Starting a meat chicken farm in Queensland
There are many factors you will need to consider before starting a meat chicken farm in Queensland. You will need to:
- decide if you want to be a contract or independent grower
- identify your market
- choose what type of production system you will use to grow your birds
- consider environmental management, biosecurity, animal health and welfare issues.
Due to the number of chickens you will have on the property, your meat chicken farm will also require:
- a development permit
- an environmental authority
- your property will also need to be a Registered Biosecurity Entity.
Starting a chicken farm requires a large capital investment. The upfront investment to establish a farm, including sheds, land, water, electricity, facilities and equipment is in area of several million dollars.
Understanding the size and scale of your investment
On average, a Queensland poultry farm will grow close to 1 million birds per year over 5.5 batches. Each new modern environmentally controlled, tunnel ventilated shed is usually about 15m wide, 150m long and can house about 40,000 chickens.
Older farms can have 3 or 4 sheds of various sizes, whereas newly built farms will usually have a minimum of 6 sheds. It is not unusual for larger developments to have in excess of 10 sheds.
Location of farms
The chicken meat (broiler) industry in Queensland is predominantly located in the south-east corner of the state. Production also occurs on the Darling Downs in the west and on the Atherton Tableland in the north.
Farms are generally located within 2-3 hours of the processing plant to ensure bird welfare and meat quality.
Other factors that contribute to the location of poultry farms include:
- distance from the feed mill
- availability of a reliable water source
- access to electricity – preferably 3 phase
- road and property access for trucks
- labour availability
- distance from other poultry farms (biosecurity).
Starting a poultry farm in Queensland has more information about farm site selection.
Meat chickens are generally grown in 1 of 3 production systems; conventional, free range or organic. They are never grown in cages.
All production systems can be accredited under the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Approved Farming Scheme if they meet the eligibility criteria and operate in accordance with the standards of the scheme.
Conventional production systems
Chickens are raised in enclosed sheds, also called barns, with material such as wood shavings provided on the floor.
Two types of sheds operate in Queensland:
- Older style, curtain sided sheds – these have soft walls which can be raised or lowered at different times to control air movement and temperature within the shed. They are often tunnel ventilated with fans and cooling pads to assist in maintaining shed temperature and air quality.
- Modern style, solid wall with tunnel ventilation – these sheds have cooling pads at one end, large fans at the opposite end and mini vents placed along the length of the shed. This design allows air to be drawn across the entire length of the shed at different times for air quality and for cooling during summer months.
Shed floors are mainly compressed clay, and sometimes concrete, to allow thorough cleaning and disinfection to occur between batches.
Free range production systems
The main difference between conventional meat chicken production and free range is that birds are given access to an outdoor range area and may also have a lower stocking density (see legislation and codes of practice below). They have the same housing, feed and management requirements as conventionally raised chickens.
Free range birds are only given outdoor access once they are fully feathered, at about 3 weeks of age. Young chicks are unable to regulate their own body temperature and require a temperature controlled environment. Once birds are fully feathered, they are able to access an outdoor range area for part of each day. Birds are kept indoors at night so they are safe from temperature extremes and predators.
Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA) are the main national accreditation organisation for free range poultry. To be certified, farms must comply with a set of standards set out by FREPA.
Organic production systems
To be certified organic, birds must only be fed food that is organic, so that it is free of chemical fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. There may also be restrictions on the types of vaccinations and medications that certified organic chickens can receive. Birds that are raised as organic must also be free range.
Always check to make sure that anything labelled as organic is recognised under a nationally accredited program.
Caring for poultry
For comfort, growth efficiency, and for health and welfare, birds need to be kept in the correct conditions. Housing systems can provide controlled conditions such as:
Feed formulas, water quality, hygiene, stocking density and stock management skills, including observation and attention to detail, are also important. For independent growers, consultant poultry nutritionists can advise on feed requirements.
Hormones are prohibited for use in the poultry industry and the Australian Government tests for these hormonal growth promotants as part of its National Residue Survey annual program.
Read more about keeping a healthy poultry flock. Manuals on bird care are also available to suit particular strains of meat chickens.
Legislation and codes of practice
In Queensland, the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (ACPA) places a legal 'duty of care' on people in charge of animals to provide for those animals' needs in an appropriate way. The Act includes birds and their pre-hatched young.
The following Australian model codes of practice apply to poultry and are adopted codes under the ACPA:
- domestic poultry (4th edition)
- land transport of livestock code
- livestock at slaughtering establishments.
The codes contain information and guidelines to provide minimum acceptable outcomes of animal welfare for poultry.
Environmental management involves factors such as location of the farm, buffer zones around the bird-keeping area on the farm and other management tools to prevent odour, light, noise and waste impacts on others and the environment. These will be included in your environmental management plan.
Environmental management plans
Preparing an environmental management plan for your farm can help identify and manage any potential environmental risks. An environmental management plan is a useful document to ensure that your business is making a reasonable and practical effort to operate in an environmentally sustainable way. Your development permit may also have specific environmental management conditions and requirements, which you must follow.
Learn more about environmental management systems and planning for the chicken meat industry.
- Read more about national welfare standards for meat chickens.
- Find out more about growing meat chickens at the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, the Australian Chicken Growers Council and Poultry Hub.
- Learn more about meat chickens from the RSPCA.
- Read more about environmental management.
- Find out more about animal welfare and ethics.