Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping

by George D. Quigley, Poultry Department
University of Maryland Extension Service, June 1943

Recently we have received some thoughtful criticism from folks who feel that reprinting some of this traditional information on poultry rearing does a disservice to the the future of the most modern chicken farming. By this they are not speaking of corporate broiler or egg factories but rather the ingenious and potentially profitable pastured-poultry operations which have sprung up around the country. Not just on the subject of poultry but as regards anything of value to small farms, we have always held that there are methods and technologies of the recent past which were too hastily set aside in the modern rush to monocultural practices. We can learn from the past. The past may give us clues to a better future. We take a big chance if we allow how we did things to slip from our collective memory. Retracing our steps may be costly and difficult, or downright impossible when it comes to lost genetics. Speaking of which, as reported elsewhere in this issue, many valuable old-time poultry breeds are facing extinction. If they are to survive it will fall to small farmers to make it so. Keeping small flocks of selected breeds will require small scale approaches very much like those written of here. Of course each of us will come up with our own variations on the plans, hopefully with beneficial gains. Meanwhile we will continue to offer this information and as much new stuff as we can pry loose. Please don’t stop letting us know what you think of what we’re doing. That’s how we make it work better. From a historical perspective: note how significantly different things are today than in the 1940’s. Today most U.S. consumed poultry is produced on industrial-scaled poultry farms. Some would argue that we are better off for this, that we get cheaper, safer chicken. We believe that this is not true. And we point to justified public concerns about food safety. If just one of the giant poultry producers should for any reason (health – finances – you name it) cease to produce poultry, the price would skyrocket. When we had poultry produced by hundreds of thousands of small operators, supply was less vulnerable, prices were more competitive, product health was less vulnerable, and quality was superior. Back then the USDA helped to make it so, today the USDA suffers because it has lost its constituency. We can and should fix that.

Question: Will the discerning public be interested in breed-specific poultry products? Black Jersey Giant roasting chickens? Lakenvelder eggs? Chicken soup made from Partridge Cochins? Black Java Fryers? Yep, I see big possibilities. LRM

The poultry industry of the United States is one of the most important agricultural enterprises in the country, contributing in an average year (circa 1943) about $884,000,000 gross farm income. Despite its substantial size, the production side of the industry is unique because a large proportion of this income is derived from small flocks. For example, figures show that in the entire country about 76% of all the chickens kept are in flocks of 200 or less, and 18% of the chickens are in flocks of 50 or less. These figures do not include the enormous number of backyard flocks kept in cities, towns, and suburban areas, the production of which in the state of Maryland probably has an annual value, based upon surveys, of $900,000. Because poultry is the most widely distributed form of livestock, poultry activities of various governmental agencies are likely to benefit a larger number of producers than any other similar program.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping


The backyard flock serves an important economic function. It is a means of producing at comparatively low cost one of the most healthful and appetizing groups of food – eggs and poultry meat. The small flock can be utilized to convert much of the table waste such as meat, fresh vegetable waste such as kale and cabbage leaves, boiled potatoes, and bread into a valuable product. A national survey (U.S.D.A., July 13, 1942) reveals that, in 412 cities having an aggregate population of 53,000,000 persons, the average annual garbage waste is 302 pounds per person. In England, city garbage has been concentrated and sterilized for animal feeding but to date this has not been attempted in the United States upon a large scale. Steamed potatoes have been fed successfully to poultry in Europe to the extent of 7 ½ ounces per layer per day, reducing mash consumption up to 50%. During the growing season, weeds and lawn clippings can be fed to the chickens, thus further reducing feed costs. In addition, keeping a small flock of chickens has definite recreational advantages, for it is interesting and educational to care for baby chicks, growing chickens and laying hens. The manure and litter produced is a valuable fertilizer for lawns, gardens, and many shrubs. (Fig. 1.)


It should be emphasized especially that poultry, like other livestock, require constant care and attention. They must be kept reasonably clean, protected from their natural predatory enemies such as dogs, cats, rats, skunks, and fed and watered regularly. People who do not have the proper space or equipment, or those not willing to care for their flocks upon a seven-day-a-week basis, will be wasting feed and time and are, therefore, to be discouraged from undertaking the enterprise.


The small flock owner should plan to keep not more than about 50 layers, and under most circumstances there would seem to be little advantage in keeping more than 18 to 20 layers. A flock of 18 to 20 laying hens will supply a family of five or six persons with one egg per person per day, and the layers and surplus fowl will provide about two chicken meals every three weeks.

Owners of suburban flocks numbering roughly from 50 to 250 layers frequently find themselves in the unfavorable economic position of having to buy much of their feed at retail prices, and because of the volume produced they may sell their eggs and chickens at wholesale, although the latter condition can be corrected by retail sales to friends and neighbors. In fact, it is possible to reap a good profit from flocks of this size by producing a fine product and selling it to retail outlets or directly to consumers. It is important therefore to study potential market outlets before expanding production beyond that which can be used in the household of the owner.

To provide one egg per person per day, and two chicken meals every three weeks, raise 12 baby chicks and keep 3 layers for each member of the family.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 2


It should be realized that one is apt to obtain better laying stock of the popular and standard breeds, such as Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, White Plymouth Rocks, White Wyandottes, and White Leghorns, than from more obscure and not generally available breeds. Many other breeds are satisfactory if good stock is secured, but this problem is more difficult in the case of the less well-known breeds than for the popular ones mentioned.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 3

Barred Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, White Plymouth Rocks and White Wyandottes are termed “dual-purpose breeds” and are efficient producers of both eggs and meat. They lay brown-shelled eggs, commence to lay reasonably early (at about 200 days from hatching) and weigh on the average from 5 to 6 pounds as mature pullets (a female during her first laying year) and 6 ½ to 8 ½ pounds as mature cockerels (a male fowl less than one year of age). Figs. 2 and 3.

The dual-purpose breeds make excellent broilers, fryers, roasters, and capons. They are easily handled and will “set” or will hatch and raise a brood of chicks. They do not frighten easily, and are apt to be better liked by the average person than the more nervous Leghorns. In general, the small flock owner should make a breed selection from within this group.

White Leghorns are bred primarily for eggs, and will normally lay more eggs on less feed than will the dual purpose breeds. Since they usually produce eggs more efficiently than the dual-purpose breeds, they predominate on commercial egg farms. A recent survey in New York State showed that the cost of producing Leghorn eggs is 4.2 cents per dozen below the comparable cost for heavy breeds. The average Leghorn pullet weighs about 4 pounds and the average Leghorn cockerel about 5 to 5 ½ pounds. They are more nervous and active than the dual-purpose chickens, but when cared for properly, are quiet and friendly, though rarely to the same degree as the dual-purpose birds. White Leghorns stand confinement well, and if the flight feathers of one wing are clipped, they may be kept within a fence 5 feet in height. They lay a white-shelled egg for which a premium is paid in many eastern markets.

If a dual-purpose bird, such as a Rhode Island Red, and a White Leghorn are fed the same feed, there will be a negligible difference in yolk color between the two breeds, since feed exerts more influence upon yolk color than does breed difference.

The greater efficiency of the Leghorn in converting feed into eggs is shown by the fact that a Leghorn laying 165 eggs per year will produce a dozen eggs on 5.69 pounds of feed, whereas a R.I. Red laying the same number of eggs eats about 6.74 pounds of feed per dozen eggs produced, or a difference in favor of the Leghorn of approximately one pound of feed per dozen eggs laid. The heavier bird thus requires at least 18 percent more feed to produce eggs at the same production level as the Leghorn. On the contrary, the efficiency of the heavier breeds in converting feed into meat surpasses the Leghorn in similar proportion, hence the profitableness of the two breeds under practical conditions is very similar. Accordingly, one should select the breed which appeals to him most, provided, under most conditions, it is a well-known and standard breed.


Many poultrymen specialize in keeping chickens bred for type, form and color. These men are called “fanciers” and produce “fancy” poultry or “Standard Bred” stock according to standards laid down in the “American Standard of Perfection.” This book is published by the American Poultry Association and provides breed and show room standards for many breeds and varieties of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and bantams.

Keeping “fancy” poultry appeals to one’s competitive and artistic sense and makes an interesting and at times profitable hobby or business. “Fancy” chickens produce both meat and eggs, but not on the average as efficiently as chickens bred exclusively for meat and egg production, as would be expected.


Probably the most important single job of the poultryman is to secure for his enterprise good, healthy, rapidly growing, quickly feathering, heavy-laying stock. Most of these qualities are inherited, hence must come from well bred parents. A few extra pennies spent for good chicks or stock may mean many extra dollars of profits later. On the contrary, excessively high-priced stock will frequently result in disappointment. One should exercise judgment and discretion and endeavor to be neither “penny wise” nor “pound foolish” in this regard. In general, also, it is recommended that baby chicks or hatching eggs be obtained from flocks or hatcheries employing the blood-test method of controlling pullorum disease. Purchase of “blood-tested” chicks will help to insure a healthy start. The nearest trained agricultural representative or County Agent will be able to help in finding better stock.


The beginner normally starts his poultry enterprise by purchasing baby chicks from a reliable breeder or hatcheryman. This is usually the best procedure because it eliminates the risks involved in a breeding program and also in incubation. Where incubation facilities are present, one may consider the purchase of hatching eggs. A neighbor who has good stock is often willing to sell or trade eggs for hatching.

In various sections of the country, the same of started chicks has grown to be a sizable business, and chicks which are from 2 to 4 weeks of age may be purchased and brooded with less risk than day-old chicks. If started chicks are purchased, they must be kept warm and managed similar to baby chicks, depending entirely upon the weather. It would be wise to defer purchase of started chicks until the weather is mild and settled, unless one has adequate facilities for brooding them, which equipment will practically duplicate that needed for day-old chicks.

Grown pullets, fowl, and mature breeding stock should only be purchased from a reliable breeder or poultryman, and, in addition, should if possible be examined by an experienced poultry keeper or veterinarian. The stock should be especially examined for health, vitality, and freedom from disease.


The most difficult and laborious task of the small flock owner is brooding and rearing his young stock for replacement of his older fowl by pullets. If he plans to rear as many as 75 pullets, he should utilize one of the standard hovers burning oil, coal, wood, or electricity. The important advantages of each type of stove are mentioned briefly:

Coal-burning Stove – Cheap in the first cost – provides steady heat, but requires a substantial degree of skill for best results. Soft coal is not as generally satisfactory a fuel as hard coal.

Wood-burning Stove – Gives excellent brooding results for both winter and summer. Cheap to operate if wood is $8.00 or less per cord.

Oil-burning Stove – Usually more fire hazard than with other fuels. Beware of cheap “bargain” makes. Saves labor.

Electrical Brooder – Best adapted to brooding in small lots. Vary in heat capacity from an electric light bulb to 1,000 watts capacity. Do their best work in a warm room or in mild weather. Are not expensive to operate if electricity is 3 cents or less per kilowatt hour.

The proper starting brooding temperature is 95 degrees F., measured at the edge of the hover, and about one inch from the floor. The temperature may be reduced slightly during the second week and thereafter according to the weather and the age of the chicks. The average flock will require heat for 7 to 8 weeks. It should be emphasized, however, that the important thing is to keep the chicks comfortable at all times, and the more experienced a poultryman is, the more apt he is to be generous with heat at all times. Persons who desire may obtain plans for portable colony houses and range shelters by writing to the Poultry Department, College Park, Maryland.

Brooding the Smaller Flock – The problem of providing proper brooding facilities for the smaller flock is a most important and difficult one. One may solve this problem by using either the broody hen for his incubation and brooding, or employing simple artificial methods.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 4 – A special broody coop with sliding front door that houses broody hens and chicks satisfactorily. The coop rests on a flat board floor for easy cleaning and rat protection.

Natural Brooding – While natural brooding is in many sections a lost art, it is still employed by thousands of farm wives to rear chickens. Although results are occasionally disappointing, proper, though simple, equipment and definite precautions will greatly increase probability of success.

The broody hen should be of a dual-purpose breed, as Leghorns seldom make satisfactory mothers. Two broody hens may be set at one time, so that in case of a poor hatch their flocks may be combined at hatching time, and the other hen “broken up” for bringing her into egg production provided the maximum size of brood so handled is about 18 chicks, depending upon the size of the hen and the weather. Broody hens should be thoroughly deloused at least 48 hours before setting, using sodium fluoride or any standard louse powder. This is most important because lice often takes an enormous toll of baby chicks under conditions of natural brooding. When the hen first becomes broody, she should be allowed to remain in her original location for 2 to 3 days to test the seriousness of her intentions, during which time she may be allowed to set upon glass eggs or even a door knob or round stone. Her permanent nest may be prepared in any coop or house available, preferably on the floor where there will be less likelihood of breakage of eggs. The broody hen should then be transferred to the place where she is to nest, moving preferably at night to avoid unduly disturbing her. She should be covered with a bushel basket or a box for the first 24 hours in the new location.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 5 – A barrel with a removable slatted front makes an excellent out-of-door broody coop.

A simple broody coop alone, or a broody coop plus small wire enclosed yard, may be employed to prevent the flock from wandering too far, also to provide some protection from predatory animals at night. It is usually best to keep the hen confined to her coop until the morning dew has dried to prevent chilling the weaker chicks. Figs. 4 and 5 illustrate satisfactory broody coops for hens and chicks.

Should any chicks appear stunted, they should be examined for head lice, and if found, the entire brood should be treated by applying to each head some Vaseline, a small amount of blue ointment, or a drop of camphorated oil. The latter is particularly recommended.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 6 – An inexpensive type of chick starter employing an electric light bulb for heat. Can be used for about three weeks of brooding.

Artificial Brooding of Small Flocks – For brooding chicks artificially in small flocks, electricity is the preferred fuel in Maryland, as previously indicated. Small, oil-heated brooders may be employed, but care should be exercised in their constructions and operation to prevent undue fire hazard. Coal and wood burning brooder stoves are usually too large for economical brooding of flocks of 150 chicks or less.

A great many ingenious arrangements can be employed for small flock brooding, and one type is illustrated in Fig. 6. In Maryland, the average operator will have greater success in his brooding if he does not attempt to use this equipment before April first, because of the probability of cold weather when greater heat capacity is needed to keep chicks comfortable, although earlier brooding may be attempted if a warm room is available.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 7 – An inexpensive chick watering device. A neatly-cut tin can is punched with a 10-penny nail 1/4 inch from the bottom. This, with a saucer, makes a good waterer for chicks.


Baby chicks should be fed a nutritious feed, rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins, in order to get a good start and to grow rapidly. Ordinarily a chick starter mash is to be recommended for this purpose, although special feeds may be employed for the first week as shown in Table 1.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Table 1

Starting mashes should be kept before the chicks at all times, and for the first few days should be fed in low, open troughs or hoppers so that chicks soon learn to eat. See Fig. 8 for satisfactory homemade feeding troughs for starting chicks. After that, feeders provided with grills or reels to keep the feed clean and to prevent wastage may be employed. Chick starting scratch feed may be added to the diet when the chicks are from two to three weeks of age, and the amount gradually increased as the chicks grow older. Just before they mature, they will ordinarily be eating about twice as much scratch as mash by weight.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 8 – Excellent feeders for the week. At left, a home-made pan 1 inch deep, constructed of tin or sheet metal and wooden ends. At center, egg case flat. Rear, a shallow feeder constructed of a soap box and a piece of 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch hardware cloth to prevent scratching. The principal advantage of this tile of feeder is that day-old chicks quickly learn to eat feed, and not the litter.

It is sometimes confusing to the beginner that feeding recommendations for growing chickens vary so widely. One can only conclude that a substantial range of latitude is possible and does not materially affect results. This conclusion is apt to be substantiated by experimental results. It should be emphasized that the growth-promoting substances, such as proteins, minerals and vitamins, are normally obtained mostly form the mash. During the first few weeks, when the chick is growing very rapidly, more of these ingredients are needed. From this time to maturity, less of these ingredients are needed, hence the mash is constantly “diluted” by increasing the amounts of scratch grains fed. The latter program also improves the fat content of the carcass.

With respect to the quantitative feed requirements of growing chickens, it may be assumed that for each 100 chickens, 10 pounds of feed are consumed the first week, 20 the second, 30 the third, etc., through the tenth week, after which an increase of 5 pounds per week is needed from the tenth week to maturity.

During the growing period, feeding generous quantities of cut weeds, lawn clippings, kale, green cabbage, etc. to growing and laying stock will be healthful and profitable. In addition to feed, the flock should have a constant supply of fresh water, access to shade during the hot summer days, and have protection from night prowlers, such as dogs, cats, rats, skunks, weasels and thieves.

In towns and cities, thievery from chicken houses is often a serious problem. A good lock, a good guard dog to spread the alarm, or a simple electric burglar alarm, preferably a closed circuit type, may be employed. It is possible to obtain a tattoo outfit which indelibly marks the carcass with the identifying mark of the owner.

If facilities permit, cockerels should be separated from pullets at 10 to 11 weeks of age and fattened for sale or for the table. Whole or cracked corn is one of the best and cheapest feeds for fattening. If breeding cockerels are to be saved, select the biggest and best of them for that purpose, and not the ones left over after the best have been served on the table, as is so commonly done.

It is best not to mix various ages of stock, and young, growing chickens should never be allowed to range with older birds. Mixing of various ages is a less serious offense after the younger ones have achieved full size and maturity.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 9 – An easily constucted house, holding up to 12 layers, suitable for the backyard flock.


Any house that is tight, dry, well lighted and ventilated, can be adapted for poultry use. The house should face south or southeast, or if necessary, to the east. All other exposures are to be avoided. It should be located upon well-drained soil. Figs. 9 and 10.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 10 – A suggested floor plan for a 6 x 10 ft. house for layers. For a permanent location, a cement floor and foundation extending 18 inches under ground is best. The open front may be provided with a muslin-covered frame for winter comfort.

There should be from 3 to 5 square feet of floor space per layer. While a wooden floor may be used satisfactorily, a cement floor and foundation is strongly recommended for town and city use because of the rat problem. Rats seldom gain access to the area beneath a properly constructed cement floor and foundation, whereas they are invariably found under wooden floors, unless constructed 18 inches or more above the ground. Fig. 13.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 11 – A dilapidated poultry house made into a neat and serviceable building at low cost by means of slate-surfaced roofing paper.

The handy man will frequently construct a back-yard house of waste materials, or odds and ends. This structure can be made tight and satisfactory by covering the building with colored slate-surfaced roofing paper, as green, red, or blue-black. If neatly applied, it makes a cheap and very practical covering. Fig. 11.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 12 – The backyard poultry house as it should not be. Poorly ventilated, poorly lighted, and a haven for rats, it is a source of much worry and inefficiency. It is often associated with an unkempt, mongrel flock.

Layers may be confined to a yard having a 5-foot fence, but Leghorns must have the flight feathers of one wing clipped to be confined by a fence of that height.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 13 – A mash feeder which can be bulit of waste materials. It should be set upon a slatted platform or raised 10 to 12 inches above the floor to keep out litter.

Managing the Layers – Clean the laying quarters and treat for red mites if present. (For treatment see section on “Disease Prevention.”) Make the house as tight on the rear and ends as possible before cold weather. Repair the roof, if necessary, and make the building as rat proof as possible. The pullets should be housed when well combed and “mature,” or about when the first egg is laid. This will ordinarily be about 200 days from hatching, but many strains of chickens will mature at five months or less.

Plenty of nesting material should be provided, as straw, clean shavings or excelsior, and the floor should be covered to a depth of 3 to 4 inches with straw or shavings. Other satisfactory litters are crushed corncobs, sand, hard coal ashes, peat moss, dried leaves, waste sugar cane fiber. Ordinarily, straw, dried leaves, shavings, or crushed corn cobs are the cheapest and are quite satisfactory.

Feeding the Layers – The layers should be given a laying mash and scratch grain, and a good rule is to feed about equal parts by weight. The correct amount of scratch grain to feed layers is difficult to describe precisely, as much depends upon the breed, the rate of laying, and the condition of the birds. Each Leghorn will consume about 0.1 pound of grain and 0.1 pound of mash per day or one-fifth of a pound of feed daily, and the heavier breeds 0.125 pounds of each per day or one-quarter of a pound of feed daily. When forcing for egg production, the proportion may vary up to 40 percent of grain and 60 percent of mash. Layers must be kept in good flesh, but not too fat. Oyster shell or pure limestone grit may be fed in hoppers for shell formation and grip, if not available in the soil, may be most cheaply and efficiently supplied by feeding branch gravel or pebble grit.

Production may be encouraged during summer and fall by pouring a small amount of milk or water upon the laying mash and limiting scratch consumption to from 1/3 to ½ of the total feed intake in pounds.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 14 – A sanitary feeder for table scraps which avoids waste. For the small flock owner.

Using Table Waste – Chickens are efficient users of any wholesome, clean, unspoiled scraps, either meat or vegetable. Stale bread is about equal to wheat in feeding value upon a dry weight basis. Waste meat trimmings and scraps are especially valuable; so are most green materials as waste lettuce, kale, spinach, etc. Stores will frequently give away this latter material. Chickens are good users of any waste table material which is not excessively salty or moldy, or otherwise spoiled. Sour milk is greatly relished.

Under most conditions, it is best to keep dry mash before the chickens at all times and to feed some grain, and depend upon table scraps as a supplementary feed. For efficient performance, chickens need a concentrated diet, so the poultryman must not expect them to perform well upon a diet of potato peelings and water, for instance. Raw potato peelings should not be fed, as this material is reported to be slowly toxic and has caused unthriftiness and mortality. They should be utilized by steaming or cooking, mash or corn meal being added to the mass as it cools. As indicated previously, small or waste potatoes may be steamed and used to reduce mash consumption with good results. See Fig. 14 for a sanitary feeder for table scraps.


Lights, preferably electric, may be employed to stimulate layers to faster maturity and greater fall or winter production, but the total annual production is not raised substantially. The lighting should commence about September first if pullets are combed up well, and should continue until about April first. Artificial and natural daylight should total 14 hours per day. Lights are applied preferably in the morning. A 40-watt bulb will serve an area of 200 square feet or less; it should be used with a 15-inch flat reflector so placed near the center of the pen that some light will strike the roosts. Regularity of lighting is most important. A handy person may rig up an alarm clock to turn on lights at a specific hour.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 15 – A laying battery located in a tight garage or outbuilding provides the family with the freshest of eggs.


It is practical to produce broilers, roasters, and layers on a small scale, in batteries located in garages, unused but tight outbuildings, or in basements. The initial cost of equipment is higher, but less space is required than for customary methods. Thus, a city or suburban dweller may operate a sideline “chicken factory” at his home in spare time. See Figs. 15, 16, and 17.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 16 – A home-made, out-door, individual laying cage. Up to four cages may be constructed in one unit. Built entirely of wood or waste materials.

Batteries used are three types: starting, growing (sometimes called finishing), and laying. Chicks are placed in starting batteries for five to six weeks and transferred to more roomy, cooler, growing batteries. They are then marketed as broilers or placed in still larger “developer” batteries for pullet production. The laying cage completes the cycle.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 17 – A home-made laying cage, showing adjustment for summer use. Hens confined in close cages may suffer from heat prostration during extremely warm weather. Note the double roof for additional summer comfort.

Chief advantages of the battery method of production are saving in space, reduction of many diseases, improvement in feeding efficiency, excellent broilers, and the precision and control afforded over most production risks. Principal criticisms are the increased need for sanitation, objectionable odor if not cleaned regularly, and severe shipping loss if broilers are shipped alive. Battery broilers should be dressed at home for holding or shipping.


It is always easier to prevent poultry disease than to cure it. Principal preventive measures are:

  1. Obtain good healthy stock.
  2. Keep chickens warm, dry, and comfortable.
  3. Keep the house, feeders, and waterers clean and sanitary.
  4. Feed a good, complete ration, including plenty of fresh greens in season.
  5. Keep chickens free from external parasites, especially the red mite.
  6. Avoid feeding chickens decayed or spoiled food.

A few of the more important diseases and management troubles likely to affect the small flock owner are discussed briefly.

Chicken Pox – This disease occurs mostly during the fall and winter. It appears as yellowish swellings on head parts, which later change to black, wart-like growths. The warts may be treated locally with iodine. Give a flock treatment of Epsom Salts, 1 pound to 125 hens; add an additional 1 percent of cod liver oil to the mash, feed fresh greens, if available. Be certain the pen is dry and free from drafts. Check for presence of external parasites, such as lice and red mites. Feed enough scratch grain to maintain good body weight.

The commercial poultryman usually vaccinates his poultry for fowl pox, which confers lifetime immunity, at a cost of less than 1 cent per bird. After outbreaks commence they may frequently, but not always, be arrested by vaccinating all birds with a pigeon pox vaccine. The desirability of using these biological preparations depends upon conditions and they should not be employed unless past experience makes their use necessary, and only under competent direction and help.

Body Lice – These are grayish looking insects which may be most readily seen above or below the vent. They remain on the chicken at all times. Large gray masses of eggs or “nits” may be seen at the base of the feathers.

Body lice may be treated by using a pinch of sodium fluoride (obtainable at most druggists) around the vent of each chicken. One pound treats about 100 birds. Use of nicotine sulphate on the roosts just before dark is an easier and equally effective method. Seven to eight ounces treats 100 linear feet of roosts. The old-fashioned dust bath with a handful of flowers of sulphur added is also good.

Red Mites – These are blood-sucking insects which feed on the chicken at night and hide in cracks and crevices about the roosting quarters during the daytime. This is a far more dangerous parasite than body lice and should be controlled at once. It is particularly active in warm weather when it soon multiplies into enormous numbers.

Control of this parasite, fortunately is very easy. The following treatments are recommended in the order named:

  1. Thoroughly spray the roosting quarters with carbolineum and kerosene, half and half. Free-flowing creosote may be substituted, but carbolineum is recommended. A commercial roost paint may be substituted for carbolineum.
  2. Spray similarly with crank case oil diluted with kerosene, half and half. This mixture is improved by one pint of coal tar spray material per gallon of oil mixture.
  3. Spray with kerosene. This material kills any parasites it strikes, but its effect is temporary due to rapid evaporation of the oil. It makes a safe nest spray, however, in case the infestation has gone that far.

Spraying Notes: — Ordinarily one application of Nos. 1 or 2 above per year is found to be effective. The quarters should be allowed to dry two weeks before chickens are returned to them. If this is not possible, it is better to brush the material on the roosts and roost supports, applying it in the morning, and excluding the chickens from the house until late afternoon. At that time all excess oil should be removed from wood and metal parts with a rag before chickens are allowed to roost.

Limber Neck or Wry Neck – The chicken loses control of its neck muscles, sometimes caused by eating spoiled food. Administer 1 teaspoonful of castor oil to each ailing chicken; remove decayed or spoiled material from premises.

Bumble Foot – This is a swelling in the ball of one or both feet. When ripe, the abscess may be opened and the core removed. It is not dangerous unless it causes the bird to become lame. It is thought to be caused by an injury.

Coccidiosis – This disease is usually the one present when young chickens produce bloody or reddish-brown droppings, although in some forms of the trouble little or no blood is observed. Clean the house every 48 hours while the chickens are affected and give 1 percent more cod liver oil in the diet. Keep the chicks warm, especially at night. A laxative such as Epsom Salts, will help pass the organism, but the efficacy of this and other laxatives is questionable. Recent research indicates that sulphur derivative drugs have preventive powers, but their practical value has yet to be determined.

Feather or Vent Cannibalism – This management problem is often difficult to correct. Measures which will help are: give the flock more room; feed bran and whole oats ad libitum; generously sprinkle salt over the mash for one or two days; use special red paint on windows; use a “chick-pick” remedy, an evil-tasting material which looks like dried blood and is spread upon areas of the picked individual. A homemade anti-pick remedy can be made from 4 oz. of Vaseline, ¼ oz. carmine, ¼ oz. bitter aloes. Tar makes a fair substitute for a pick remedy. In case of an outbreak, a pick remedy should always be obtained and used at once. If cannibalism of any kind develops among layers, the above measures should be tried but it may be necessary to employ some of the mechanical preventive gadgets, as tin “vent shields,” or “hen specks.”


The small flock owner should learn to cull layers from the standpoint of present production, thus determining which birds are laying and which are non-layers. The following table will aid in making this distinction:

CombPinkish red, full active.Dull red, shrunken, covered with whitish scales.
VentLarge, moist, white.Shrunken, dried, yellow pigment.*
Pelvic ArchUsually 2 or more fingers spread.Two or less fingers spread.
AbdomenSoft, pliable.Hard, leathery.
Vent, earlobe, eye ring and beak pigmentMost or all these parts colored yellow.If bird has been loafing for 4 to 5 weeks apt to be white.
MoltIn most cases, the chicken will not molt and lay.May be evidence of molt.
*Pigment references apply to yellow skinned chickens as Leghorns, Barred Rocks, New Hampshires, etc.

It will usually pay to keep a good chicken for two years. Production the second year will be about 85 percent of production by the same bird the first year. Under small flock conditions, it usually is best to kill for table use the early molting chickens, commencing in June, and keep late molters which lay until September and later for the following year. To distinguish the age of the various chickens, all of those grown in one year may be provided with a celluloid leg band of a certain color.


Marketing the best quality of eggs and poultry is of importance, even when the size of flock is as low as 25 layers, since there would be a surplus during certain seasons.

For best results, eggs should be graded into appropriate size groups, should be clean, and should be marketed within one week after they are laid. During warm weather, especially, they should be gathered several times per day and kept at a temperature of 50 degrees to 60 degrees until sold or used. In hot weather eggs deteriorate as rapidly as milk and should be handled accordingly.

Eggs present a better appearance if grouped and sold in the following sizes:

Pullet Eggs – Up to 18 oz. per dozen**
Medium Eggs – 19 to 22 oz. per dozen
Large Eggs – 23 to 26 oz. per dozen
** Specifically, a “24-oz. egg” is one which weighs exactly 2 oz., hence a dozen will scale 24 ounces. Egg scales are calibrated to read in “ounces per dozen,” which means that a dozen eggs of a given size will weigh that many ounces.

Cheap 3×6 in. cartons, or the more expensive 2×6 in. cartons, should be employed for selling eggs retail to consumers and stores. The package and the produce should be clean and neat, but for fresh eggs an ornate package is not necessary.

Backyard or Small Flock Poultry Keeping
Figure 18 A simple home-made wooden candler having a 40-watt electric bulb for light. Cut a one inch hole for the egg.

If eggs are marketed directly to consumers, it is seldom necessary to candle them, but this must be commenced if blood clot eggs are reported. A blood clot is the result of a small blood vessel bursting when the egg is released from the ovary. The clot remains attached to the yolk at it travels down the oviduct. A blood clot is an imperfect egg and is not a sign or deterioration or low quality. If the clot is removed, the egg is suitable for all culinary and table uses. See Fig. 18 for a simple homemade egg candler.


The egg is one of the most complete and healthful foods known to man. It is one of the richest of all foods in the essential vitamins A, B, D, G, E, and contains an abundance of body building proteins, fats, and minerals. The egg is relatively rich in calcium and phosphorus for bone and tooth growth, and in organic copper and iron for red blood formation. Because of its wonderful completeness in food elements, the egg is a component part of the most important reducing diets, as it maintains health while the supply of other foods is reduced.


It will pay to preserve surplus spring eggs at home to be used during the fall and winter, when rate of production is much lower. The best method is to employ sodium silicate or ordinary water glass, obtainable at most drug stores. To store 15 dozen eggs obtain a 5-gallon crock, 2 ½ pints of water glass, and 11 quarts of cool, previously boiled water. Add the water glass to the water and place clean, sound, preferably infertile eggs in the mixture. The crock should be well covered to prevent evaporation and stored in a cool place. Keep two inches of solution over the eggs at all times by adding additional boiled water as necessary.


Broilers, roasters, or fowl should be fattened properly for market. For most conditions the inclusion of cracked or whole corn in the diet, fed ad libitum, gives good results.

For either crate or pen fattening, cracked corn soaked over night in sweet or sour milk makes an excellent fattening mixture to feed as the sole food up to 7 days of fattening. Most old fowl do not need to be fattened, since they are normally fat enough.


One of the most serious problems connected with keeping flocks in towns and cities is rat control. For best results, the laying house should have a concrete floor and should have a foundation extending 18 inches into the ground. This will keep rats from beneath the floor. And 18-inch strip of tin, or ½-inch mesh wire, placed at the sill around the house plus tight doors and windows will help also. Window openings should be covered with ¼-inch to ½-inch mesh hardware cloth, rather than larger mesh wire.

A very practical method of extermination is the use of red squill, which is a specific poison for rats, and will not kill dogs, cats or chickens. The rats are best pre-baited for one or two nights with ground meat and fish, and the third night the poison added to the same kind of food. If the rats are eating garbage or similar waste, the red squill may be sprinkled over that, as upon cantaloupe rinds, meat scraps, etc. This will not only kill many rats, but it seems to cause others to leave the premises, at least for a while.


In some towns and cities, keeping chickens is prohibited or is subject to license and these local regulations should be investigated by the prospective poultry keeper. It should be stated that poultry kept confined to houses and yards, and the houses kept clean, are not a nuisance. A poultry keeper with close-by neighbors may find that the crowing of roosters may offend light sleepers. Except for breeding purposes the rooster is of no value as he is not necessary for egg production. In fact, he is a detriment since non-fertile eggs will keep better than fertile ones.