Survivability and production of heritage breed egg layers on pasture in Delmarva

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $13,784.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Delaware
Project Leader:
Kim Hartline
Spring Morning Farm LLC.

Annual Reports


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: housing, animal protection and health, free-range, livestock breeding
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, youth education, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, feasibility study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Spring Morning Farm is a four year old CSA. One of our best selling and most popular products is the eggs from our pastured heritage layers. We have used Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Red Sex Links and Ameraucana hens. The problem is the survivability of the birds in relation to predator losses. We have fixed the land predator problems with better fencing. Airborne predators remain a problem for pastured poultry operations. The problem has challenged the profitability of our egg laying operation. Although the losses have been unfortunate, we have discovered a unique trait among the heritage breeds. Some breeds are more wary and thrive in the pasture conditions, while others are quickly eliminated by predators. What we propose to try is to raise our most successful survivors i.e. the Ameraucana hens with a native heritage bird, the Delaware hen (not to be confused with the state bird). The Ameraucana hens lay blue – green colored eggs in lower numbers than the other breeds that we have tried. The blue – green eggs are more popular than brown eggs, create more conversation and go for a higher price. The Ameraucana is an active, alert bird that has survived well in a low input field environment. The Delaware’s are an active docile breed noted for their regional hardiness. They were specifically bred for use on the Delmarva Peninsula, introduced in the late 1940’s just before the Cornish Rock Cross came into prominence. Both breeds will be compared for survivability outside in the face of predators, egg production and economics. The Delaware lays brown eggs. The difference in the color of the eggs will allow easy tracking of which breed lays how many eggs. Outreach will be a mix of factsheets, workshops and personal presentations at conferences.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our experiment is designed to compare the control bird (the Ameraucana) with the Delaware hens. We will be looking at weekly growth rates, daily feed consumption, and egg laying rates and sizes, and field survivability. There will be three flocks of 30 birds each, group A all Ameraucana, group B all Delaware and group C a equal mix of both breeds.

    To calculate the cost of feed per egg the study has been set up with the two breeds in separate paddocks. The third group of mixed breeds is included to determine field survivability. This will tell us if predation should occur, is it based on feather color, movement, alertness, or location. Obviously cost per egg is a driving factor in overall profitability so if the Delawares eat for example three times what the Ameraucana’s do then they may not be a viable option even if they have good field survival rates.

    Each group will have an identical coop, the same number of nest boxes (8) within that coop, similar run in shelters (for shade and airborne predator protection). There will be a perimeter fence made of chicken wire buried 6 inches deep with multiple hot leads strung above the chicken wire. Grounding the chicken wire and using a solar fence charger to power the hot leads has proven effective against ground predators. The birds will be fed Purina’s Sun Fresh certified natural feeds appropriate for their age, with oyster shell made available when they start laying. Feed and water will be supplied Ad Libitum. Depending on availability the birds will either be purchased from a hatchery or hatched on site from existing stock. A daily log of feed, egg size and count and any mortalities will be kept. Field maintenance will include mowing, plowing, disking and seeding with a mix of clover, orchard grass and alfalfa. Each flock will range on up to 1/3 acre of field and will be within 1 month of all being of similar age.

    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.