UK egg production has continued in freefall in response to the current poor profitability.

Average egg throughput at packing stations dropped by more than half a million dozen a week during the second quarter to 17.1 m doz, in the wake of earlier substantial monthly cutbacks, according to the latest data from Defra’s survey.

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In total, the UK’s weekly egg production has fallen steadily since it peaked in the last quarter of 2020 at 18.5m doz and is now down by 1.4 million dozen overall. 

This decline is focused on the colony sector, and has been going on since the middle of 2017, but has accelerated sharply over the past 18 months.

Between Oct-Dec 2020 and Apr-Jun this year, colony production fell from 7.2 m doz/week to 5m doz, a drop of 2.2m or 30%. 

Free range

Partially offsetting this has been the continuing expansion of the free-range sector, by 0.8m doz/week since the end of 2020. 

However, even this expansion has stalled since Christmas (this includes an estimate for eggs sold as barn due to the AI housing order).

The contraction looks set to continue through into the autumn. Latest chick placings from Defra for July were down again, by 720,000 year-on-year, to 2.85m for the month. 

Following previous cutbacks, this suggests that the UK laying flock is likely to contract by another 2 million birds during September, October and November to around 33 million (excluding birds up to point-of-lay).

Increased costs

Meanwhile, average packer-to-producer prices made a slight advance in the second quarter. 

Free range prices gained 4p/doz to 101.7p, and colony rose around 8p/doz to 72.1. 

These increases were more than wiped out by increased costs, however, and Poultry Network’s feed cost-to-returns calculation dropped to an all-time low, albeit making a slight uptick when feed costs eased slightly in July (see chart).

Wholesale prices have generally held their own during the summer, with a small 5p/doz gain for Large on both colony and free range. 

“The market’s short for Large,” said Andy Crossland at the CEA. “With the recent hot weather, egg size has been affected and Large is quite difficult to find at the moment,”