Cage-free egg inventory recovers following avian flu outbreak

Line chart showing cage-free egg inventory, cage-free egg prices, and highly pathogenic avian flu events between November 2023 and April 2024.

Cage-free hens make up an increasing portion of the total U.S. egg-laying flock. In March 2024, the cage-free flock was reported at about 40 percent (124.8 million layers) of the U.S. flock. However, a wave of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in egg-laying hens in late 2023 reduced the inventory of cage-free eggs into February 2024. An estimated 13.6 million birds, both cage-free and caged, were depopulated following an outbreak spanning November 2023 to January 2024. This depopulation included about 4 million hens from California’s cage-free flock. California laws require its retailers to source eggs from cage-free layers regardless of the State of origin. To make up for the shortfall, cage-free eggs from other States were shipped to the California market. The resulting spike in demand prompted the advertised national average retail price for cage-free eggs to peak at $5.26 per dozen on January 12, 2024. Weekly wholesale prices for eggs in California increased to a high of $5.59 per dozen in the following weeks. U.S. inventories of cage-free eggs have since recovered, up from their low the week of January 22, 2024, and continued to climb into April 2024. Prices of cage-free eggs have also returned to a typical range. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, March 2024, and has been updated with recent data.

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