Egg prices increased dramatically as consumers started to change their behaviour and habits with the Covid 19 outbreak.
Consumers had been stockpiling basic food items including milk, eggs and bread to prepare for potential quarantines. But as lockdowns were introduced and people had to stay at home actual consumption increased. People are no longer eating out, so the demand for eggs is shifting from the foodservice sector to the retail channel, as consumers are cooking more meals at home. There is also an increase in home-baking activities as some are taking to stress-baking to cope with isolation and others bake to keep their kids entertained and combat boredom. Egg consumption also increased to replace more expensive forms of protein in households that are seeing a decline in their income as a result of Covid 19 job losses.
As a result retail stores are struggling to meet the demand and then there is Easter just around the corner. On top of concerns for not being able to meet demand the poultry industry in the US is concerned that the ongoing labour shortage could be exacerbated due to the impact of the Covid 19 crisis.
How are egg producers responding
Egg producers are uncertain of how long the impact of the virus on the egg market will last, so are unlikely to increase the number of hens in response to the increased demand for eggs caused by Covid 19. However, some egg producers aim to keep hens longer than they normally would to boost the number of eggs produced and meet demand. They are converting food service lines into retail where possible to meet the changing consumer demand.
Like in many other industries Covid 19 may also be a catalyst to digitization of operations, meaning that egg producers could adopt AI and IoT based solutions faster than they would otherwise.
This could include tools that enable farm managers to share data within the production team, while reducing the amount of time needed to be spent in face-to-face interactions, which can help make better decisions faster but also reduce the risk of spreading the virus. AI in the form of robots, which reduce floor egg incidence and the need for human intervention. IoT devices and species specific sensors for the poultry house can be used to capture data on bird weight, light levels, temperature, water usage, ammonia levels, which not only allows real-time observation at all times to manage chicken houses remotely, but also provides the opportunity for predictive modelling. For example it allows producers to predict when pullets reach their target weight and help farmers make corrections in management as needed.
Advantage of resilience in laying hens
Resilience in animals has been defined as the capacity of an animal to be minimally affected by disturbances or to rapidly return to the state pertained before exposure to a disturbance. Breeding for resilience in laying hen is being proposed as a strategy to obtain trouble-free hens which are easy-to-manage and enjoy greater health. This again would mean less need for human interventions, with less fluctuations in hen performance and greater laying persistence in the flock. So more resilient laying hens would also mean an advantage to cope with some of the challenges on managing flocks imposed by Covid 19. There is also the possibility to support resilience in laying hens by nutritional means and feeding for adaptive capacity.