VIDEO: Turkey hen supplies limited ahead of holidays

It's possible not everyone will get exactly the bird they want for Thanksgiving 2021.

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Thomas Elam provides insight on the U.S. poultry industry. (Courtesy of Thomas Elam)
Thomas Elam provides insight on the U.S. poultry industry. (Courtesy of Thomas Elam)

It's possible not everyone will get exactly the bird they want for Thanksgiving 2021. 

In a WATT Poultry Chat interview, Dr. Thomas Elam, president of FarmEcon LLC, examined turkey supply trends over the past year. He said consumers will pay more and have a smaller selection when preparing their holiday meals in 2021. 

Austin Alonzo: I understand, you want to start off with the hen market.

Thomas Elam: Most people probably don't realize this, but hens make up the vast bulk of our Thanksgiving meal. And our Christmas meal. Hens are raised to lighter weights, typically 12 to 15 pounds. The big toms are raised to 25 to 28 pounds way too big for the Thanksgiving table. 

So we're gonna take a look at some hen numbers. I've got a chart that shows 2020-21 year to date through October hen slaughter. It's down about 3% and we'll see why in a minute. Also, the frozen stocks as of the end of September, are down an astounding 21%. And that's in head, it's reported in pounds, but I converted it to head. So our total hen supply as of the first the November and end of October is down 5%. 

Now, does that mean that people are going to have to do without a turkey? Well, probably not. But it could be that the stocks in stores are going to be a bit limited, your choice of weights might be a little bit limited. I think everybody will be able to buy one, but the prices are probably going to go up a bit this year. And I think that's already been reported by some news companies that do surveys on wholesale retail turkey prices. 

So, why? Well, you'd have to look very far. This next chart shows soybean meal and corn prices. During the time that producers were planning production for the fall market. They produce turkeys year round, of course, and hens are produced year around and put into storage for this big surge in Thanksgiving demand. And those plans were being made at the first of this year. And if you look at January 2021 corn and soybean meal prices, you'll see that they had gone up significantly. 

So it's no wonder that maybe producers are a little bit conservative in terms of planning for spring and summer production of hens. And sure enough, when we look at frozen hen prices, we see that they have escalated from about we $1, 100 cents, per pound a little less to 140. So about a 40% increase in these hen prices. And some of that's going to get translated into retail. How much we don't know because a lot of grocery stores have prepared big Thanksgiving promotions, price promotions for families. And it's very well possible that you will see still see some good prices in the grocery stores but they will probably be up some from last year. 

Will you be able to find a hen? Yes, probably. Some people because these higher prices will probably switch to hams or other meats or may even buy a light tom. And your range of weights available, you might not be able to find one exactly the size you're looking for as you peruse through the frozen stocks in your grocery store. You may have to buy one little lighter, a little heavier. But I think everybody that wants a hen can get one just cost a little more and it may not be the size you wanted it and maybe not even the brand you wanted. You may have to switch to a different brand from what you usually buy.

So nothing to be alarmed about. We all know what's happening with inflation. And this is just another symptom of another price in the grocery store that's gone up and it's been widespread throughout the year. With all the supply disruptions we've had, this is just one more.

This transcript edited for length and clarity.

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