News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.

Food Safety and Processing Perspective

Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.
Hens / Cage-Free Laying Systems / Egg Production

How long will the US conversion to cage-free eggs take?

Availability of equipment installers, construction crews, capital and personnel trained to manage cage-free systems will all play a role in how long it will take egg producers to convert from caged to cage-free hens.

Even the popular press has done a good job explaining why converting to cage-free egg production won’t happen overnight, but I still get questions from doubters.

April 12, 2016

In January 2016, Wired Magazine did a pretty good job of explaining why a conversion of the U.S. egg industry from just over 90 percent cage-housed hens to 100 percent cage-free hens couldn’t happen overnight. Similar articles appeared in several other magazines and newspapers, but I still get inquiries asking why most major cage-free purchase pledges use 2025 as the end date.

I got a variation on this question recently from a consultant who said he understood that legacy operations would take time to convert existing houses and to build the new ones required to keep hen numbers the same, because cage-free production requires more square footage per bird. But, he wanted to know how long it would take to convert the industry if new players entered the market.

New entrants into the U.S. egg business are going to have some of the same people and equipment constraints as the existing players, unless they can bring experienced resources in from other cage-free production markets. I suppose a European egg producer could bring in personnel from existing operations to train employees in the U.S. how to operate cage-free systems and manage the flocks. You could even bring in key individuals to train new equipment installation crews if you could afford to throw enough money at the task. But, you still need to buy land and get all the necessary permits before the first bulldozer can get going.

Can a new player or even existing competitors really leap frog the competition to cage free and pick up market share? I suppose it is a possibility that egg producers will have to consider if they have customers pushing them to convert to cage-free production at a faster rate.