ALTHOUGH moves are finally being made to address the decline in hen numbers, they are late in the day, and it will be many months before hen numbers begin to rise again.

The latest figures for day-old pullet placings for October show yet another decline, down by 100,000 chicks year-on-year.

See also: Why are there egg shortages in supermarkets?

This means that the earliest that national laying flock numbers can begin to rise again is around April, assuming a pick-up in placings in November.

Between now and then, a further shrinkage of the flock by half a million birds or more seems likely (see chart, below).

That is before avian influenza is factored in – on 26 and 27 November alone more than 80,000 hens were confirmed as having the virus.

Wholesale prices on the spot market have already reached unrealistic levels and rose again during November.

Lack of surplus

For Large free-range eggs, prices are now some 60p/doz above previous records, but this only reflects a lack of any surplus to trade, according to the Central Egg Agency (CEA).

“We are very short of all egg types,” said CEA’s Andy Crossland. “Spot trading is very difficult at the moment because there is just no surplus around.

“Any business right now in the industry that relies on surplus egg is going to struggle.”

He expressed concern about the way forward from here.

‘Lots of issues’

“Normally, when we have had markets like this in years gone by, everybody would be piling birds back in, and in six months’ time we would be wondering what to do with the surplus again.

“It’s not going to happen this time around. Everyone’s got used to having cheap money, and that’s not available any more.

“There are farms that can’t get pullet finance that won’t be restocking. There are lots of issues.”

“The danger is that if Europe recovers quicker than the UK, we may see even more European eggs on supermarket shelves.”