Small and backyard poultry online courses


Keeping poultry is the fastest growing animal-related hobby in the United States. People all over the world keep chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, game birds, and countless other birds for meat, eggs, pets, and other poultry products. The Penn State Extension Poultry Team recognizes the need for science-based education for this growing group of, mostly non-traditional, farmers. In the coming months, Penn State Extension will roll out two online courses for those interested in raising poultry for fun and raising poultry for profit.

Poultry farms come in all shapes and sizes. Commercial egg laying facilities might house more than one million hens in enormous barns, or houses. Broiler farms might raise 10,000-30,000 birds in about 50 days. You or your neighbors might have six chickens in your backyard. A couple in New York City might keep a pet chicken in their 500 square foot apartment. Poultry keeping truly is for everyone.

Commercial poultry operations have full-time veterinarians, service staff, and flock managers that oversee the day-to-day care and keeping of these multitudes of birds. These industry professionals are armed with an arsenal of vetted, science-based information on feeding, nutrition, water quality, veterinary treatment, and beyond. Unfortunately, small and backyard flock owners do not have the same arsenal. Usually, their information is heavily biased, untried or untested, or just plain untrue.

There are few research dollars available to the small and backyard flock hobby. Information is spread through social media in the form of anecdotes.

As a youngster, I was involved in raising and showing exhibition poultry all over the midwest with my dad. I have met hundreds of poultry exhibitors who, in their “other” lives are children’s book authors, mechanical engineers, stay-at-home parents, large and small animal veterinarians, teachers, retirees, kids, and everything in between. These folks truly are the experts in care, keeping, and management of extraordinary birds. This wealth of knowledge and experience is only available to a small group of poultry enthusiasts. Therefore, it was my goal to create comprehensive poultry courses to spread factual, practical, and timely information about how to raise small flock poultry.

The online courses are designed for two groups of poultry keepers. Raising Poultry for Fun is intended for those who enjoy keeping less than 100 birds for eggs, meat, or just plain enjoyment. Raising Poultry for Profit is intended for poultry producers who want to scale up their flock, start a small farm enterprise, or diversify their existing farm products. Each course will cover:

– How to select a poultry species and breed that is right for you.

– Best management practices like feeding, lighting, air quality, water quality, and space requirements.

– Poultry health and disease, including the all-important, biosecurity.

– Raising poultry for egg production.

– Raising poultry for meat production.

– Raising poultry for pets and exhibition.

– Data collection and flock record keeping.

– Marketing of poultry products.

Sourcing, vetting, and compiling all this information has taken the better part of three years. These courses are still in development, but we are planning to roll them out by the end of 2019.

Penn State Extension offers several other online courses, workshops, seminars, and fact sheets on anything from apples to zebra grass. We want to keep in contact with you. Visit extension.psu.edu/aboutme to sign up for e-mail, or snail mail lists about new and upcoming products from Penn State Extension. We will only notify you in the format you choose, and for the topics you are interested in. Those preferences can be edited at any time.

For poultry keepers, be sure to select “Backyard Poultry” to get the right information for you… like updates on these two online courses! In the meantime, feel free to contact me, your friendly neighborhood Poultry Educator, should questions or concerns arise!


Emily K. Lhamon is a Poultry Educator with Penn State Extension. She can be contacted through email EXL96@psu.edu or by calling 717-248-9618.