Poultry Epidemic Causing Pandemic Prices

The avian influenza does not seem to be letting up with multiple states reporting cases, including Texas. Here is the current map of reported cases.

The USDA and USGS have been doing a good job of tracking and confirming cases through APHIS, and the surprising news that has all of us in the poultry business worried is that this is a highly pathogenic virus that is transmitted through wild birds and domestic alike. Sparrows, crows, cardinals and other wild species enjoy getting into our grain bins, flying into or next to our coops, or for us pastured poultry people, birds will comingle. This leaves ample opportunity for birds to be within close proximity and very quickly spread the virus around. As migratory species start coming back from the tropics, it is likely to get worse. Biannual migration is happening in North America now:

The outcome is that proteins, which are already having a hard year are about to get worse. The USDA and CDC mandate that poultry processors cull sick birds and to date we are already at 22.8 million birds.

The state by state breakdown gives us the current hot spots.

The record epidemic and last widespread avian flu event in 2014-2015 with an estimated 50 million chickens and turkeys culled caused prices to soar. This also effects the egg supply as well, which trails behind meat production by about four months. A chick hatched can be processed for food in 6-8 weeks, a hen will not laying eggs until about 6 months of age. The egg market is now up to pandemic start levels:

Egg protein and milk protein are mainstays in diets around the world and simple shocks in these two bases can be hard for a population to absorb with rising inflationary pressures also in motion. For reference, my sales of eggs versus pastured broilers is about five to one. Some farms focus on just one or the other, we have done both. If we leaned heavily into the pastured broilers we might be able to make up ground between the two, but most will buy eggs for the versatility and price point. A whole broiler most folks don’t know how to part out and me parting, or my processor parting drives up the cost per bird significantly. Egg and milk proteins are also hard to turn back on once shut, as stated above, leaving the more expensive proteins as the only avaliable option for those struggling to put food on the table.

Let’s take a look at the meat side of the equation. Poultry prices have spiked, and do not look to be slowing down any time soon.

Now about that Thanksgiving turkey, yes, that is something we have to consider now. Normally at this point in the year is when we start hatching and brooding out the November processing for the holidays. The good news there is that we started the year with production up a bit over last year. But the total flock numbers are purported to go down:

If the trends hold through the year and the flu starts to wane through the summer and the majority of the commercial flocks stay intact, the Thanksgiving turkey shouldn’t be an issue.

We will continue to watch the trends and numbers. Avian epidemics are not new and happen more often than we would like, but given the commercial trends and high output public demand for poultry, we are stuck in this quandary until radical market change happens by public demand.

Short term meat trends: increased costs for consumers as we continue to cull and mitigate pathogenic spread. Long term production should rise to meet demand and bring prices down barring further issues both economically and epidemically. Christmas bird will be in the pot regardless.

Short and long term egg trends, I am not optimistic that demand will be met this year as the hatch to first egg is quite a while and takes time to ramp up production. Like I have stated before, look to a smaller egg producer, we mitigate sickness risks sometimes weeks before the commercial operators and are running at a sickness/cull rate of 1% of total flock. See y’all at the farmers markets!