Egg Prices on the Rise

Have you noticed that eggs cost a little more than they used to?

According to the USDA, prices will stay up for the next few months as farmers rebuild their flocks after bird flu affected millions of hens.

These higher prices may also prompt egg lovers to wonder why some cartons are priced higher than others. One factor impacting cost is the type of housing system the hens live in while producing those eggs.

Researchers with the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply recently took a close look at how three different housing systems impact not only cost, but other factors as well, including egg safety and animal well-being. Check out an infographic summarizing their findings here.

In the study, researchers examined two flocks of hens over a three-year period, comparing hens in conventional, enriched colony and cage-free hen housing. When purchasing eggs, it’s helpful to better understand the positive and negative aspects of sustainability the research found, including those related to the cost of production in each of the systems.

In cage-free housing, hens had more room to exhibit natural behaviors, such as dust bathing and attempted flight. This exercise helped them develop stronger bones than in the other systems, though those positive aspects were accompanied by negative ones as well. The mortality rate for hens in the cage-free housing was more than double that of the conventional or enriched colony housing, largely due to cannibalism and aggression. This, as well as higher costs for labor, feed, operating and capital costs, contributed to these eggs being 36 percent more expensive to produce than those from conventional housing.

Eggs produced in enriched colony housing had higher labor, operating and capital costs than conventional housing, which resulted in the eggs being 13 percent more expensive to produce.

Eggs from conventional housing proved to be the most affordable, though the ability for hens in this type of housing to exhibit natural behaviors was limited. This system, in which hens are housed in stacked rows of cages, is used to produce 95 percent of eggs in the United States. The study identified that conventional cages had the lowest mortality rate among hens and also required the least amount of labor to maintain, each of which lowered the cost of production.

The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply has recently finalized its commercial-scale study of housing alternatives for egg-laying hens in the U.S. For additional insight into the positive and negative aspects of each hen housing system, you can review the research results here.

Have higher prices changed how many eggs you buy? Tell us in the comments.

Image: “six eggs” by Roger H. Goun is licensed under CC BY 2.0.