Why Are We Talking About Eggs?
When we should be talking about chickens - first.
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With the price of eggs suddenly skyrocketing, people clamoring to get backyard chickens, and, alas, some people trying to spread a great deal of misinformation (surprise) about why chickens aren’t laying — I can no longer be silent about egg-gate. I mean, I have been raising chickens over the past 25+ years on farmsteads all over this country — my experience tells me there are a few things we’re missing in the narrative.
What’s been going on in the world of poultry recently has really inspired me to write about more than just my usual recipes and musings. Sharing my farm life in this way is pretty new for me. Dare I attempt to cover all the things I want to write about chickens? Maybe. Will I miss something? Likely. Will you find this useful? I hope so.
First, I want to set a little context.
The last 5 months have been the longest stretch of time that my hens weren’t really laying by, like, 5 months. Seriously, my current flock (even some of my old gals) have NEVER stopped laying — but they slowed WAY down about 5 months ago. Why? Let me break it down for you. First, they moved across the country (that funny story requires its own post), they lost their leader and nearly lost their rooster guardian (a sad story for another day), and now they live in a totally different climate — did I mentioned they moved clear across the country?? Did it have anything to do with their feed? No, not really, but I’ll get to that.
Let’s start with where they lived before versus where they live now. The TL;DR is there’s a big difference in light and climate. That matters.
The longer story: my chickens used to live with us on our old farmstead in a remote part of Colorado where we had sun 300+ days a year. When we decided to move our family across the country to a place where we could escape the wildfires and drought, we had to decide who was coming with us. Some of the chickens? Just the ones we were most attached to? That would be difficult because they all have their own personalities, their own friends and cliques, and their own patterns; it would be impossible to decide. Do we get rid of all of them except for our most loved, favorite chicken, Ivy, who was a very self-aware independent chicken and would surely agree to give up her so-called friends to live in the house?
No, we kept all of them.
Fast forward and now we all live on our new farmstead in North Carolina. The chickens did go through quite a shift. They now have less light in the winter, their chicken coop changed, they eat a different diet than they did, and they have had to learn about and avoid new predators. There was even an incident shortly after we moved here that caused us to lose our most beloved chicken ever. It has been a lot to deal with — for all of us.
So, was it a surprise that I was finding less and less eggs in the coop? Not at all. They naturally slow down toward winter anyway so the reduced light here in NC would certainly lend itself to that outcome, but I’d never seen so few eggs in all of the years I’ve been raising them. This was all around the same time that a lot of other people started to notice that their chickens weren’t laying much either — or stopped laying entirely.
What about their feed? Isn’t that what’s causing the reduction in production? Don’t worry, I’m getting to that.
We feed our chickens a fairly varied diet and they are free range except at night, so they get plenty of grit, bugs, flowers, tomatoes, scraps, etc. We feed organic when we can, Grubblies (which they go bonkers for) as much as we can afford it, and buy them extra bugs for treats when we find a good deal. Mostly, though, we feed a pretty basic feed with some important modifications. The chickens are happy, healthy, and enjoying catching way more bugs than they ever used to out west.
Now, here’s where it’s going to start getting a bit more controversial: I do NOT agree that there’s some concerted effort to drive up the price of eggs by modifying the chicken feed for backyard/hobby/homesteaders. There would simply be too much coordination involved and, I don’t know about what you’ve observed, but NONE of our US government agencies are that efficient — especially the ones that regulate feed. However, there IS a BIG BUT.
Do not mistake my refusal to sign up for the latest inflation/economic conspiracy theory for naiveté. I absolutely DO believe that many feed companies, if not most, will use whatever cheap or GMO grain, filler, and whatever else they can get away with to improve their margins while the government agencies let them get away with their workarounds. Here’s a shocker for you: they always have. This isn’t new. Hell, they even do it to YOUR food. Cheaper, better, faster, and more economical is the way — it’s their way.
Their goal isn’t to create some downstream way to increase egg prices — bird flu and climate will do that all on their own. These corporations already get great profit margins without that the added complexity of a “coordinated” attack. Capitalists gonna capitalize.
Think about it - you still see eggs in the grocery store, right? That means that the hens are still producing at the farms. They may be charging a ridiculous amount, but they have not stopped producing. Those farms aren’t using feed that’s any better — or, in most cases, any different — than what the backyard or homestead owner has. So, it’s not the feed.
What is it then? Well, I’m sure it’s not just one thing but here’s a big one: Over 49 million birds have had to be culled in just 2022 due to bird flu. 49 MILLION — that’s a whopping 15% of the entire egg laying population of birds. In addition to that, we are still experiencing pandemic related losses and supply chain issues. The price of a cartoon of eggs is going to reflect that and more. In some cases, I’ve seen them charge double. You’d think that they’d just do a reflective increase, but they won’t. They’ll increase until demand goes down. They’ll always pass the cost burden to the customer, hardly ever the savings. You’ll see, the price will eventually come down but not to what we are used to seeing because demand for eggs will always stay high. Higher prices — at least marginally — are here to stay.
One final note: have you been to a farmers’ market recently? The independent producers aren’t raising their prices much, if at all. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
So, what do YOU think. Do you agree with my assessment? Do you want more chicken content? I would love to hear from you.
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