As more companies announce they will shift to using cage-free eggs -- most by 2025 -- egg producers are scrambling to meet the growing demand.
More than 150 companies, including McDonalds and Taco Bell, have all pledged to begin sourcing their eggs from cage-free hens.
K-State Research and Extension poultry specialist Scott Beyer thinks the industry will be able to meet the demand for cage-free eggs – if they’re willing to take on additional costs.
“It will affect costs,” Beyer said. “We need new technology. It is more expensive technology. It is a more expensive housing system. It’s a slightly more expensive requirement in labor.
“It’s a little more expensive in feed cost,” he continued. “And you add all those little expenses here and there, and pretty soon they become a little more significant than you think.”
Those increased production costs will be reflected in higher prices at restaurants and grocery stores. As an example, the price of a dozen USDA Grade A Large eggs in May of this year was $1.07. The price of a dozen cage-free Grade A eggs was $2.49.
While there is no set definition for cage-free, hens raised in cage-free systems normally have room to roam around on litter, elevated perches, nest boxes, and areas to peck and scratch. However, there are concerns, including an increased risk for injuries from flying, eggs laid in the wrong locations and higher feeding costs – challenges that Beyer feels egg producers will be able to navigate.
“The purpose of a cage was to get rid of some of those problems,” Beyer said. “And now we are going back to some of those problems. I think we are a pretty smart group of people, and I think we can deal with it, but it is going to a little bit of time.”
Extra time is also going to be needed to meet the expected demand for cage-free eggs. Earlier this year in March, for example, of the 8.6 billion eggs produced, only 8.6% of those were cage-free.