Is this the 4-H project for me? – Poultry

There are several factors to consider when choosing poultry as a 4-H animal science project.

The 4-H poultry project is an awesome 4-H project for youth who may be interested in a project that has the potential to be entrepreneurial. Birds generally do not take a significant amount of space and, depending on the type of bird you select, there may be an opportunity to profit from your project.

Poultry projects consist of chickens, turkeys, ducks or geese. Chickens are the most common 4-H project, so for the purpose of this article, I will focus on chickens, but the information will still be applicable for the other poultry species.

Housing

Birds are kept in various housing situations. The most standard form of housing for birds is a coop. A coop offers a small structure for birds to go in and lay eggs or roost for the night, with an outdoor area for them to exercise and scratch to catch bugs. Meat and laying birds can be kept in this type of housing.

Chicks should be kept in a brooder where the temperature can be kept at a constant until the birds are ready for an environment that changes throughout the day. Birds can transition out of the brooder at around four to five weeks of age.

Make sure your coop is predator-proof. There are several natural predators to birds; the most prevalent in Michigan are raccoons, opossums, rats, fox, weasels and dogs. Although you may not be able to make your coop 100 percent predator-proof, you can be diligent in protecting your birds by constructing it well using proven methods of protection.

There are several coop designs available online, from do-it-yourself to pre-fabricated coops that can be purchased at your local farm supply store.

Budget

The amount of money you have to spend on your project is another factor that should be considered. Some of the expenses to factor into your budget are  any housing needs or improvements that may need to be made; the purchase price of the animal; feed and bedding; and any medical costs.

Let’s break it down.

Housing costs. Coop costs will vary depending on how you choose to build it. The pre-fabricated coops available for purchase at your local farm supply store run between $70 and $1,000. If you are building your own, a $500 budget should get you the supplies you need if you are starting from scratch. If you have a garage or outbuilding available, you can modify it to provide a coop space. You will need special poultry feeders and waterers that can be purchased from your local feed store starting around $10 for very basic products.

The cost of the animal is another factor. What you are going to focus on—meat birds, egg laying birds or fancy type show birds—will determine what you spend on the animal itself. Meat and egg layers can be purchased from vendors such as Townline Poultry for about $3 per bird and discounts are sometimes given for larger quantities. If you are looking for fancy-type show birds, contact a local breeder who can help you identify different breeds. Fancy birds can range from $25-$100 or more, depending on the quality of the bird.

Bedding and litter. There are a few different options for bedding or litter in your coop. You can use wood shavings that can be purchased from a local farm store for about $7 per bag, or straw. Straw can be purchased for about $4 per bale, depending on the time of year and the area you reside. All bedding will have to be periodically replaced as you clean the coop.

Time commitment

Poultry projects are not a highly labor intensive project. Feed and water birds twice per day. Daily observation is critical to creating a base line for what the animal’s normal behavior is. If your chickens are laying eggs, you will have to collect eggs each day. You will also need to clean coops out regularly and provide clean, fresh bedding. Additionally, birds you intend on showing need to be handled regularly so they become used to performing the showmanship steps and learn how to be properly posed for show.

Proper biosecurity practices need to be carried out with poultry flocks, which includes keeping equipment clean, limiting visitors to see your birds, regular hand washing and keeping a single pair of shoes and clothes designated for when you care for your birds. Poultry carry salmonella, so always wash your hands before and after interacting with birds.

To learn more about the 4-H poultry management program, check out the various Michigan 4-H poultry project resources available.

There are many factors to consider when choosing an animal science project. This series of Michigan State University Extension articles is geared to help families determine if a certain project area is a good fit. For more information on other 4-H animal science projects, see the articles below or visit the Michigan 4-H Animal Science webpage.

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