US egg producers expanding, adding cage-free hens

U.S. egg producers lost about 40 million layers and pullets as a result of the avian influenza outbreaks in the Upper Midwest in 2015.

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1602 E Itopco Table

The top 5 U.S. egg producers house about half of the total U.S. table egg layer flock.

U.S. egg producers lost about 40 million layers and pullets as a result of the avian influenza outbreaks in the Upper Midwest in 2015. Egg producers had begun restocking many of the affected farms by year’s end, but the farm depopulations have still shuffled Egg Industry’s Top Egg Company survey rankings, which report the number of hens housed on December 31, 2015.

Top 5 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 36.38 and 25.59 million hens, respectively (Table 1). Michael Foods climbs to the third spot in the rankings this year after its parent company, Post Holdings, acquired Willamette Egg Farms bringing the company’s hen total to 13.45 million.

Hillandale Farms increased to 12.5 million hens from 9.0 million the prior year as a result of the purchase of Moark’s Eastern U.S. egg farms and moves to the fourth spot in the rankings. Trillium Farm Holdings had 11.4 million hens this year and last and maintains its spot at No. 5 in the survey.

Avian flu’s impact

Several egg producers were still feeling the effects of avian flu-caused farm depopulations at the end of 2015. Rembrandt Foods fell from the third in last year’s rankings to the sixth spot this year, because of losses in the avian flu outbreak. The company had 11.06 million hens housed at the end of 2015 versus 14.5 million the prior year. The company expects to have its hen numbers near or at pre-outbreak levels by the end of 2016.

Center Fresh Group had 8.75 million hens on December 31, 2014, but had only 4.80 million hens on December 31, 2015. The company expects to restock its farms by the end of 2016 and have 10.3 million hens.

Centrum Valley Farms LP had 6.1 million hens in this year’s survey, down from 7.5 million last year. The company expects to have its hen numbers back to about 7.2 million head by the end of 2016.

Dakota Layers didn’t begin restocking its avian flu losses until January 2016, so it had no hens on December 31, 2015. The company expected to start shipping eggs by the end of January 2016. It is not known how long it will take for the company, which had 1.2 million hens in last year’s survey, to fully restock.

New egg producers in survey

Prairie Star Farms enters the Top Egg Company survey this year ranking as the 11th-largest U.S. egg company, with 7.24 million layers. The company is located in Ohio, and it is marketing the combined production of Hoosier Pride, J Star Farms, Rindler Poultry and Ross-Medford Farms.

Vital Farms enters the survey at No. 62, with 0.40 million pasture-raised hens. The Austin, Texas-based company is a supplier to Whole Foods and uses a network of 90 contract farmers to produce its eggs.

Other big movers in 2015  

Arizona-based Hickman’s Egg Ranch added 1.9 million hens in 2015 and moved up to seventh in the rankings at year’s end. Gemperle Farms, with 4.65 million hens, moved up from the 34th spot in the rankings last year to the 21st this year with the acquisition of Valley Fresh Foods near year-end.

Egg Industry’s Top Egg Company survey is conducted annually and the results reported are composed of a combination of company-submitted information and estimates made based on input from publicly reported information and industry sources. The top 62 egg producer’s in the U.S. had an estimated 281.8 million hens on December 31, 2015.

Egg producer’s expansion plans for 2016

In each of the past two Top Egg Company surveys, egg producers were asked to report expansion projects they planned to undertake in 2016. In this year’s survey, 30 egg producers with approximately 130 million hens in production on December 31, 2015, reported expansion intentions for 2016.

Fifteen egg producers reported they will add capacity for almost 6 million cage-free hens in 2016 (Figure 1). The reported increases in cage-free hens varied from as few as 80,000 to as many as 1.4 million birds.

Nine egg producers report that they will add housing for enriched/enrichable cages for more than 4.6 million hens. The expansions range in size from a low of 71,000 to a high of 701,000.

One egg producer reported it will add conventional cage housing for 0.7 million hens. 

2016 Laying Hen Expansion By Housing Type

More than 50 percent of the reported U.S. egg industry expansion will be cage-free in 2016.

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