Avian Flu to Speed Cage-Free Hens?

June 1, 2022
The avian flu outbreak may give egg producers a chance to speed up conversions to cage-free housing, the president of Cal-Maine Foods told a recent conference.

The avian flu outbreak may give egg producers a chance to speed up conversions to cage-free housing, the president of Cal-Maine Foods told a recent conference.

Faced with repopulating herds of hens affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), producers might slow down the process to give themselves time to build cage-free facilities, Dolph Baker, president of Cal-Maine, told the 2022 BMO Global Farm to Market Conference. He said he expects the repopulation process to be slower for that reason than it was in 2015, the year of the last major outbreak of HPAI.

Cage-free eggs are in demand because of new laws, in California and elsewhere, that prohibit the sale of eggs from hens that were caged – even those laid in other states. A report from an advocacy organization stated that 92% of the egg processors it surveyed were complying with cage-free mandates.

Cal-Maine, the largest U.S. egg producer, regularly gets calls from smaller producers proposing an acquisition. The problem, Baker told the conference, is that many of these smaller, often family-owned companies don’t have cage-free production, and Cal-Maine prioritizes converting its existing facilities to cage-free over buying other companies and converting them.