Optimal Flock Size for Pasture Raised Layers

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $7,394.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Bluestem Farm
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Aaron Brower
Bluestem Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: housing, animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, grazing management, manure management, pasture fertility, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:


    There are two issues we wish to address with this proposal. 1) We will test the efficiency of different size flocks raised on pasture. 2) We will promote pastured poultry in Northern Michigan and provide a template that other small producers can follow.

    Our flock has grown from approximately 200 layers 3 years ago to 500 this year. We have occasionally had production problems. At 200 layers our average egg production on pasture was about 80%. Although there were dips throughout the season, we were satisfied with this rate of lay. It isn’t as high as the industry standard but there are many factors in the field that could cause this, including raptor predation and weather. When the flock grew to approximately 400 in 2014, production dropped to about 60% on average. At that rate, it was not economically viable. We were at a loss for what to do, uncertain what caused the poor rate of lay throughout most of 2014. We changed feed formulas, fed probiotics, tried natural de-wormers, provided additional protection against eagle predation and eventually split the flock after guessing that flock size could be an issue. In 2015 we built a second movable coop housing 250 layers each. Egg production was again near 80%. We are not sure if the cause of this erratic lay is flock size, but we aim to test this hypothesis.

    Additionally, it is a longstanding goal of ours to encourage local producers to pasture their chickens. There are numerous other small-scale chicken farmers but none that intensively pasture their chickens and we hope to provide an example of different size flocks so that others may follow suit. Specifically, we want to promote the feasibility of the 100-layer flock, explaining the nuts and bolts, the economics and providing a working model.


    We intensively pasture our chickens. For us, this means that we keep our chickens in movable chicken “ships” that are pulled around the fields with either a truck or tractor. We presently have 2 flocks of about 250 birds each. Both flocks have their own movable coop. Each coop includes nests boxes, roosts, feeders, and an automatic waterer. They are encircled with 640 feet of electric poly netting fence to keep predators out and the layers in. The coops are moved every other day and the temporary fencing is moved approximately once per week. This gives the layers constant access to fresh pasture with the benefit of evenly spreading their manure on the fields.

    Over the past several years, we have experienced different rates of lay and this has corresponded with different size flocks. We are unsure if this is a determining factor and we aim to test this with the 3 different size flocks. We have tried various things to fix the problem. We had much better luck this year maintaining two different flocks with approximately 250 layers each.

    The grant will help provide the resources to test the efficiency of the three different size flocks. We will maintain flocks of 400, 200 and 100 layer chickens. The grant will provide us the resources to add a third flock of 100 birds, including building movable roosts, nest boxes and portable electric fences. It will also help to offset the costs of labor and record keeping associated with the additional flock. We will record rate of lay, feed consumption, livability, raptor predation, time management and overall health. We will report back, hold a field day to explain our findings and showcase the 100 layer flock and petition to be presenters at the Northern Michigan Small conference in January 2017.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Test the efficiency of different size flocks raised on pasture.
    2. Promote pastured poultry in Northern Michigan and provide a template that other small producers can follow, by hosting workshops, giving conference presentations, and posting on social media.


    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.