An Approach to Building a Sustainable Small Flock Poultry Operation Through Improvement in Nutrition, Food safety, and Marketing

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $377,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipients: Tennessee State University; University of Tennessee; University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Pramir Maharjan
Tennessee State University


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: feed management, meat product quality/safety
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management

    Proposal abstract:

    This project is a system approach to enhance sustainability of small flock poultry farming through improvement in production practices in bird nutrition, food safety, and farm produce marketing. Nutritional/feeding studies at the research farm in Tennessee State University and at the farms of cooperating farmers will be conducted to understand better approaches in feeding management (dietary energy), food safety practices (minimize food borne pathogens) and farm produce (eggs) marketing strategies. The findings of the study will be disseminated  primarily through training-workshops across the state of Tennessee targeting small flock producers, county agents, and poultry stakeholders. 

    Improving the profitability of farm operations is a pillar to sustainability that can be achieved through balanced feeding and enhanced feed efficiency. Feed costs account for 70 % of the total cost of production in poultry operation. Managing dietary energy is an important aspect of feed nutrient management that directly affects the performance of birds. Dietary energy levels play an important role in regulating feed intake, and thus, the intake of overall nutrients. Additionally, dietary energy impacts dietary calcium (Ca2+) absorption in the gut of chicken. Efficient intestinal Ca2+ absorption is paramount to layer hens to maintain body Ca2+ homeostasis and to fulfill daily Ca2+ needs for egg-shell calcification. In the feeding study, an egg-type breed will be evaluated to understand its energy need for optimal performance (feed efficiency) and egg shell quality (Ca2+ absorption).

    Pre-harvest food safety practices play an important role in any animal production system. The proposed study will also evaluate impacts of poultry drinking water supplies sanitation practices on bird health, and microbial (food-borne pathogens) safety of eggs. Routine swabbing of the eggs and birds (cloacal) will be conducted to check for the prevalence of food borne pathogens and to assess if farm water supplies treatment has any effect on  microbial safety of farm produce.

    For small-scale farmers, raising poultry can provide additional income and support to their farm business. However, small-scale farmers do not always have the marketing skills needed for a successful operation. Management and marketing skills are also needed to optimize their operation whether it is for home consumption or directed at a market. Indeed, these skills will play an important role in the farmer's decision-making process. They can help in deciding the size of the flock(s), the timing of the production, the location of the operation, the inputs to use, the market to target, etc. This project will educate farmers on best practices of record-keeping, budgeting, as well as the development of other financial statements needed to evaluate the costs of the operation, pricing, and strategizing marketing of farm produce to improve income and profitability in small-flock operation. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objectives of the project are as follows: 

    1. Establish specific dietary energy level that is optimal to calcium absorption for an egg type breed in a free-range pastured operation (Dr. Maharjan and Dr. Nahashon)
    2. Evaluate performance and egg quality differences between conventional diets and organic soy-free diets (Dr. Maharjan, Dr. Nahashon, Dr. Tabler, and Co-operating farmers)
    3. Conduct prevalence study of food borne pathogens with the farm produce under treated and untreated poultry drinking water supplies (Dr. Kilonzo, Dr. Maharjan, and Co-operating farmers)
    4. Assess cost associated with production inputs and performance outputs in each conventional and organic based dietary approaches by preparing budget sheets and evaluate farm profitability (Dr. Lawani, Dr. Maharjan, and Co-operating farmers)
    5. Educate small flock producers, county agents, and poultry stakeholders on basics of feeding management, food safety practices, and farm economics for sustainable poultry operation (Dr. Maharjan, Dr. Tabler, Dr. Kilonzo, Dr. Lawani and Co-operating farmers)


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.