14 days before putting them in your flock to insure that they are disease free.


For those desiring to produce their own hatching eggs and hatch their own chicks the following points should be followed.

Hatching Egg Production and Care

(1) Keep 1 male for each 10-12 females.
(2) Males should be kept with females at least 1 week prior to saving hatching eggs to insure high egg fertility.
(3) Feed a complete diet.
(4) Collect eggs at least 3 limes per day.
(5) Select eggs for size, shape, shell color, and texture; 23-28 oz. per dozen are best for hatching.
(6) Store eggs at a temperature of 55-65 degrees F., relative humidity of 70-85% and set within 7-10 days.

Incubation Essentials

(1) Obtaining a small incubator - Still air incubator can be purchased or constructed. Small forced-air self-turning incubators are commercially available. For details regarding incubators, incubator parts and/or construction plans, contact an extension poultry specialist or see "Incubation, Embryo Development and Display, and Baby Chick Care".

(2) Proper operating temperature - A still air incubator requires an operating temperature of 102 to 103 degrees F. at a position level with the top of the eggs. A forced draft (which contains a fan for circulating the air) incubator should be operated at 99 to 100 degrees F. Do not place the incubator in drafts or direct sunlight which may cause extreme fluctuations in temperature.

(3) Sufficient humidity - Wet bulb reading of 86 degrees F. For a small incubator, moisture can be added to the air by placing a small pan of water under the egg tray. It may be necessary to sprinkle the eggs lightly with warm water at the time of hatching to prevent the chicks from sticking to the shell.

(4) Turning of eggs - Eggs should be turned an odd number of times and a minimum of three times each day. Mark each egg as an aid in determining that all eggs are turned from one side to the other at each turning. For self-turning incubation,follow manufacturers instructions.


For the home flock, houses need not and should not be elaborate and expensive. In most of Florida, housing need only consist of an area covered by a roof, to keep out the hot sun and rain, and enclosed by wire to confine birds and exclude predators. Siding or plastic may be needed for protection against cold winds and blowing rain. Dirt floors are preferred to concrete or wood.

Brooder houses need to be closed up to preserve heat for the first few weeks. However, even small chicks need fresh air.

Uses of Houses

(1) Brooder houses hold chicks for the first few weeks or for the entire length of the growing period.
(2) Broiler or pullet houses are large brooder houses.
(3) Laying houses (floor or cage) hold the laying and breeding flock.

Floor Space

(1) Broilers or pullets - 1 square foot per chick.
(2) Floor layers - 3 to 4 square feet per bird.
(3) Cage layers - 60 to 100 square inches per bird.

Table 1. Incubation Periods for Different Birds

| EGGS            | DAYS   |
| Chicken         | 21     |
| Duck            | 28     |
| Muscovy Duck    | 33-35  |
| Turkey          | 28     |
| Geese (small)   | 30     |
| Geese (large)   | 33-34  |
| Guinea          | 28     |
| Bobwhite Quail  | 22-24  |
| Coturnix Quail  | 16-18  |
| Pheasant        | 21-24  |
| Peafowl         | 28-30  |
| Pigeon          | 17-19  |
| Ostrich         | 40-42  |
| Swans           | 42     |



(a) Hover-type - Follow manufacturer's direction. Starting temperature at the edge of the hover should be 95 degrees F. for the first week and reduced 5 degrees F. each week.
(b) Heat lamp - Use either white or infra-red heat lamps.
(c) Home made brooder - An inexpensive method of supplying heat to a few chicks is to place a 100-watt light bulb inside a gallon tin can and place the can on the floor of the brooder house.

Chick guard

ln cold weather, use a solid chick guard (18 inches high made of cardboard or sheet metal) around the hover or heat source to keep chicks from straying and to prevent floor drafts. Place the guard two or three feet from the edge of the hover. Remove it at the end of 7 to 10 days.


Table 2. Feeder Requirements by Age

| AGE               | SPACE*                                |
| Day old           | Feed on newspaper placed on litter    |
| 2 days - 2 weeks  | 100 linear inches/100 chicks          |
| 3 - 6 weeks       | 175 linear inches/100 chicks          |
| 7 - 12 weeks      | 300 linear inches/100 chicks          |
| Layers            | 5 linear inches/bird                  |
| *a four-foot feeder open to birds on both sides provides  |
|  96 linear inches                                         |


Table 3. Waterer Requirements by Age

| AGE              | SPACE                                              |
| Day old - 2 weeks| two 1 gallon founts or 20 linear inches/100 chicks |
| 3 - 12 weeks     | two 3 gallon founts or 40 linear inches/100 chicks | 
| 12 -20 weeks     | 80 linear inches/100 chicks                        | 
| Layers           | 1 linear inch/bird                                 | 


(a) Allow one individual nest for each four hens. The bottom of the nest should be 14 inches square with the front six inches high, back 15 inches high.
(b) Community nests are constructed two feet wide and any desired length. Allow two nests (each 2 feet x 6 feet) for each 100 hens.


Normally cages are 18 inches deep and 16 inches high in the following widths:
(a) 8 inches wide - one bird per cage
(b) 10 inches wide - can accommodate two layers per cage.
(c) 12 inches wide - can accommodate two or three layers per cage.
(d) Although more than one bird per cage can be housed, one bird per cage is recommended for small flocks for the following reasons; cleaner eggs, fewer cracked eggs, usually higher production, better bird plumage and less cannibalism. Manure management is much easier since the manure is not so concentrated, thus aiding in drying and reducing odors and fly problems.


All feeds are composed of important groups of ingredients which are called nutrients. The essential nutrients are: water, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. A good poultry feed contains a proper balance of nutrients which will satisfy the chicken's requirement and meet the need for which it is for (growth, moat or eggs).

Feed a good commercial starter feed for the first 6 weeks. From 9 to 20 weeks feed a grower feed. Starter and grower should contain a drug for prevention of coccidiosis. At 20 weeks switch to a layer feed and continue throughout the laying life of the hen. Grower and layer feeds can be in all-mash, crumble or pellet form.

Keep feed before the chickens at all time; however, avoid feed wastage. Feed troughs can be full during the first day or two of the chick's life. From then on, feeders should be filled from 1/2 to 2/3 full. Occasionally you can allow the birds to eat all the feed from the troughs to prevent accumulation of dirty, dry, and stale feed.

Water is one of the most important requirements for poultry. Be sure that chickens have a supply of clean, cool drinking water at all times. Clean all waterers daily. Keep them in the shade and avoid leaks and spills. Keep the area around the water as dry as possible.


There are very few practicing veterinarians in the state who will accept poultry cases. The Florida Department of agriculture and Consumer Services operates diagnostic labs throughout Florida (see "A Guide to Commercial Poultry Production in Florida) where poultry disease diagnostic services can be obtained for a fee. However, most home flock owners cannot justify the expense of taking or sending birds to one of these labs for this service. Therefore, flock owners can best maintain healthy flocks by:

(a) Starting with high quality, disease-free chicks or pullets.
(b) Using a good brooder.
(c) Feeding a good commercial feed.
(d) Providing cool, clean drinking water.
(e) Following good management practices.
(f) Keep birds free of internal and external parasites.

The home flock owner cannot afford nor is it necessary to follow an elaborate vaccination program as followed by the commercial poultry farmer. The home flock owner should, however, vaccinate for fowl pox when birds are 6 to 8 weeks of age. Follow the manufacturer's directions. Chicks should be ordered from the hatchery already vaccinated for Marek's Disease. Contact the extension avian veterinarian on specific health and disease questions.


Before chicks arrive, the brooder houses should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. A good general purpose disinfectant available from feed or from supply stores should be used. After cleaning, allow the house to dry thoroughly before putting in litter material.

Wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, sugar cane bagasse, or chopped straw can be used for litter material. Use only dry, clean litter which is free of any mold. Cover the floor with 4 to 6 inches of litter.

Make sure the brooder is working properly and adjusted. Put down feed and water before chicks arrive so that the water can adjust to room temperature.

Watch the chicks closely the first day and night to see that they are comfortable. Then observe them at least four times each day - early morning, noon, late afternoon and at night before bedtime. Chicks that are evenly distributed over the floor and are busily eating and drinking are comfortable. If they droop their wings and keep their mouths open, the brooder is too hot. When chicks huddle together, pile up or emit a loud chirp, they are chilled and more heat is needed. Overheating and chilling can result in a high mortality rate.


Follow the same brooding recommendations as above. Since broilers are being reared for meat it is important that they always have an adequate supply of high quality broiler feed.

As the birds get heavier, they will need more floor space and ventilation. It may be well to use night lights equivalent to 15 watts per 200 square feet. This allows birds to eat at night and helps prevent pile-ups. Keep litter dry to help prevent breast blisters. Provide ample cool, clean water.


(a) Follow the same brooding recommendations as above.
(b) Feed starter and grower feeds as outlined under Feed and Water section.
(c) Keep young and old birds separated. If it is necessary for one person to care for young and old birds, care for the young birds first each day.
(d) Remove any unthrifty pullets.
(e) Keep birds free of parasites.
(f) Keep complete and accurate records.


(a) Clean and disinfect laying house before placing pullets in it.
(b) If floor management is used, put in 4 to 6 inches of clean litter.
(c) House only well developed, well fleshed pullets.
(d) Use artificial light to provide 14 hours of total light per day - one 40 watt bulb per 200 square feet, hung 8 feet above the floor.
(e) Use a feeding program as outlined above.
(f) Keep birds free of parasites.
(g) Keep complete and accurate records.
(h) Remove obvious culls.


Production and Handling

(a) Keep birds healthy.
(b) Provide enough nesting space.
(c) Keep nesting material clean and dry or cage bottom clean.
(d) Collect eggs 3 or 4 times daily to reduce breakage.
(e) Use clean, warm (110-120 degrees F.) water with a detergent sanitizer to clean dirty eggs.
(f) Hold eggs at 50-60 degrees F. with a relative humidity of 70-80%.
(g) Candle to determine interior quality.
(h) Examine to determine exterior quality.
(i) Determine individual egg grade.
(j) Weigh for size determination.
(k) Pack in clean cartons.
(l) Market eggs at least twice weekly.

Egg Law -- Grades and Standard

Secure a copy of Florida Egg and Poultry Law from Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Mayo Building, Tallahassee.


Following are some useful general goals regarding feed consumption, feed conversion and egg production or body weight gain for small flocks.


An egg-type hen will consume about 85-95 pounds of feed/bird/year (23-26 pounds of feed per 100 birds per day). Egg production in a small flock should be about 200-240 eggs/hen/year (17-20 dozen). Feed conversion will range from 4.2 to 5.6 pounds of feed per dozen eggs.


Ten broilers (5 males and 5 females) will consume 125 pounds of feed over 7 weeks (12.5 pounds per bird). Broiler body weights will average 5 pounds at 7 weeks of age. Feed conversion for broilers should be 2.5 pounds of feed per pound of body weight or better. Broilers (per bird) will consume feed over their growing period as follows: 2.0 pounds feed for the first 3 weeks; 4.0 pounds feed for the next 2 weeks; 6.0 pounds feed for the last 2 weeks.

Egg-type Pullets

Pullets should consume 18-20 pounds of feed/bird in 20 weeks. They consume this feed over time as follows: (at four week intervals) 1.0 pound, 3.0 pounds, 4.0 pounds, 5.0 pounds, and 6.0 pounds per bird. Body weights of pullets should increase over time as follows:

At 4 weeks 0.5 - 0.6 pound
At 8 weeks 1.3 - 1.4 pound
At 12 weeks 1.8 - 2.1 pound
At 16 weeks 2.3 - 2.8 pound
At 20 weeks 2.8 - 3.6 pound

Table 4. Guidelines for Culling Chickens

| Characteristics  | Good Layer             | Cull                       |
| Vitality         | Vigorous, active       | Weak, sluggish             |
| Comb/Wattles     | Full, red, glossy      | Shriveled, pale, dull, dry |
| Eye              | Prominent, keen        | Listless, sunken           |
| Vent             | Large, moist           | Small, dry, puckered       |
| Pubic bones      | Thin, well spread      | Thick, close together      |
| Abdomen          | Soft, pliable thin skin| Firm, thick coarse skin    |


For those who want additional detailed information on poultry production, the following books are recommended:

Commercial Chicken Production Manual, 3rd Ed.
by Mack O. North (1984)
The AVI Publishing Company, Inc.
Westport, Connecticut

Poultry Science, 2nd Ed.
by M.E. Ensminger (1980)
The Interstate Printers and Publishers, Inc.
19-27 North Jackson Street
Danville, Illinois

Poultry Production
By L.E. Card and M.C. Nesheim (1972)
Lea and Febinger
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The American Standard of Perfection
The American Poultry Association, Inc. (1985)
Nona Shearer (Secretary-Treasurer)
26363 S. Tucker Road
Estacada, OR 97023

This document was published June 1992 as Fact Sheet PS-3, Florida Cooperative Extension Service. For more information, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office.

* Extension Poultry Specialist, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville.

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