11 percent of egg-laying hens dead in two months from bird flu

U.S. egg farmers lost 11 percent of their laying hens in two months, the government said – the latest impact of the worst avian influenza epidemic to ever hit the poultry industry. Table-egg production during May, at 6.86 million eggs, was 8-percent lower than in March. The monthly Chicken and Eggs report said there were 271 million hens laying table eggs on U.S. farms on June 1, down by 33.5 million since April 1.

Egg prices at the grocery store rose by 10 cents last week, to an average of $2.05 a dozen for Large white eggs Grade A or better, said the USDA’s National Retail Report. The 10-cent rise followed a 36-cent increase the preceding week.

“Shoppers are finding some reprieve to higher costs as the number of ‘no price’ specials increases and usually is attached to the purchase of an additional item,” said the report. No-price specials can be a “buy one, get one free” offer.

The USDA forecasts egg production will be down by 5 percent this year, compared to 2014, and the average price of a dozen eggs will be 15-percent higher, a record $1.63 a dozen for Grade A Large eggs.

Since the epidemic began last December in the Pacific Northwest, the USDA has confirmed 223 outbreaks in poultry flocks affecting 48.1 million fowl, mostly chickens and turkeys. Iowa, the No. 1 egg state, and Minnesota, the top turkey producer, are the hardest-hit. The USDA says 31.7 million birds in Iowa died from the flu or were destroyed to prevent spread of the disease. In Minnesota, 9 million fowl were lost.

Some 31.4 million layers were “rendered, died, destroyed, composted or disappeared” during May, nearly four times the usual mortality rate, according to the Chicken and Eggs report. During April, 14.6 million layers died or were destroyed, compared to 6.9 million layers for April 2014.

The poultry industry and the USDA are sponsoring the “Avian influenza and poultry trade international conference” through Wednesday in Baltimore.