It will be at least 12 to 18 months before egg production in the U.S. returns to full, pre-avian-influenza levels, said egg farmers cooperative United Egg Producers (UEP) President/CEO Chad Gregory in a press release discussing recovery efforts from the recent avian influenza outbreak that has severely impacted egg production in this country and caused egg prices to skyrocket.
The major cause of the delay is the need to stagger the ages of laying hens to ensure a steady egg supply over time. The release notes that because of this, it may take up to 80 weeks to fully repopulate some farms.
Adding to the challenge is a short supply of pullets, young hens that move into layer barns at about 16 to 18 weeks of age when they begin consistently producing eggs. This short supply has been created by the overwhelming need for more pullets at one time as egg farmers start to fill layer barns.
Additionally, avian influenza was detected on some breeder and pullet farms, which reduced the number of birds available at early stages of the repopulation process. One breeder hen provides the equivalent of 120 chicks, which makes the loss of breeder flocks even more impactful on the egg supply.
Meanwhile, egg farmers are also increasing biosecurity measures by ensuring that feed and water are not at risk of virus contamination, contact with domesticated and wild birds is limited and protocols for controlled movement of workers, birds, vehicles and equipment are increased. Egg farms are also tightening vehicle restrictions, increasing disinfection procedures and expanding worker training.
“We pledge our best efforts to overcome this setback and re-build a healthy and viable egg industry,” Gregory said. “It is vital that we continue to work diligently and collaboratively to protect the health and well-being of our flocks, egg farms and rural communities.”