Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Most of the nation's eggs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks come from farms that specialize in poultry production. The majority of these farms are located in the East and in California. Many are owned and operated by individual farmers and their families. Some poultry farms are owned by private corporations and are usually managed by experienced farmers. Sometimes these farms are run by technicians who have learned about poultry farming through on-the-job training and formal schooling. Poultry farms often specialize in particular areas of poultry production. Some farms are mainly concerned with egg production. Other farms produce poultry that is sold as meat. Poultry farms may also specialize in breeding and selling chickens that are good egg layers.
On large farms farmers or farm managers may spend most of their time supervising workers. On smaller farms farmers and their families do much of the work themselves. Some poultry farmers work under contract. They may receive chicks, feed, and technical advice from an investment company or its agents. In return for their labor and the use of their farms, poultry farmers are paid a set price for the broilers (meat chickens) and the eggs they produce. Others sell their broilers and eggs on the open market.
Poultry farmers who raise their own chickens for eggs sell the eggs to consumers or food processing companies. Farmers collect the eggs soon after they have been laid. The eggs are then put into racks on conveyor belts, which take them through automatic washers. Each egg is then candled, or held against a strong light to see if it is fit to be sold. The eggs are then rolled down ramps onto small machines that automatically sort them according to size. Farmers then put the eggs into cartons and refrigerate them.
Some eggs are hatched instead of sold. Although some farmers still hatch eggs by leaving them under a hen, most use machines called incubators. Incubators keep trays of eggs warm and moist until the eggs hatch. Poultry farmers carefully watch the thermostats and gauges on incubators to make sure that these machines keep the eggs at the proper temperature. When the eggs hatch, farmers put the chicks into trays where they are kept warm for a few more days.
Most poultry farmers have machines that feed their birds and clean beneath the cages. Usually these machines consist of feed blowers and conveyor belts. Since most poultry houses are crowded, disease can spread quickly. For this reason, farmers inspect their flocks every day. Farmers are also careful to call a veterinarian as soon as an illness develops among their birds. Farmers usually keep records of the amount of feed eaten and the number of eggs produced. By doing so, they can keep track of expenses and income. These records also help them to select poultry for breeding.
Education and Training Requirements
To be a successful poultry farmer, one needs a working understanding of poultry production, business practices, and management techniques. One way to get the knowledge needed is to take a job as a farm worker on a poultry farm. Part-time and summer jobs in the poultry industry are often available to high school and college students. Work experience can give candidates the background needed to become a farm manager or to run one's own farm. Valuable training in poultry production is also available from high schools, technical institutes, and colleges. Some two-year colleges offer programs leading to an associate degree in poultry production and related subjects. Students who plan to manage farms should take courses in accounting, business management, and economics.
Getting the Job
To start a poultry farm, an individual must have or be able to borrow a great deal of money. If a person's parents or relatives own a farm, he or she may be able to make arrangements to operate it when they retire. Another way to get into the field is to start as a technician or laborer on someone else's farm. If a prospective farmer attends a school for formal training, the placement office or teachers may know of openings. Candidates should also check newspaper want ads and the state employment office.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Poultry farmers may increase the size of their farms in order to add to their earning potential. Workers on poultry farms may become farm managers or start their own farms. Some go into related areas of work, such as poultry inspection for government agencies.
The financial risks are high in poultry farming. Farmers must invest a great deal of money. Moreover, the profit margin is small. In general, the chances for success are best for those who obtain the backing of an investment group.
Increasing productivity is expected to contribute to the decline of poultry farmers through the year 2012, despite the high demand for poultry and eggs. Most job openings will result when farmers retire or leave the field.
Poultry farmers set their own hours, which depend on the size of the farm and the number of laborers they employ. Poultry farmers who run small farms and do much of the work themselves must work seven days a week. Farmers who operate large farms and employ many laborers can set fairly regular hours for themselves.
Poultry farms are usually noisy and dusty. Buildings in which poultry are kept often have unpleasant smells. However, modern machinery has relieved farmers of most of the hard physical labor.
Where to Go for More Information
American Poultry Association
5757 West Fork Rd.
Cincinnati, OH 45247
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings of poultry farmers greatly depend on the size of their operation and their investment. The average net income of poultry farmers can vary from $13,900 per year to $20,000 or more per year. Poultry farmers who own their own farms can do very well when their stock is healthy and market prices are high. Self-employed poultry farmers must provide their own benefits.