Many people continue to be concerned over the exorbitant cost of eggs since November 2022. And everyone wants to know when it’s going to get better. According to the CPI, retail egg prices increased 11.1% ~ 2 months ago. In addition, prices rose 59.9% this past December compared to December 2021. Therefore, from a chicken farmer’s perspective, I’ll explain why eggs have gotten so expensive.
Every so often I’ll glance at egg prices to make sure we’re getting paid what’s fair. To be sure we give away far more eggs than we actually sell. But feed is never given away. Where I live, the cost has doubled since 2020. Anyway, it’s been months since I last saw the price for a dozen pasture raised eggs. Thus, out of curiosity I checked prices the other day. While pasture raised eggs are only ~ $1 more here, store-brand eggs are practically the same price as pasture raised! That’s quite a hike.
But what’s driving the increase? Is it really what we’re being told? Or is there something sinister going on? Stay tuned for the reasons eggs are more expensive.
Reasons Eggs are More Expensive
- H5N1 (Avian Influenza), and HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza), which spells Bird Flu
Firstly, bird flu is an illness that can affect both birds and people. However, HPAI is considerably more contagious. Although, it mainly affects poultry and wild birds. Whereas the human strain of bird flu is treatable, the bird strain is not currently.
Therefore, the only thing to be done is to cull flocks wherever it’s found. Additionally, all farms within a 6 mile radius of confirmed cases are tested. Then those flocks with verified bird flu are also eradicated. Consequently, to date per the USDA and CDC, 58 million birds, including ~ 43 million egg layers “have been affected,” involving 47 states. Which indicates some died as a direct result of the disease. Nevertheless, the majority were euthanized.
Given that most eggs sold on store shelves are from production farms, they would have to start completely over. And it takes anywhere from 4-6 months before new hens start laying. So you take 43 million layers out of production around the holidays, and well, there you have it.
Since mid-2021, world economies have been experiencing a global rise in inflation. From 2020 and 2021, the IRS sent out Economic Impact Payments, or stimulus checks totaling $803 billion. And the US wasn’t the only country that dumped money into the economy. Then, not only did we face supply and labor shortages, but there were price increases in the construction sector.
And then there’s too much demand, and not enough supply. According to IMF, the comeback in demand we experienced in the US strained supply chains and also caused inflation to rise abruptly.
All of these could realistically be the fallout from Covid-19. However, the war in Ukraine is a different matter entirely. But one that affects inflation as well. For instance, due to sanctions, commodities like metals, food, oil and gas have not only been disrupted, but likewise have been more expensive. And basically all of these things taken together affect egg producers with their overhead: feed, housing, employees, water, vet bills, etc.
Molting occurs predominantly in the Fall, and it lasts about 3 months. I have ~40 birds, 20 of whom molted due to their age. And while I have ducks and young roos that don’t count, I only had 9 chicken egg layers up till recently. But thankfully, our egg production is back up.
So molting is that time of year when chickens lose their feathers and basically have a 3 month long vacation. For established layers, they require that break from all the hard work we put them through. And for new layers, they don’t get one until they’re about a year old. Thus, unless egg producers have new and mature hens, the established, older hens would have been molting and resting up till now. And that would affect egg production and prices.
- Lastly, What about Price Gouging or Poisoned Feed?
According to Farm Action, a non-profit that fights corporate monopolies, price gouging is exactly what’s going on with egg prices.
While consumers have become increasingly cash-strapped since the pandemic, corporations have enjoyed their most profitable two years since 1950 as their profits jumped 35 percent.Written and edited by: Jessica Cusworth, Dee Laninga, Angela Huffman, Joe Maxwell, and Basel Musharbash
And the egg producer with the fattest wallet is none other than Cal-Maine. Further, as reported by Farm Action, Cal-Maine’s gross profits rose five-fold.
However, according to Cal-Maine Foods, they don’t sell their eggs directly to the consumer, but to retail customers, like grocery stores, etc. On their website, they go on to say
Cal-Maine Foods sells its eggs at prices negotiated with each customer. In many cases, the Company, and it believes its customers, look to independent, third-party market quotes published by Urner Barry, the leading provider of protein market news and information for the food industry. Urner Barry’s pricing methodologies and processes received third-party assurance that they are aligned with the International Organization of Securities Commission (IOSCO) Principles for Price Reporting Agencies.Cal-Maine Foods Contact:
Max P. Bowman, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
The poisoned or RNA feed theory isn’t even worth my time, because it’s so ludicrous. Chickens ALWAYS stop laying for ~ 3 months during the fall. And sometimes in the spring. In fact, people who’ve had chickens for more than a year should also be aware of this fact. See molting above!! Or check out my post on molting.
When Will Egg Prices Improve for the Consumer
Factors like China’s strict Covid policy, and recent relaxing of that policy has and will affect worldwide economies and thus inflation. Likewise the war in Ukraine will proceed to affect economies as well.
Though, at some point the Federal Reserve wants to return the inflation rate to 2%. Plus, according to the International Monetary Fund, so far overall measures of inflation were decreasing. But core inflation was still high.
Regardless, as of this post, prices have either stayed the same or were a little lower on the USDA site. Although, due to demand, likely egg prices will be high for the Easter season. Besides, until HPAI is no longer active and therefore a threat to poultry, the prices will continue to remain uncertain.
Things to Do or Not to Do
So you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to help your individual situation. Or do you just grin and bear it? Well first, you don’t want to
- Smuggle eggs
Per Border Report, between October 1 to the end of last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 108% increase in confiscated egg products and poultry at ports of entry. Don’t do it, because it’s illegal. And it’ll cost you, the eggs and a possible fine.
- Get your own chickens
Not only has egg production been affected by bird flu, but obviously chicks and chickens have been too. And again it takes a chick 4-6 months to mature enough to lay an egg. Plus, there are many upfront and continuous costs involved: the coop, feeders, waterers, and feed. Then you have to think about predators, illnesses, and accidents.
However, you should ask yourself whether you’re committed to seeing it through. For example, after the heyday of Pandemic chickens, when things started to feel normal, hundreds of US chickens were surrendered to sanctuaries. And many of those organizations are still at max capacity. If you aren’t going to have time for chickens when they get inconvenient, messy, sick, etc, or the economy improves, then don’t get chickens.
On the other hand, there are some things you can do, such as
- Buy eggs from local farmers
Supposing you live somewhere not hit by bird flu, reach out to people who already have backyard birds, and support them!! I’ve looked on my Facebook groups too and checked prices for eggs. And like me, my fellow chicken farmers are way below store prices. It’s obvious none of us make a profit. If I could at least cover the cost of feed, that would be great, but I doubt that even happens.
Therefore, get on FB and check out some chicken groups, if you don’t know any backyard chicken farmers. There’s gotta be one near you. And start shopping for eggs.
- Purchase alternative eggs
Even if you can’t get backyard chicken eggs, you could still find backyard duck, quail, or guinea eggs. They each have distinct flavors. And some are better for certain dishes than others. However, you could also try JUST Egg, which are plant based eggs.
Furthermore, there are other egg substitutes for baking. For instance, buttermilk, applesauce, yogurt, pumpkin puree, and banana are just a few options.
So, Why Have Eggs Gotten So Expensive?
Aspects such as the war in Ukraine, inflation since Covid, highly pathogenic bird flu, and molting have affected egg production and prices. But with China easing its draconian Covid policy, global economies have improved. And inflation has started to wane. However, with Easter coming up soon, and bird flu still hanging around, it may be awhile before egg prices drop to previous levels.
Though, there are options you can take to avoid the high cost of eggs. You can purchase from local backyard groups. Or you can try alternatives such as duck or guinea eggs. And there are even plant based options available.
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