What is up with eggs these days!
OK, let me break a few things down for you, and not the eggs, not this time!
I can't decide whether to talk from the outside in or the inside out, but I guess in the immortal words of Rush, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. So let's see where the stream of consciousness takes me...
OK, so there has been a lot of talk about eggs, availability and pricing as of late, so I wanted to lay out some information. Typically, the General Public (excuse me, please and thank you!) aren't always aware of all the pressures on a specific supply chain, and while in general, inflation has increased prices of all grocery products, eggs are a specific issue right now.
So here we are - outside in. Some explicit pressures from the outside - inflation has increased the price of chicken feed, transportation costs to and from the grocery store, etc. The war in the Ukraine - which has effected wheat and grain prices around the world, has put even more pressure on grain prices. And chickens can't grow without grains! All of us who raise chickens have to feed them grains.
Add on top a second HUGE issue from 2022. HPAI - Highly Pathenogenic Avian Flu. It spreads fast, you don't usually have time to respond. Let's put it this way - the avian team at CSU basically told me that you might wake up one day to one or two dead chickens. The next morning, it would be 70% of your flock dead. This flu takes them out quickly and in the end you have a 90-95% mortality rate. And when you report it to CSU, they will extricate the rest of your flock. I don't want to get into a huge long explanation here - but the US has lost millions of birds to this disease this year - broiler flocks, egg laying flocks, breeding flocks. Not only that, but an area 10 miles in diameter is put in place when a facility is identified - anyone in that quarantine zone can't sell or move anything poultry related until the quarantine is lifted, and that includes eggs of any size egg producer.
It takes a chicken about 6 months before it can lay an egg. You get avian flu and you have to euthanize your entire flock - that's over 6 months before you produce again. Colorado alone has had several egg production facilities have to eliminate all their birds because of this. So we already have rising transportation costs, rising labor costs, and now we have a huge production drop due to HPAI - you better believe egg prices are going up and availability is going down. This disease is an issue because of how quickly it can devastate a flock, how widely it can spread and it has the potential to be zoonotic, which means it can spread to humans. This is why entire flocks have to be euthanized when diagnosed.
Here are some more resources to learn more about HPAI
Now, the big producers light their chickens and force them to lay in the winter, but many of us smaller producers do not. I prefer to give my birds a break in the winter. They spend a lot of energy keeping warm, growing in new feathers, and surviving the winter - just like me (minus that feather bit). So while the grocery stores are out of eggs due to the economic realities as stated above, I am out of eggs because I always am this time of year.
As I have shown with previous data - one of the biggest drivers of egg laying capability is day light length. Data has shown me that the light trigger turns off somewhere in mid-October when the day light length goes below critical. It kicks back in around mid-March. Yup, that's when you'll see eggs on the farm again.
Add in that we have had a colder winter than normal - sometimes when I find eggs, they have already frozen and cracked and are unsellable. Remember that cold snap? I didn't stand a chance of getting to my eggs in time, and I was spending my energy making sure my animals were warm.
One final pressure on my specific egg issue at this time? I sold too many baby chicks in the spring. This means I didn't get enough pullets to keep for my own farm, and those pullets would be starting to lay around now, adding a bit to the winter production. So things are really slow on the egg front. My response there will be to keep all my hatchlings this year and not sell any baby chicks. That doesn't stop that I get about 3 calls per week for baby chicks, pullets or laying hens. And nope, I don't have those for sale either! So I need to rebuild my flock. I maybe have a total of 50-60 laying hens right now, some of them might be a bit old. They lose their leg bands so I can't tell how old they are! And for those unaware, chickens best laying years are before they turn 3. Of course, they can lay past then, but their production goes way down, below where they can earn their keep - aka it costs more to feed them than their egg sales bring in. There was a time I had 300 laying hens, and I sold them by the flat to a restaurant each week. I don't do that anymore, but I do think I could use a few more laying hens. So 2023 will be spend building back my egg laying flock.