Egg Industry’s Top Egg Company survey reflect the results of an eventful 2014 for U.S. egg producers. The two largest egg producers remained the same in this year’s survey with Cal-Maine Foods and Rose Acre Farms holding down the first and second positions with 34.2 and 24.8 million hens, respectively. Rembrandt Enterprises rose from the fifth position in 2013 survey to the third position in 2014, adding 1.1 million hens to increase the company’s flock to 14.5 million head of hens on December 31.
Moark LLC sold two of its three divisions in 2014 and fell from the third spot in the survey to the 15th position, with 6.5 million hens at year’s end in its remaining Northeastern operations. Daybreak Foods remained in the fourth position in the rankings with 13.5 million hens. Trillium Farm Holdings increased by 2.3 million hens in 2014 to move to the fifth spot in the rankings with 11.4 million hens.
The Top Egg company survey is conducted annually and the results reported are comprised from a combination of company-submitted information and estimates made based on input from publicly reported information and industry sources. The top 65 egg producers in the U.S. had an estimated 286.7 million hens on December 31, 2014.
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Profiles of the 21 largest U.S. egg producers are presented in this issue and online in the Top Poultry Company database, where you can also find profiles of egg companies 22 through 65 and top producers from other countries.
Future of U.S. hen housing
The Egg Bill, which was proposed national legislation that would have made the hen welfare agreement between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States the law of the land, required a transition of U.S. egg production out of conventional cages. State ballot initiatives, such as Proposition 2 in California, have been interpreted by some as requiring hens to be housed cage-free, but the state of California has interpreted Proposition 2 in a manner which allows hens to be housed in conventional cages if the hens are given more space. All this activity has not led to a clear-cut view of what hen housing will look like in the U.S. in the future.
Egg producers were asked what they thought the rough breakout would be for layer housing in the U.S. in the year 2025. The average response from the 29 egg producers who answered this question was 61.7 percent in conventional cages, 24.7 percent in enriched cages and 13.8 percent cage-free (Figure 1).
There was a very broad range in the responses to this question; for instance six egg producers predicted that 90 percent or more of hens will still be housed in conventional cages in 2025 while another two predicted that 10 percent or less of hens would be housed in conventional cages by then. Only five egg producers predicted that 50 percent or more of U.S. hens will be housed in enriched cages by 2025. Predictions for the percentage of U.S. hens that will be housed cage-free in 2025 topped out at 30, and nine of the 29 producers answering this question predict that at least 20 percent of U.S. hens will be cage-free by 2025.
Housing expansion in 2014 and 2015
Twelve of the egg producers responding to this survey report that they added new buildings in 2014 that cumulatively will house nearly 5.9 million hens. The projects reported range in size from 51,000 hens up to just over 1.1 million hens. Three companies report re-caging existing buildings to provide space for approximately 0.8 million hens in 2014.
Egg producers report that they are bullish on expansion in 2015. Seventeen of the 31 egg producers responding to this survey report that they will add housing with enriched/enrichable cages in 2015. The reported projects total space for 7.1 million hens, and the projects range in size from just over 1.1 million hens down to 0.12 million.
Ten egg producers report that they will build housing for 3.7 million cage-free hens in 2015. These projects range in size from 21,000 hens to 1.5 million. Construction projects undertaken in one year might not be completed until the following year, so egg producers were asked how many hens they expected to be added to their laying flock in 2015. Eighteen egg producers expect to put 8.5 million more hens into production in 2015 than they had in 2014.
There are two important factors to consider when evaluating the answers to the questions asked about adding hen capacity. The first is that the 31 companies that completed the entire survey form represent around 50 percent of the total U.S. layer flock. The second is that Proposition 2 required that shell eggs sold into California come from hens that are either kept cage-free or housed in cages with a minimum of 116 square inches provided per bird.
It is known that some housing in California was taken out of production completely and that other housing in California and some outside of California now contains fewer hens than in previous years in order to produce Proposition 2-compliant eggs. For instance, if it takes 25 million hens to provide the shell egg needs for California and 85 percent of these birds are housed in cages, then the conversion from 67 square inches per bird (UEP-certified standard) to 116 square inches would require the addition of around 7.2 million square feet of cage space. These 7.2 million square feet of cage space could house more than 15 million hens at 67 square inches per bird. So, the housing additions and cage space reported being added in this survey could be largely consumed by the Proposition 2 conversions that have taken place.
Collective movement out of conventional cages?
Egg producers were asked whether they agreed with the following statement: “I think U.S. egg producers will find some way to collectively transition out of conventional cage housing for hens.” Nineteen egg producers (63 percent) agreed with that statement and 11 (37 percent) disagreed.
Finally, egg producers were asked which factor they thought would be most important in determining the future of conventional cage housing for hens in the U.S. Almost half of the egg producers who answered this question said that pressure from animal rights/welfare activists on retailers and foodservice operators would be the most important factor in deciding the future of conventional cages in the U.S. (Table 2). Consumer demand was cited by 22 percent of egg producers, collective action by U.S. egg producers was named by 15 percent, and state/local ballot initiatives was selected by 12 percent.