THE UK’s shrinking laying flock really began to bite in October, as egg shortages intensified and wholesale supplies all but vanished.

According to Defra figures, packing station output fell by 9m doz in the third quarter compared with the second, to 213m doz.

Compared with the same quarter of last year, UK output was down by over 22m doz.

This level of production puts the clock back by seven years, and there are still more cutbacks in the pipeline.

Placings of day-old pullets in September were down again year-on-year for the 10th time in the last 12 months.

Weekly chick numbers fell to 0.55m, the lowest for seven years.

On top of this, culling for Avian Influenza is further depleting bird numbers.

Therefore, the UK laying flock is down by 5.5m from its peak in December 2020 and is likely to drop by another 1.3m birds by February.

Wholesale prices have soared as every available egg is mopped up by contracted demand.

At the Central Egg Agency, prices have risen by 30p/doz across the board for both free range and colony to record levels.

However, very few eggs are being traded at these prices.

“Things are very, very scarce,” said Andy Crossland at CEA. “The eggs just aren’t out there, to the point where the wholesale market is pretty well starved. There are some imports coming over, but at a price.”

Consequently, a lot of the smaller wholesale customers, such as cafes, bars and delis, were now buying through retail, which fuelled the fire even more, he said.

“Many packers are looking for free range at the moment, and processors are very short on seconds, so it’s generally very tight.

“There are big problems within the free range sector, and being able to get the prices off the retailers and back to the packers and then back to the producers. The rewards aren’t there as yet.

“It’s difficult. Costs are rising everywhere. Retailers need to be paying that bit more for it all to settle down,” said Mr Crossland.