The Maui News - Weekender
The great chicken-egg conspiracy
Poultry houses have slaughtered millions of chickens in the United States to stop the spread of avian flu. The disease spreads quickly and can contaminate egg production. Along with other factors, this has caused a shortage of eggs and a spike in prices. But even some healthy populations have stopped laying eggs, and that has led to the great chicken egg conspiracy.
This past week, I spent an hour on my radio show talking about an issue I knew nothing about just 24 hours before. I had gone home from my office and my daughter asked me about chicken eggs. Her teacher has some chickens and the chickens had stopped laying eggs. Rumors were circulating that corporations were putting something new in the chicken feed that stopped egg production.
Then, a listener messaged me on Instagram. She wanted to know if I had heard all the conspiracies about chicken egg production. Some farmers were posting videos. It seemed some were suggesting corporations or the government were trying to shut down egg production.
A reader, when I talked about this on radio, chimed in with, “I suggest that if you don’t have chickens, don’t know masses of people who do have chickens, and haven’t witnessed the rather unusual change in the laying pattern, you stop calling people names. We always have a lull in production in the winter. But seldom, if ever, do they stop for months. And again, this is happening no matter what party a person supports.” She was rather indignant that I’d laugh at the conspiracy.
It turns out there is a problem. It is also a problem a lot of people are only just experiencing because they only took up owning chickens for eggs during the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, I have the answer to a problem that I did not even know was a problem until last week.
Yes, it is true that a lot of backyard chickens unaffected by the bird flu have stopped laying eggs. It is also true some people are finding that altering the chickens’ diet can get them to start laying eggs again. It is also true that many chickens do lay eggs in the winter, but this winter they stopped, and some scientists have been very dismissive, claiming chickens do not lay eggs in winter.
Turns out it is not that complicated. Back during Christmas, the nation froze. The Southeast experienced colder temperatures over more days than the South normally experiences. People who have owned chickens for the last half-decade have not experienced such a prolonged cold snap. Cold weather does reduce chicken egg production. Really cold weather over many days stops egg production altogether.
During the winter weather in the South, coupled with numerous days of no sun, a lot of chickens stopped laying eggs. Multiple farmers, veterinarians and food scientists all tell me this is normal. To the extent changing from chicken feed to, as one home remedy suggested, goat feed to get egg production up works is either a matter of shocking the chicken’s system into egg production or just coincidence on timing. Most of the egg production problems started going away as states started warming up.
A farmer I talked to who specializes in chickens told me a lot of people have taken up the habit of raising chickens in the past few years. He has sold lots of chicks. He told me a lot of people are now three to five years into having chickens for eggs and it takes a decade or more to see all the cycles and patterns. Chickens tend to produce eggs when the days are longer and the weather is mild. Spring to midsummer tends to be when most eggs are laid. Hot and cold weather deter production.
The moral of the story is people are more familiar with things and have more knowledge about topics than ever before. But that knowledge comes with gaps and shortages of information we do not know we should know. Others can manipulate that lack of knowledge into conspiracies where no conspiracy is warranted. Yes, chicken egg production may be down. But the eggs will come back even if it takes some time.