This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the production of chicken eggs, including table eggs and hatching eggs, and in the sale of cull hens.
Chicken Egg Production
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 1986 and 2002 the number of U.S. egg producers declined from 2,500 to 700. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the largest egg producers had tended to grow in size by acquiring smaller companies. In 2002 a total of 10 egg making companies boasted flocks of more than 5 million; 61 companies had flocks of more than 1 million; and 295 companies housed 75,000 or more hens. As a result, overall production was heavily consolidated by a few companies who ran massive operations; upwards of one million birds was not uncommon at these farms.
The chicken egg farm industry has been strong since the beginning of the 1990s, although it is subject to fluctuations. The size of the nation's laying flock has varied in the past few decades, with a noticeable effect on price. Although the national laying flock has steadily decreased from 317 million in 1967 to 290 million in 1983 to 258 million in 1998, the production level has increased over the years from 170.5 billion cases in 1984 to an estimated 192.5 billion in 1999.
In 1993, large eggs sold for 76 cents per dozen, but in 1996, prices increased dramatically to a record average high around 90 cents per dozen. By 1998, the price was back down to 78 cents. Egg farmers tried to affect future pricing by slowing the rate of increase of the broiler hatching egg flock, thus reducing production. The flock grew by only a fraction of a percent in 1995 and only 1 percent in 1996, compared with a 6 percent growth rate in 1991. Therefore, prices rose in late 1995 and remained strong throughout 1996.
The production rate on some egg farms is impressive in comparison with other livestock farms. Some farms have 1.5 to 2 million laying hens, producing about 400 million eggs a year. The number of farms with 1 million or more hens, or layers, has increased in the 1990s. "Large complexes of a million or more layers are one result of increases in layer productivity and feed conversion rates, and developments in egg handling and processing technology," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Sources in the business claim that the number of large egg farms (more than 75,000 layers) has grown by 20 percent since 1980, whereas the overall number of farms has...