Supporting Small-Scale Poultry and Livestock Businesses

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Why Work With Small Poultry and Livestock Operations?

Understand the business planning and development issues confronting small-scale livestock and poultry producers.

What Did We Do?

Colorado State University has been building educational programming to benefit small-scale crop and livestock producers across the state since 2007.  The Colorado Building Farmers and Ranchers program uses a classroom, experiential learning and community-building approach to help smaller-scale and new agricultural producers build their businesses in a profitable, safe and sustainable manner. To date, we have graduated more than 300 producers, 65% of whom have completed business plans to expand or develop their agricultural business. These producers are primarily characterized by their focus on direct marketing, and many are located relatively close to urban areas; locations that provide both marketing opportunities as well as production constraints. The classroom education takes place over 8 weeks and helps producers build sustainable business plans, and develop a network of producers and technical assistance providers (e.g. NRCS, FSA, county planning staff).  Topics covered include developing a production plan, recordkeeping, pricing, risk management, and on-farm food safety.  In addition, since small-scale livestock production is a more complex business model, we have built a curriculum that guides producers through all the business planning considerations necessary to start and operate a profitable livestock operation: from acquiring poultry, sheep or goats, to health and environmental issues, to processing and creating a unique market niche.

What Have We Learned?

Given that smaller or more diversified poultry and small ruminant operations may be trying to maintain a greater number of enterprises on one farm or operation, it may be more difficult for those producers to stay on top of good management practices, as well as any requirements necessary to remain in good standing with local government and marketing partners. For example, these small-scale operations may be maintained on a limited number of acres, thus requiring very careful land and animal management.  Additionally, many smaller-scale operations are located in areas where agriculture is not the primary land use.  Such operations may be in the urban-rural interface, the suburbs or even in towns or cities.  The research for this curriculum provided a basic overview of production, management and marketing considerations and opportunities for smaller-scale poultry and small ruminant production, and a means to discuss the relationship between resource stewardship and long-term business viability. We examined, in particular, emerging niche market opportunities and some of the costs and benefits inherent to pursuing those newer markets, finding that the costs and management skills required make it extremely difficult to operate a commercially viable small-scale livestock business in an urban area.

Future Plans

Next steps involve developing enterprise budgets with different numbers of poultry and small ruminants to understand the point at which these businesses become financially viable. This is important for helping prospective new livestock enterprises to truth their business plans, based on realistic assumptions.

Raising Poultry for Profit Video

Raising Sheep and Goats for Profit Video


Martha Sullins, Extension Regional Specialist, Colorado State University Extension,

Additional Information


David Weiss and Dawn Thilmany (Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, CSU), Blake Angelo (Urban Ag Educator, Denver/Jefferson Counties, CSU Extension),  Marisa Bunning (Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, CSU); Thomas Bass (Montana State University).

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