THE hoped-for recovery in the UK laying flock took an early pause in February when day-old pullet placings fell back once again.

Total chick numbers in the month dropped by 124,000, or nearly 5%, compared with a year before.

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What’s more, placings in that previous February had been down on a year earlier, so the combined fall over two years amounted to 650,000, or 21%.

This means that even by this coming July, the laying flock will likely only be back to where it was at the start of this year, at around 32.8m birds in their first 52 weeks of lay.

And that is still down by more than six million birds on the all-time peak in December 2020 (see chart).

Meanwhile, wholesale prices remain unrealistically high for both colony and free range (see chart).

Despite the persistent egg shortages, returns to producers have yet to climb near to a level to encourage a higher level of production, given the greatly increased costs and risks from avian influenza.

With many colony units now permanently out of production ahead of the 2025 supermarkets’ deadline, the economic outlook is holding back the needed investment in alternative capacity.

“There’s been no real change in anything”, said Andy Crossland at the Central Egg Agency.

“From a business point of view it’s just as tight.”

He pointed out retail demand for egg was still strong, despite price increases in the shops.

“Although egg prices have moved on as rapidly as they have, with everything else moving on at the same sort of pace, eggs are still relatively good value,” he said.

There is a possibility that shortages might ease slightly after Easter when demand dips in the summer months, he added.

“But we are probably that far behind now. There’s a lot of supply chain to be filled yet before we see any surplus egg,” said Mr Crossland.