It’s the time of year when things are evening out for those of us with livestock. We have set the pace and are beginning to settle into our smooth summer stride. Most of the animals are now busy raising their young, chewing their cud, and enlarging their wallows. For the people raising laying hens this is the time of year when there is an explosion in production. Many people tend to begin their flocks in the spring and have not had the experience of what the increase in sunlight does to poultry’s ability to lay eggs. This is their most productive time of the year and many of our flocks will be producing about an egg per day per chicken.
Along with the increase in egg production there is a marked increase in sign production along roadways, in driveways, and at farm stands. Most of these signs will proclaim that in that cooler or under the simple market stand there are eggs for sale. Some will say free range, some will proclaim happy or healthy chickens, and others will inform you that they are organic. Despite the myriad of ways in which these eggs are raised and marketed they all have one thing in common, they are all under-priced.
Since I began teaching the beginner chicken class this year we have always made it a point of discussing the business side of raising hens and selling eggs. The ultimate goal of any livestock enterprise is to at least break even when it comes to money, but all too often I find that growers are reluctant to take this aspect seriously. As a producer myself, I fully understand the joy and education that animals can bring to your life. For many, this is all the payback that they need, but I find that there is one aspect they are not aware of. When you heavily discount the price of your eggs you may not be concerned about the damage it does to your bottom line but you may be damaging someone else’s profits. The true cost of raising healthy chickens who lay healthy eggs can be high. In this one analysis by the Weston A. Price Foundation, Bill Hyde analyzes his costs associated with his hens. At final tally he estimates that each dozen eggs he produces cost him in the neighborhood of $11.50! Granted, this is a very comprehensive financial analysis including labor, material depreciation, and does not account for resale of stew hens, but it represents a compelling argument for higher egg costs.
So what does this mean for those of us producing healthy eggs for profit? The roadside stands selling eggs on the cheap or dumping their abundant spring eggs in the open market are making it harder for others to make a profit from eggs. The beauty of living in a free market economy is there are not consensuses or rules and the producers are forced to adjust to the market. For some this will mean they will have to lower their prices this time of year, for others it will mean they can longer sustain their poultry enterprise. If we could get everyone to raise their prices to reflect the true cost of their particular production model, we could level the playing field and support those producers that are counting on those dollars to keep them viable. Those one or two more dollars are not going to break the bank of the consumer but the added 20 or 50 dollars a week would be a real boon to a producer who may already be struggling to make ends meet.
So as you make your way out to the chalkboard over the frozen front lawn to set your egg price, consider all the cold mornings when you forgot your gloves, or your shoe got wet when you stepped in puddle, the aching back from shoveling manure, or heartache of an animal that did not make it, and what that is worth to you. We all want the best for the producer and the consumer and understanding your unique financial situation is the best way to make that possible.