Have you noticed a scarcity of eggs on the shelves? It’s not just your local stores that are feeling the squeeze; the Great New Zealand Egg shortage is currently sweeping the whole nation! If eggs are a regular component of your diet, then you’re surely feeling the eggflation!
The egg shortage across New Zealand was triggered by the government ban on battery-farmed hens that was implemented on 1st January 2023. Although chicken farmers across the country have been adapting to the impending rule changes over the last decade, other factors mean that they are unable to meet current demand.
With a scandalous price rise to around $6.00 a dozen, we’re paying nearly 20% more than we were a year ago, according to Interest.co.nz. The relative shortage means supermarkets in some areas have even resorted to rationing customers to just two dozen eggs per transaction.
Why is there an egg shortage in New Zealand?
The truth is this issue is not as out-of-the-blue as it may seem. A series of events over the last decade have all contributed to the current egg shortage in New Zealand. Most significant of these is the change of legislation with regards to the farming of chickens.
Cracking down on Battery Farming
In November 2012, poultry farmers were advised that they would have 10 years to move from caged battery farmed hens to free-range or chicken colonies.
‘Colony’ = larger cages for hens approved as an alternative by the government.
Due to the government ban on battery-caged hens coming into effect at the beginning of the year, supplies are limited and costs are subsequently being driven up.
Back when the new legislation was announced, battery-farmed hens produced around 80% of New Zealand eggs according to Stuff.co.nz.
Battery cages could be as small as an A4 piece of paper, so this method of farming chickens has understandably been causing animal welfare concerns across the globe for decades.
How are egg farmers reacting to the egg shortage in New Zealand?
Thankfully, with the 10 year heads up from the government, New Zealand farmers have been innovating to switch from battery farming to free-range or colonies since the changes were announced.
These operations are spending millions of dollars to upgrade their systems, importing equipment from abroad, and eggs-panding their space to abide by the novel animal welfare laws.
Despite having a full decade of advanced notice, New Zealand currently farms 3.5 million laying hens according to eggfarmers.org.nz, but this number is still shy of how many hens are needed to meet domestic demand.
Problems faced by egg production in New Zealand
Believe it or not, the average New Zealander eats more than 200 eggs per year.
While that average has not suddenly surged, it may very well plummet to well below pre-shortage consumption as we navigate this supply and demand hiccup over the next several months.
In 2019, New Zealand's two major supermarket chains simultaneously decided to phase out the purchasing of eggs from hen colonies by 2025/6.
It turns out that hen colonies are not that different from the battery farming conditions that we’re trying to move away from.
Kudos to our supermarket chains for standing up for the rights of New Zealand-raised chickens. However, this policy exerted greater pressure on the farming industry. Those who were unable to transition fully to free-range operations faced a major predicament to meet the demands of these consumer chains.
These substantial changes, along with the difficulties that were posed to egg farmers during the pandemic, meant that three-quarters of egg producers in New Zealand had to adjust their farming methods, invest in new farms, or leave the industry completely.
More recently, producers have also been hit by problems that have affected bird farming globally:
- The war in Ukraine has pushed up the price for feed;
- Increased gas prices for transportation;
- Infectious diseases, which have affected bird populations.
What’s the solution to the egg shortage in New Zealand?
Are you looking for an alternative or a solution? Problem is, unless you’re proficient in vegan cuisine, eggs can be a pretty difficult food item to replace and most alternative options will depend on your dish. You might be inspired to use flax seeds, chia seeds, avocado, tofu or even chickpeas in place of your trusty eggs.
However, if none of these alternatives spark your interest or your appetite, it might be time to consider transforming some of your outdoor space into a haven for some feathery friends. If implemented effectively, backyard egg-laying hens can be an educational, fun and sustainable solution to the great Kiwi egg shortage and beyond .
Are backyard hens more sustainable?
There’s nothing like a nationwide crisis to motivate some necessary adjustments to our lifestyles. Taking the dive into chook raising is a much more sustainable option to our daily egg intake, for many reasons:
- You can use their droppings as a natural fertiliser.
- Wood shavings from the coop and your chicken manure are great for composting.
- Eliminate the need for store packaging and figuring out ways to reuse or recycle it.
- The carbon footprint for transporting your eggs from your yard to your kitchen is next to none.
- You can guarantee that your eggs are clear of any chemicals and hormones.
- You can provide a healthy, free-range lifestyle for your chooks.
- You can feed your chickens all of your food scraps and minimise food waste.
- Your chooks act as a natural pest control for your yard.
- They are a great way to teach your kids about sustainability and the environment.
Benefits of keeping chickens for household
Keeping backyard chickens are much better because:
- They are better for our environment as they create a sustainable ecosystem within our surroundings.
- The eggs produced will likely cost you more than the average factory farmed egg at the store, (especially when we’re not in egg shortage mode).
- You are well aware of the conditions in which your eggs were grown and the health of the ecosystem.
- They make for great pets and can provide a good way for kids to learn where their food comes from.
- If your chooks produce any egg-cess during the summer months, it makes for great community sharing.
Pasture-raised chooks also produce the most nutritious eggs. Giving them space to peck and forage for their food provides your chickens with the full range of nutrients they need to produce large, healthy eggs for the whole family.
Hens can live for more than a decade, but generally only produce eggs in the first few years of their life. If you’re entertaining the thought of starting an egg production business, ask yourself if you have the ability or know-how to care for your chooks in the long term. After all, they are social creatures and make for great pets.
Keeping chickens for your business
If you’re a business that relies on a steady supply of eggs and you're feeling a little scrambled about the egg shortage, you may have considered setting up your own hen farm. In order to keep your hens in a row; you must comply with MPI and local council regulations.
You’ll also need to consider the long term implications of keeping chooks past their productive age. Add to this the fact that the cost of chickens has more than quadrupled since the shortage of eggs began.
How to start keeping chickens in New Zealand
If the Great New Zealand Egg Shortage has caused you to start looking at chicken coops or chicken accessories, then we encourage you to further explore securing some new feathery friends, but not without the help of our chicken raising research. After all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!
To ensure a seamless path towards successful household chook raising during the ongoing egg crisis, we’ve put together our top guides to get you started:
- What Is The Best Breed Of Chicken For Beginners?
- How Many Chickens Should A Beginner Start With?
- How to Keep Chickens in NZ
- Invest in a Top Quality Hen House
- What Does a Chicken Coop Need?
Together, we can keep calm and crack on!