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home : opinion : opinion March 28, 2023

1/24/2023 12:01:00 AM
High Egg Prices Won't Be Over Easy

Tammy Wilson
Guest Columnist

Recently, I saw a dozen eggs priced at $8.30. Granted, they were organic eggs at Publix, but still.

The national average is $4.25 per dozen, right now, roughly triple from last January. Agriculture forecasters say that prices will trend downward this year, but don’t expect eggs to cost what they did a year ago.

As most of us know, the avian flu hit last spring during a period of supply chain issues including diesel fuel costs and labor shortages, altered weather patterns. The current bird flu is said to be the deadliest in US history, with 52.7 million birds either dying from the disease or being culled to stem the spread of it. An estimated 10 percent of the US chicken population is already lost.

Meanwhile, if you think it’s time to start a backyard flock, you need to do some figuring.

A pullet won’t be laying until she’s about five or six months old. Starting with newly hatched chicks today, you won’t have eggs until late May at the earliest.

And while backyard eggs may be tastier and more nutritious—and definitely fresher—they aren’t free. There’s a coop build, an adequate run with protection to keep out predators such as hawks and coyotes.

Unless you have your own well, there’s the cost of watering your flock.

Figure in bedding (straw or pine shavings), grit, calcium, crumbles, a heat lamp for the young chicks, feeders and waterers, plus food pellets and snacks. Yes, chickens enjoy treats like any animal. While some table scraps get hens to clucking, they devour meal worms like there’s no tomorrow. Right now, a five-pound bag of dried worms retails for $50. It might seem cheaper to treat the hens to Krispy Kreme.

The shock of egg prices is especially hard to swallow for us because until lately, egg prices have been relatively stable. Turn the clock back to 1984, the price of a dozen Grade A eggs hit $1 for the first time. Sounds almost quaint, doesn’t it?

During World War II, rationing forced cooks to use baking powder and baking soda as a leavening agent in cakes. The result was often a raisin spice cake with the density of a paver.

My grandmother, like many women of her day, kept chickens for “egg money,” a ready source of personal income. I still own one of her wooden crates—with original paper trays—used to market eggs in the 40s. A dozen that sold for 33 cents in 1940 doubled to 58 cents by 1945.

More incredibly, low supplies during the California Gold Rush sent prices as high as $3 per egg, the equivalent of $114 today. That is, if you could find eggs to buy.

My great-great grandfather who trekked his way to California in 1850 and saw more opportunity in groceries than gold mining. As the story goes, his grocery enterprise allowed him to accrue a sizeable nest egg by the time he left Placerville.

Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at [email protected]

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