Egg shortage to reach cracking point as new farming restrictions come into force next month

Bad news for Kiwis who love a classic pavlova on Christmas, New Zealand is in for an egg shortage.

New egg farming rules coming into force next month and high bird-feed costs are driving huge price increases and rationing of eggs.

Hawkes Bay Eggs farmer Laurie Horsfall said we can expect egg supply to be tight for the next few months.

"There is a shortage, we are not going to run out of eggs but it's going to be tight for quite some time," he told Ryan Bridge on AM.

Horsfall said farmers are starting to ration eggs now and expect the shortage to ease around February and March next year, but will still be tight.

"[Hens] only produce one egg a day and you can't pluck anymore out of them," he said.

It comes as the prices of eggs have skyrocketed. AM found that the average supermarket shelf price of a dozen eggs has gone up 26 percent since March this year.

Horsfall said the price increase is largely down to high feed prices, which make up 70 percent of their costs. He said the industry absorbed a lot of the cost but had to pass some on to consumers.

But while Horsfall reassured egg prices should remain consistent over the next few months, he warns they could increase further in the future.

New laws for caged housing come into effect in December which will largely fuel the egg shortage and come with a huge cost for farmers.

Farmers have warned the constraints will mean fewer eggs on the market as flock numbers decrease and the increased price tag which comes with implementing these requirements could cause people to close up shops.

The law change will require more space for hens and determined conventional 'battery' cages will be illegal as of the end of December. Under code, hens must be farmed in Colony, Barn (aka Cage-Free) or Free Range.

When the new changes were announced, back in 2012, 84 percent of producers used the battery cage method, giving them one decade to implement the expensive changes.

Horsfall told the NZ Herald back in 2020, it took him 15 years and $2.5 million worth of investment to move from conventional caged eggs to a colony cage system which is an enlarged, inside enclosure which gives hens "freedom of movement".

He said about two to three percent of egg farmers are currently still using the battery system.

Hawkes Bay Eggs farmer Laurie Horsfall.
Hawkes Bay Eggs farmer Laurie Horsfall. Photo credit: AM

SAFE NZ said on their website colony cages still breach New Zealand's Animal Welfare Act 1999. The animal rights charity said the colony cages do not allow hens to express their natural behaviour because they are tacked to the ceiling in rows inside environmentally controlled, windowless sheds.

However, Horsfall said, in reality, the majority of chickens in free range system never go outside.

"It's either too hot or it's raining or they just want to stay inside. It makes a bit of a joke about the whole thing really,' he said.

While colony cages are legal in New Zealand and were the most common replacement for battery cages, major New Zealand supermarkets have pledged to stop selling caged eggs by 2027.

"The problem I have dealing with it is they're taking the rights of the consumer away. You should have the choice of what you want to buy," Horsfall said.

He said the move will further drive up the price of eggs.