Small and Backyard Poultry Flocks

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Because of their size, it is possible to raise most poultry species (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigeon, etc.) with only a minimal amount of acreage. This has made them increasingly popular in rural, suburban, and urban areas throughout the United States. They are suitable for 4-H/classroom projects, backyard flocks, as well as small- and medium-sized production flocks. Many of those who have started raising poultry have limited experience with poultry production.

What Topics Will Be Covered In This Presentation?

Example of a small layer flock (3 Buff Orpingtons) in a backyard

An overview of the situation with small and backyard flocks with regards to waste management

What Did We Do?

Visits to different small and backyard flocks, as well as information provided during presentations and webinars.

What Have We Learned?

Poultry production in the US started out as small farm operations. Over the decades poultry production has evolved from farming to an industry. World War II created a huge demand for poultry products. As farm workers were drafted into the army production become more mechanized. After the war ended many of the returning soldiers did not return to a life on the farm. New urban markets for poultry products developed, furthering fueling the modernization of poultry production. Today we have come full circle. It is becoming more common to see small chicken flocks raised in backyard poultry flocks. Niche markets have also been developed for organic and pasture poultry production.

The front yard of a home with a backyard chicken flock

Although flock size is small, chickens kept in backyards still produce a considerable amount of manure that needs to be managed. Many backyard flock owners also raise their own vegetables and use the manure produced as a valuable fertilizer. For others, however, the manure can be allowed to accumulate and, when not properly stored, can become an odor nuisance. Pasture-raised poultry flocks, given sufficient acreage, spreads the manure over a large area reducing, or eliminating, odor problems.

For both backyard and confined small poultry flocks, composting of both manure and any dead birds has become common.

Future Plans

Use of composted manure as fertilizer for raised garden beds

In the 1950s more than 40 state colleges and universities had poultry science departments. Discoveries in nutrition, genetics, physiology, health and food science helped poultry production become an important food industry.  Today only 6 universities have poultry departments. With the loss of university poultry depeartments and retirmements of key extension people, there has been a loss of updated extension publications to provide guidance to small and backyard poultry flock owners. Since very little information is available addressing the management needs of these smaller poultry flocks, many producers have turned to outdated books as well as non-science-based and anecdotal information for their education needs. A new eXtension community of practice for small and backyard poultry has been developed to fill this information void.


Dr. Jacquie Jacob; Poultry Extension Associate; University of Kentucky, 906 Garrigus Building; Lexington, KY; 40546-0215,

Additional Information


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