Poultry Farmer Job Description

Poultry
Chickens are a major part of the poultry production industry. RubberBall Productions/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Poultry farmers are responsible for the daily care of chickens, turkeys, ducks, or other poultry species that are raised for meat production purposes. (Egg farming is covered in a separate career article).

Duties

Routine responsibilities for a poultry farmer include distributing feed, administering medications, cleaning enclosures, ensuring proper ventilation, removing dead or sick birds, maintaining facilities in good working order, monitoring flock behavior to detect any signs of illness, transporting birds to processing plants, restocking enclosures with young birds, keeping detailed records, and overseeing various poultry farm employees.

Poultry producers work in conjunction with veterinarians to ensure the health of their flocks. Livestock feed sales representatives and animal nutritionists may also advise poultry producers on creating nutritionally balanced rations for their facilities.

As is the case with many animal farming careers, a poultry farmer may be required to work long hours that can include nights, weekends, and holidays. Work may be carried out in varying weather conditions and extreme temperatures. Workers may also be exposed to diseases that are commonly found in poultry waste products, such as Salmonella or E. coli.

Career Options

Most poultry farmers raise one species of fowl for a specific purpose. Nearly two-thirds of poultry revenues come from the production of broilers (young chickens raised for meat). Approximately one-quarter of poultry revenues come from egg production. The remaining poultry revenues are derived from the production of other species such as turkeys, ducks, game birds, ostriches, or emus.

According to the USDA, most U.S. poultry farms involved in meat production are concentrated in the Northeast, Southeast, Appalachian, Delta, and Corn Belt regions (which places them in close proximity to the majority of poultry processing centers). The state with the most broiler farms is Georgia, followed by Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

The U.S. is the second largest exporter of broilers, second only to Brazil.

Most farms that produce broilers are large commercial operations involved in indoor broiler production. Other options include focusing on free-range broiler production or organic broiler production.

Education & Training

Many poultry farmers hold a two or four-year degree in poultry science, animal science, agriculture, or a closely related area of study, though a degree is not necessary for entrance to the career path. Coursework for these animal related degrees can include poultry science, animal science, anatomy, physiology, reproduction, meat production, nutrition, crop science, genetics, farm management, technology, and agricultural marketing.

Many poultry farmers learn about the industry in their younger years through youth programs such as Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4-H. These organizations expose students to a variety of animals and encourage participation in livestock shows. Others gain hands-on experience by working with livestock on the family farm.

Salary

The salary a poultry farmer earns can vary widely based on the number of birds kept, the type of production, and the current market value of poultry meat.

The Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS) reports that the median wage for agricultural managers was $68,050 per year ($32.72 per hour) in May of 2014. The lowest compensated tenth of agricultural managers earned under $34,170 while the top paid tenth in the category earned over $106,980.

The 2010 Poultry Production Manual from the University of Kentucky provides a similar breakdown of average household income for farmers that function as the primary operator of their business (non-family farms excluded). The average income was $71,360, though a significant portion of that income was “off-farm income” and not directly connected to the production of broilers. Small farms averaged $52,717 while very large farms averaged $121,690.

Chicken manure may also be collected and sold to gardeners for use as fertilizer, which can serve as an additional source of revenue for poultry farmers.

Many smaller (non-corporate) poultry farmers also engage in other agricultural enterprises on their farms, ranging from raising crops to producing other livestock species, to provide additional income to the farm.

Poultry farmers must factor in various expenses when calculating their total earnings. These expenses may include feed, labor, insurance, fuel, supplies, maintenance, veterinary care, waste removal, and equipment repair or replacement.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that there will be a very slight decline (about 2 percent) in the number of job opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers over the next decade. This is due primarily to the trend towards consolidation in the farming industry, as smaller producers are being absorbed by the larger commercial outfits.

While the total number of jobs may show a slight decline, the USDA’s industry surveys indicate that poultry production will show a slight decrease in 2012 before going on to post steady gains through 2021 (due to increasing demand for broilers).