The humble egg has become a major talking point lately.
The Government’s welfare code banning caged hens* has put some producers out of business and forced others to transition to alternative systems — barn or free range — which will take some time.
The availability of supply cannot keep up with the demand.
In the meantime, we import eggs and egg products to make up the shortfall.
Eighteen months ago our hen laying population was 4.2 million. It now stands at 3.4 million.
Our current rate of inflation is 7.2%, the price hike in eggs is much higher.
The versatile egg is part of our staple diet.
Most recipes when baking require eggs, most notably our world-famous pavlova.
The press has reported there is price gouging going on — someone has tried to sell seven size eight eggs for $150.
In many supermarkets they are rationed.
One website was advertising a 10-pack for $7.80 and size eight for $10.70 last week.
They also added they don’t see any price reduction until later in the year.
With these prices it makes the once lowly hen a very valuable animal.
Many of the old breeds, such as the Australorp, manage to lay only about 150 eggs in a year and would sooner go clucky and rear chickens.
However, the modern breeds, such as the Red Shaver, hardly ever go broody — they just get on and lay their 320 eggs or more each year.
So, if we do some maths with the egg prices quoted by the supermarket and hens laying 320 medium size eggs at 70c each, each hen equates to $224 gross.
It was once the goose that laid the golden egg but now the hen has the honoured place.
It doesn’t pay to make a comparison of the income of a hen with the deflated 18kg lamb price of $6.70 as quoted in a recent Otago Daily Times, as it only comes to $120.
Even if its mother lambed 150%, the income still comes up short.
We live in hope that the vagaries of the marketplace will change once again in favour of sheep as I don’t really want to rear chickens.
* In 2012, the then National government passed legislation to enact a 10-year phased roll-out culminating in an outright battery cage ban.