The UK’s layer flock took a surprise downturn in the New Year when average weekly pullet placings slipped to their lowest monthly figure for at least five years.

It means that compared with the same month last year, total day-old pullet placings during January were down by 680,000, a fall of 20%.

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By the time these chicks come into lay around June, the UK laying flock will be on a downward trend again, reversing a likely and substantial increase in March.

This development should help keep the egg market on a firmer footing going into the summer.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices bounced back in February after the post-Christmas dip, helped by pancake day and a tightening of the market on the Continent, reports the Central Egg Agency (CEA).

Tight market

Colony prices were firm, with size Large gaining 25p/doz during the month, and Mediums up to 35p/doz. Free-range made the most significant gains on Mediums as well, rising 20p/doz.

“The market is very tight, very short, and there’s not much of anything around, to be fair,” said the CEA’s Andy Crossland.

“We’ve had pancake day, and the Continent is short as well with a lot of boiling and painting going on, plus the introduction of new paperwork on imported egg products (from the end of January). This has disrupted the flow of Continental stuff coming into the UK.”

Mr Crossland pointed out that this is the year when the industry will have to make its adjustments in readiness for the retailers’ general move out of the colony next year.

“If colony units are going out, they will start phasing out for 2025. In June we normally see demand fall into the summer, but if free-range isn’t expanded at the same rate, it will remain tight.

“Although they are not in the same category, the overall number of birds in lay is going to be back a bit.”