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UK’s laying hen flock could hit a record high

The UK laying flock could be heading for an all-time record high after two strong months of day-old pullet chick placings.

Now that a fuller picture has emerged of chick placings since the start of the year, it seems that the pandemic and lockdown has proved less of a setback than first appeared.

See also: More poultry industry market data

July itself witnessed the second-highest monthly figure for chick placings on record (after October 2017), at 4.35m.

However, July is always recorded in Defra statistics as a five-week month, which gives this monthly figure a head start over 4-week months.

So when the data is converted into average placings per week, then a total of four months this year were among the seven highest on record, with February, May and June joining July (see chart).

As a result, although pullet placings in March and April were unusually low, the total for the year to date is still 2.5m greater than the same period of last year.

Sharp climb

This means that the overall size of the UK flock of birds in lay looks set to bottom out in September and then climb sharply by around 2m birds by Christmas (see chart).

The placings data gives no indication of the split between free range and colony but it is a reasonable guess that the growth will prove to be in free range production.

Back in the present, the egg market is still trending on the quiet side after all the excitement of the post-lockdown period.

Prices

After a bit of a wobble in July, free-range wholesale prices have returned to the level they have held since last November, which is at the upper end of prices over the last three years (see chart).

It is a different story for colony eggs which have suffered most from the downturn in the hospitality and foodservice sectors, and prices are down at the bottom of their 3-year range.

Sales average

“We’re all hoping that a bank holiday and the schools going back will lift demand a little bit,” said the Central Egg Agency’s Andy Crossland.

“Although you get the seasonal variations and the touristy hotspots do quite well, the rest of it’s been pretty quiet through August.

“Sales have been very average. But it does tend to lift after a bank holiday and into September, so hopefully, it will do the same this year.”

“It wouldn’t take much for it to get tight again, and then we’d be in a better place, but it’s a strange one, and we’re all in new territory (with coronavirus).”