Raising Pigs & Poultry


To Enroll – Start Here


Instructor:  Nicole Burton, ngburton@umass.edu ,  (413) 429-6544

Nikki has over 20 years of farming experience with a focus on organic livestock and vegetable production. Since completing her masters degree in Sustainability Science,  Nicole has focused solely on the development of  innovative, science-based, sustainable animal husbandry curriculum at UMass.  Currently her experiential learning programming includes poultry, sheep and pig rotations, carbon farming systems and on farm slaughter. Her most recent project involves teaching and directing students to build a meat CSA for the UMass community.   Nicole serves on several faculty committees and is an active member of the Sustainability Curriculum Initiative at the University.   Along with educating and advising the next generation of small farmers she continues to run a small family farm at her home in Wendell, MA.   She teaches Small Farm Husbandry: Pigs & Poultry and Small Farm Husbandry: Goats, Sheep and Beef online.”

Class Description

This course provides students with a farmer’s perspective on the management, production and marketing of poultry and pigs on a small farm.  This course will address the advantages of having pigs and poultry and will review basic care, processing options, regulations, marketing and finances. The course will be structured around lectures, farm visits, guest lectures and acquiring hands on skills.  We will explore different alternative farming systems that utilize animals to enhance their production.  At the end of this course, students will be able to utilize pigs and poultry as an integral part of their small farm plan. 

Learning Objectives/ Course Goals

Students will gain the knowledge related to the planning and management of pigs and poultry on a farm. Specifically, students will adopt the following practices

  • Identify and utilize sustainable management practices for pigs and poultry
  • Comprehension of the complete life cycle management of pigs and poultry for meat and egg production
  • Understand basic anatomy and physiology for the purposes of monitoring animal health, estimating meat production volume and best practices for slaughter.
  • Understand basic nutritional demands in order to prepare appropriate feed for optimal development and use of animals
  • Understand the rules and regulations of running a farm business
  • Develop critical thinking skills on designing and implementing systems on a small farm


The Small-Scale Poultry Flock:  An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers, by Harvey Ussery, Chelsea Green Publishing 2011, Cost $39.95

Outline of Topics:

Developing Infrastructure and Understanding the Fixed Costs of Starting a Farm- Students will acquire knowledge of the differences, advantages, and the disadvantages in breed selection, housing and fencing.  Students acquire an understanding of where and how to navigate the purchasing in livestock and how to determine if they are making a good selection. Participants learn multiple options for housing that reflects a sustainable approach as well as how the expenses differ.   Students will get the opportunity to design and build their own poultry shelter and see how it works in the field.  Students will learn how to determine their fencing needs and learn how to set up and take electric fencing.  Students will also be able to determine the best needs for their system of choice.  All aspects of infrastructure covered at this time will include financial awareness.

Gaining Perspectives on Sustainable Options of Keeping Livestock Healthy- Students will learn about the nutritional requirements of pigs, egg layers and broilers.  Students learn the natural behavior of each animal through observation and lessons, and be able to determine how best to provide an environment that promotes health.  Students will gain an understanding of alternative diets that can be safely provided to pigs and chickens and be able to integrate them into their farming system.

Understanding Breeding, Gestation Cycles & BirthingStudents will learn separately about the reproduction cycles of pigs and poultry.  They will learn different approaches to breeding, necessities for birthing and raising young piglets and chicks, as well as understanding possible challenges that arise during these cycles. Students will explore developing their own hatching/ breeding program with poultry.

Illness and Disease and Common Problems- Students learn how to navigate resources to support them during their animal’s time of illness.  Students will develop a plan as to what steps to take when they perceive something to be wrong with an animal.  Students learn the importance of their relationship with their vet and will gain confidence in being able to explain clearly their concerns.  Students gain a basic understanding as to the common problems on the farm and how best to deal with the situation.

Learning Rules and Regulations- Students will learn about their options with farm certifications, town and national regulations as well as the importance and different ways to navigate record keeping.  This topic will be addressed throughout the semester.

Products & Processing- Students will learn product options for each animal.  Students gain an understanding as to how to price each product and what rules and regulations are attached to processing that product.  Specifically, students will learn about legally processing birds with USDA exemptions.    Students will learn how to price and evaluate their products.

Marketing – Each student will learn about different marketing options and what requirements and challenges that are associated with them.  Students will explore different media sources to acquire new customers and learn the importance of labeling, the deception of claims, and overall how to determine the best marketing solution for their demographic location.

Structuring Finances- Students will learn options on financial records.  Students will learn how to find funding to support their farm.  Students also learn about structuring their finances to include taxes, insurance and other expenses that are not always apparent with farming.  Students learn how to recognize fixed verses variable costs and how to create a practical enterprise budget.

Course Requirements

Written Work:

Assignments:  There will be 5 written assignments throughout the semester that further the learning material that will be covered in class.

  • Choosing breeds and developing a purchasing plan
  • Developing Sustainable Housing Infrastructure
  • Developing a Homemade Nutrition Program for Poultry
  • Developing an emergency illness plan, learning how to navigate resources, reviewing case studies
  • Marketing and Product Plan


Before lectures students will have an article or document to read.  Students will be responsible for handing in a short reflection on the material. 


This will be our opportunity to learn from one another and to share any insight or resources about topics that we are covering

Opinion Piece:

This is an assignment that will allow you to share your personal opinion, interest and passion within the field of farming.  It will be written as a blog type post.

Farm Visit

This assignment requires searching on line or in person for a farm that is similar to the student’s production of interest. The farm must raise at least one of the animals of focus in the class.  Visit the farm (if possible), reflect on class material and set up a series of questions to present to the farmer.  After the farm visit a paper with the description of the farm and any insight and knowledge gained will be submitted. 

Special Topic Project:

Students will choose a topic of interest in the field of poultry or pigs.  Topic descriptions are due at the end of the first quarter of the semester and an outline will be submitted at mid-term.  At the end of the semester students are responsible for teaching the class through a presentation on the topic of research that they focused on for the semester.  Students also have to submit a personal reflection on the major take away points they learned from the research.

Grading Rubric 

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Accommodation Statement
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students.  If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course.  If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.

Academic Honesty Statement
Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University.  Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty.  Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty.  Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct.  Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible.  Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair.  Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent (http://www.umass.edu/dean_students/codeofconduct/acadhonesty/).


This class fulfills requirements for all three of the online programs offered by the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture in Sustainable Food and Farming:

All online classes cost $482/credit.

More Online Classes

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