“Why are eggs so dang expensive!?” Refrain heard at every street corner, every belly-up and every family gathering, January 2023
I don’t know why eggs are so expensive at the store right now, relative to the $1-2 a dozen that they were a year ago. I’m not deeply involved in the world of macroeconomics or industrial farming. But I do read books, I do have 100 hens, buy feed for chickens, and sell eggs direct to consumer. So as a farmer with experience up and down the poultry supply chain and marketing chain, maybe I can share something insightful or entertaining.
This brief post is a look at the financials of the Farmcraft egg enterprise and a comparison to the financials and operations of industrial eggs.
Female chickens lay eggs. First the brids are called chicks, and then they are called pullets, and then, once they start laying eggs at 5-6 months old, they are called hens. Hens will lay, at most, one egg per day. Never more than one. Super high production varieties, like the white leghorns that lay every white egg you’ve ever bought at the grocery store, can lay around 300 eggs per year. 300 eggs per year is near the highest production possible, and over 52 weeks that’s about an egg 6 out of every 7 days. That’s the highest lay rate that can be achieved, and it requires high production genetics and outstanding management.
Farmcraft uses some heritage varieties (barred rock, speckled sussex, amerucana) and some high production varieties (white leghorn, ISA red). Farmcraft and industrial production use the same varieties of chickens, but the bird is pretty much the last commonality between Farmcraft and industrial production (industrial production is every egg that is available at the grocery store, including the ones that say “pasture raised”. Even the eggs in the local vegetable CSAs aren’t truly pasture raised. Here is an excellent video summing up the issue: https://apppa.org/real-eggs). I’ll need to guess at a lot, but I think I can make some good guesses and I have some numbers from books and podcasts and university papers.
Photo by Luke Kurey at Farmcraft
Before I give the numbers, a small bit of context:
At Farmcraft, hens live in a hoop house during the winter and live free-range on pasture during the summer with a mobile coop for sleeping and laying eggs. We have very little automation for any step of egg production. Industrial production uses a hen house / chicken shed that houses 50,000 to 100,000 hens per shed. The structure has concrete floors, powerful ventilation fans, automated feed and water, adjustable spectrum and intensity lighting, automated conveyer belt egg collection.
The cheapest eggs were about $1.00 per dozen a year ago. Now they are $6 or $8 or something like that. More expensive eggs (although, unfortunately, they are most likely the same thing as the cheaper ones) at the store used to be $6 or $7. Maybe they’re $10 or $12 now.
Our eggs were $5 a dozen the last 2 years. This year, 2023, they are $6 a dozen. I think they need to be about $8 or $9 to make it a worthwhile farm enterprise to scale up. The eggs are probably worth that much and more, given the incredible nutritional potency of our eggs to provide our friends and customers daily vitality and long term health in a conveniently packaged ball of protein and fatty acids and minerals and vitamins, in addition to the morality of what our system provides to the hens and our farm and the broader ecosystem. Regardless, for now, they are $6 a dozen.
Okay. Now the numbers for Farmcraft and Industrial egg production:
So why are grocery store eggs $8 a dozen or whatever they are right now? I have no idea. The numbers above show about $1 of costs for industrial eggs. Maybe somebody out there can tell me the pricing dynamics at play. Maybe some item above is in a supply crunch and is wildly more expensive than my guess, some other supply and demand relationship, bird flu, regulation effects, an egg cartel. I don’t know.
Why are Farmcraft eggs $6 a dozen? Well, I don’t know. Because it felt like the right amount. Or it felt like someone would be willing to pay that amount for supreme quality nutrition, flavor, convenience and to be part of building a better world. By the time we add the labor to distribute and market the eggs, we’re almost doing the work just to come out even. For profits, I am better off doing basically anything else with my time and money. But I like eating eggs, I like chickens and I like providing nutritional bombs of pasture raised vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and protein for my friends and community. Come pick them up at Farmcraft in Plymouth WI. We have dozens of dozens ready for you and your friends and family.
If you are a chicken subscriber (it's only 1 chicken a month, and you should get your friends involved too so they have supreme quality nutrition and an easy at home meal at least once a month), you can add on eggs and they will be delivered to your doorstep every month. Farmcraft eggs are clean and unwashed - they will maintain high quality for a couple weeks on the counter, or a couple months in the refrigerator. They keep a very long time, so buy at least a few dozen (Andrea and I eat 15 dozen a month - that's just 3 eggs a day each). If you're not a chicken subscriber or if you love taking a nice country drive, then come to Farmcraft to pick up as many dozens as you and your friends would like.