Kentucky egg producers facing disease outbreak, inflation amid price surge
A widespread outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is one of several reasons cited by industry experts for a surge in egg prices over the last year. Now, Kentucky poultry farmers are working to better protect their flocks from disease.
This nationwide loss of chickens – one of the deadliest outbreaks of the disease in the country’s history with more than 50 million killed so far – has contributed to a massive increase in egg prices over the last year.
U.S. Bureau of Labor data indicates that a dozen eggs cost an average $4.25 in December 2022 compared to $1.78 a year ago. A map recently released by online grocery delivery service Instacart shows how much “eggflation” is impacting prices around the country, with Kentucky prices increasing roughly 59% and Tennessee’s going up by 60%. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, a dozen eggs will set you back nearly $10 to Kentucky’s average price of $4.51.
The majority of chickens impacted by disease were laying hens – chickens bred and raised specifically for commercial egg production – due to their longer lifespans. Broiler hens – which are raised for their meat – are typically slaughtered after just seven weeks on commercial farms and don’t live long enough to contract the disease.
Murray State assistant professor for agribusiness economics Jeffrey Young says poultry farmers have their work cut out for them when it comes to stopping the spread of disease.
“In order for egg prices to decrease the disease has to be controlled,” Young said. “Producers are doing everything in their power to do that. [They are] culling any infected birds as necessary and reducing flock sizes as necessary to help slow the spread of the disease.”
HPAI doesn’t normally infect humans, instead spreading among wild birds, domesticated poultry and other animals.
Preventative measures for the flu have proven difficult because the virus can spread through migrating birds that can make their way into poultry farms.
Young says smaller farms in the region have an advantage against HPAI because their chickens aren’t in confined areas.
Angela Magney is the owner of Magney Legacy Ridge Farm in Princeton. She says it is hard to protect her chickens from avian flu because they live outside, though she says none of her birds have contracted avian flu. Even still, she has had to raise her prices by 50 cents because of a rise in feed price.
“We are concerned but there is not much that we can do,” Magney said. “We have 65 birds that live outside. Any wild bird can come in and infect our birds but so far we haven’t had any problems.”
Young and University of Kentucky poultry specialist Jacquie Jacob said some Kentucky egg producers are switching things up. Some are shifting to cage-free methods, allowing chickens to have some free range and decreasing the likelihood of contracting diseases, and others bringing their cage-free chickens inside. Other egg producers are even testing wild birds that come to the area in an effort to detect the disease before it can spread to their flock.
Jacob said even though producers are taking these precautions, no states have mandated them.
“Commercial producers have been keeping good biosecurity and have kept people and wild birds from [coming in contact with] the chickens,” Jacob said.
HPAI and inflation-caused increases in production costs, including for feed, have both been cited by several in the livestock industry as the cause for price increases in the past year.