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Egg Prices Are Up. Should You Buy A Chicken?

Updated: Feb 24

Producer: Ying Yee Wong Reporter: J.Sidney Malone

Egg prices has hit a record high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the consumer price index for eggs last month rose from an average price of $1.93 per dozen to $4.82 per dozen in the Midwest region over the level of the same time in the previous year.

"It's what we called "high path" A.I.," said Ken Koelkebeck, an Animal Science Professor Emeritus and poultry expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He explained "high path" Avian Influenza (HPAI), also known as "bird flu," is often fatal to chicken and turkey quickly. "There is no vaccine, so the only way to control is to depopulate the whole farm, not just one house but the whole farm." In 2022, an estimated 58.4 million domestic birds died in more than 300 commercial farms in 47 states in the United States.

Even though HPAI is a highly contagious disease, Professor Koelkebeck said people do not have to worry about getting sick because humans cannot get HPAI by eating eggs.

The depopulation of farm chickens also means the supply of eggs will drop significantly. "Herd numbers are gone from 330 million down to about 305 (million), so with that we have lost egg supply. It pushes the prices up," said Koelkebeck.

While the decrease in supply led to the rise in egg prices, some customers decided to raise their chickens on their backyard farms. 11-year-old Ezra Chenowyth is a chicken owner, "we got them at the start of Covid. Kind of, I guess you could say as an emotional support animal. I like animals."

Chenowyth’s family bought a half dozen chickens when the pandemic started. During that time, grocery stores were out of stock in many foods, including eggs. They thought this way could help them to get enough eggs for everyday consumption. However, their chickens only lay a few eggs daily, so it is impossible not to buy eggs in grocery stores.

On average, a family with six people should raise nine chickens to produce 34 to 54 eggs per week. However, according to the City of Champaign, each household can only raise six hens. The refined number of raised chickens cannot afford families with more than six people in egg consumption. Moreover, the setup of a backyard coop is costly. The price can be ranged from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Professor Koelkebeck said buying eggs at grocery stores is more convenient than raising chicken at home, "it's (setting up backyard coop) an interesting idea, but it takes a lot of work. "

Ezra Chenowyth's backyard chicken

Though last month's egg prices were at a record high, the consumer may soon see relief at the grocery store.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there have not been any new bird-flu outbreaks among commercial table-egg laying birds since December 20, 2022. The recent trend of egg prices is slowly decreasing as the farm repopulates their chickens. Professor Koelkebeck suggested people should buy eggs instead of raising chickens at home due to money and time cost.

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