Whether you call it St. Lucia’s Day, Candlemas, or Imbolc, the halfway point between the winter equinox and spring solstice occurs this week, and that traditionally has meant eggs. I got my first egg of the year just last week and am looking forward to more.
The average price of eggs is currently $4.25 per dozen, up from $1.79 a year ago. Now, this is a nationwide average. In my area, I have not found anything for less than $5.50 per dozen in over a month. Also, my store only carries medium eggs these days. I’m not sure when the last time was that I saw large or extra-large.
(Fun fact: I have a good friend who has been in the egg industry for years, and before Covid, Americans either exported medium eggs to Asia or just threw them out. There was zero domestic demand. Now medium eggs seem to be all we can get.)
Unfortunately, there are a variety of problems facing egg producers at the moment.
The big talk has been bird flu. Nearly 60 million birds have either died from the flu or have been put down due to the most recent outbreaks. That puts a dent in production.
Less widely discussed have been the damages to egg production facilities, but they’ve occurred, too. Just this past Saturday, January 28, a fire occurred at an egg facility in Connecticut, killing over 100,000 birds. No causes for the fire have been given yet.
The OP reported on the food facility fires back in April, but mainstream media keeps insisting that there’s nothing to see here.
I don’t know enough about average industrial facility fire rates to make a bulletproof argument regarding whether or not these fires have been intentional. However, even if they are just a series of accidents, this series of accidents could be seen as evidence of the increasing Thirdworldization of the U.S.
Fabian described Thirdworldization as a slow-burning SHTF event, where things just gradually get worse and worse. Quality and availability go down; prices and crime go up; quality of life gradually erodes. Decreasing workplace safety would go along with this. For decades, the American workplace has been getting cleaner and safer. The string of fires, if nothing else, gives evidence that that’s no longer the case. Some of the fires in 2022 occurred in plants known to have sloppy safety protocols.
And this, of course, affects our ability to process food, which in turn leads to decreased availability and increased prices.
Given these situations, it’s not unreasonable that more people than ever have expressed interest in starting their own backyard flocks. Between the pandemic, food shortages, and general increased awareness about animal welfare, many urban and suburban dwellers have gotten into raising their own birds.
However, many of these same small flock owners have been complaining recently about a larger-than-usual drop in egg production. Rumors have been going around about feed being tampered with, and anecdotally, people have been saying they’ve had problems with the popular brands Producer’s Pride and DuMor. Both of these happen to be owned by Purina and typically have a 16% protein content. People have been claiming that the feed manufacturers have lowered the protein content recently, though I can’t find any confirmation of that. I have always bought my feed from a small regional producer, so I didn’t start paying attention until recently.
And unfortunately, I haven’t been alone in my lack of attentiveness. Tucker Carlson just did an episode about problems with our food supply and points out that it’s hard to get solid evidence about anything from the fires to the feed issues because the people in power are genuinely not interested. Curiously, he does remind us at 0:54 that Biden promised food shortages last year. Biden seems to be delivering.
It might be time to start getting feed locally.
I am hesitant to point fingers and level accusations at big-feed producers without anything more to go on than hearsay.
However, if you are genuinely concerned about this, I think there are some excellent reasons to look into procuring feed locally from independent producers.
I began raising birds in 2014, catering to customers looking for pasture-raised, organically-fed birds. Now, I have never had an organic certification myself, but I have always bought feed from an organically certified producer. Despite the high cost, I have never had any regrets.
First of all, you get what you pay for, and higher-quality feed means higher-quality eggs. You will notice the difference in the color of the yolk, the texture of the white, and the hardness of the shell.
Second of all, I have long suspected prices for specialty feed will be more stable in the long term, and so far, the past couple years have proved me correct. My feed prices have increased 20% since 2021. My egg industry friends, using conventional feed, have seen an increase of 100%. Yes, it’s cheap, but it’s doubled in a year. That is a big change to make, and as a business owner, a much harder adjustment for customers used to certain prices.
The reasons behind this are many and varied. If you want an in-depth discussion of why what most of us think of as “luxury food” may be more stable in the long run, I would recommend watching Joe Rogan’s discussion with Will Harris of White Oak Pastures here. For now, I will just say that the gap between conventional and specialty feed price-wise is still there, but it’s considerably smaller than it was a few years ago. And that may not change much for the foreseeable future.
Third, if you can find an independent feed producer in your area, they may be more open to explaining what’s going on in the event of future price increases. I’ve had a good relationship with my feed producer, and they have been great about explaining price increases or different formulations.
(Looking for other ways to shore your family against food shortages? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to building a 3-layer food storage system.)
But what if you don’t have an independent producer in your area?
Or what if (more likely) you’re a suburban flock owner with six birds, and the independent producers in your area won’t deliver anything less than a ton?
Well, formulating your own feed is always an option, one that shouldn’t scare you unnecessarily. People have been keeping hens long before they could just run out to Tractor Supply or Rural King for whatever they needed.
My layer feed is 16.5% protein, and it’s been working for me for years. The brands causing complaints have a 16% protein content; if you’re having problems, but you don’t want to toss your feed, maybe try supplementing your current feed with some meat scraps for a few weeks and see what happens.
Chickens are not naturally vegetarian. I have seen mine chase mice and eat baby birds that have fallen from nests (that was gross). Don’t be afraid to give them meaty table scraps.
Another option, if you have a supplier that only works in bulk, might be to find a group of backyard flock owners in your area and come up with a plan to divide up a ton of feed. I would suggest getting the same size storage containers, something like a Rubbermaid, because those seal tightly and are rodent-proof, and using those to divide the feed evenly. Dividing up a ton of feed into a couple of dozen bins is itchy, exhausting work, but depending on your situation, it may be a good option. Just make sure you have a hand cart to move those bins around afterward!
And make sure to discuss your situation with the feed producer. They’re all different. Some can dump a ton of feed into a grain hopper (should you come across one of those), and others will carry feed in one-ton totes. And some feed producers will have subcontractors that will deliver smaller amounts of feed for a fee. All kinds of arrangements exist out there. It doesn’t hurt to ask questions.
To be honest, if you don’t want to buy premium feed, if you aren’t familiar with raising animals, or if you don’t already have experienced friends that can help you troubleshoot, this may not be the right time to start raising chickens.
If you are truly concerned about the food supply and are willing to put some money toward securing animal protein, buying an extra freezer and trying to source a half or quarter steer may be a more cost-effective option. Just make sure you have a generator or are ready to can, dehydrate and/or salt the meat in case of a long-term power outage.
Life without eggs?
I love eggs, too, but they’re just not cheap anymore, no matter what you do.
If you’re on a tight budget, there are other ways to keep healthy fat and protein in your diet. Here are some tips on getting your eggs at the best price possible. I hope you’re not discarding any of your fat from cooking because that can be added to beans and vegetables to make them more filling. See this article about rendering fat if you’re interested in discarding as little food as possible. Mushrooms and onions fried in leftover bacon grease are a good alternative savory breakfast. And flaxseed makes a decent egg substitute for most baking purposes. Just mix 1 tbsp flaxseed with 3 tbsp water, let it sit for at least ten minutes, and that’s your vegan egg equivalent.
If you feel truly called to start raising your own birds, do some research. The OP ran an article about getting started with a backyard flock. But it was written assuming a reliable feed supply. Go ahead and re-read the article bearing in mind that procuring quality feed may be a little more involved than just running to the farm store and grabbing whatever.
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Becoming more involved with your food supply is wonderfully gratifying.
For some people, formulating feed may be the next step on their self-sufficiency journey. If you are really committed to starting your own backyard flock, I truly wish you the best. Just understand that the birds are a responsibility and that you will need to monitor them continually.
And I can’t overstate the importance of communication. If you don’t have in-person friends raising chickens, find a social media group in your area where you can ask questions. I know MeWe has these kinds of groups, but you could also ask around on something like NextDoor.
What about you? What is your chicken and egg situation this year? How much are you paying for eggs if you buy them at the store? If you’re raising chickens, what kind of feed do you use? If you’ve noticed anything unusual with your birds this past year, we’d love to hear about it. Tell us in the comment section below.
About Marie Hawthorne
A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.