Did you know that there’s a chicken feed conspiracy theory floating around in the cyber air right now? Yep, neither did I.
I knew that the price of eggs has skyrocketed recently and that some stores are struggling to keep them in stock. But the chicken feed conspiracy was news to me.
I got an email from Jill Winger at The Prairie Homestead three weeks ago. No, we’re not actually friends, but I am on her email list and love reading whatever she has to share. This particular email talked about the chicken feed conspiracy and her feelings toward what was happening.
After reading her email, I started to poke around the world wide web and read about what was going on. And, yes, it turns out that there is definitely a lot of buzz about this particular conspiracy theory.
What is the chicken feed conspiracy theory about?
Apparently, there have been many videos and posts on Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, and Twitter claiming that there have been deals cut to essentially cause backyard flocks to stop laying eggs. Some claim that something is being added to the feed, some claim that less protein is being added. Most videos/posts mention feed that is specifically being sold by the Tractor Supply Company.
To sum it up, the videos and posts are claiming that large egg producers have cut a deal with large chicken feed producers to change the feed formulas so that the chicken feed is causing backyard chickens to stop laying eggs. The result, they claim, is a price gouge on eggs because of the deals being made between the companies.
One viral video talked about how her chickens stopped laying eggs precisely when one of the large egg producing companies received a large amount of new hens.
Another version of this conspiracy is that the government has gotten involved and is the culprit of the feed formula changes that are causing chickens to stop laying eggs. Some videos are calling foul play by the government. Or at the very least government connections with the large feed companies. They’re usually pretty vague about how the government is actually behind all of this.
Yikes! What exactly is going on?!?
Going back to Jill’s email, I found myself super fascinated by her thoughts on the matter. I won’t go into the bulk of her message, but needless to say there are a lot of emotions flying around in the cyber world about the price of chicken eggs, of all things!
A couple of things that Jill did mention that I’d like to share that sum up my thoughts completely.
“I can disagree with Big Government’s overreach and regulation in many areas AND I can also believe there are less nefarious, more logical reasons that backyard chicken flocks are laying fewer eggs this winter.
Both things can be true at once.”
“Our food supply might be shaky and there very likely are people in power who don’t want us to be self-sufficient, but our backyard chickens might also just be decreasing production because it’s wintertime.
Two things can be true at once.”
I completely agree with these sentiments.
Yes, I know there is a lot going on in the egg market right now.
I know there are egg shortages and that egg prices have shot through the roof.
I do believe that the government overreaches and regulates in areas that are completely unnecessary.
There may very well be changes happening in feed formulas (companies reformulate all the time). And there also might be corporate deals occurring (it’s definitely not uncommon for corporations to do this).
But I also totally believe that there are SO many reasons that can cause hens to lay fewer eggs. Having raised chickens for 10+ years, I feel like I have a more solid understanding of the ebbs and flows of egg production than people who are more removed from their food supply.
I’d like to share some of the things I have observed or learned about that can drastically affect the amount of eggs that a flock produces.
Things that can affect egg production in chickens
The general rule of thumb is that most hens need a minimum of 12 hours of daylight in order to lay eggs. Egg production increases when daylength reaches 14 hours and it kicks into high gear when it reaches 16 hours per day.
Some people think that temperature affects egg production (see below) but even chickens in warm climates have a decrease in egg production when daylength is too short.
Yes, temperature can affect the number of eggs produced. When it is cold, chickens need to use more energy to stay warm. And producing eggs requires a lot of energy.
To say this another way, when it is cold, animals tend to conserve their energy. In the natural world, animals know that the winter time is NOT a good time to be reproducing.
Quite honestly, the only reason why chickens lay eggs at all in the winter time is because humans have bred them to do so. It’s very unnatural for any egg laying animal to produce eggs in the dead of winter. Just sayin’!
The amount of protein that is available in the diet can, indeed, affect egg production. If chickens do not have enough of the right nutrients, their bodies will not be able to create an egg even if they wanted to.
If you have chickens and have noticed a decrease in egg production, you can try increasing the protein in their diet to see if that helps. Mealworms are an excellent source of protein. You can get dehydrated mealworms here.
You can also give them scraps of food that are high in protein. Or find other sources of grain or legumes that are high in protein.
Just like not having enough protein, not having enough calcium will cause a decrease in egg production. It’s super important to allow laying hens to have access to free choice calcium at all times. They can sense when their body needs more calcium and will eat it when they need more.
You can buy calcium here or you can learn how to feed your egg shells back to them here.
5) Access to water
An egg is something like 75% water. Did you know that?
During the winter in cold climates, it can be very challenging to keep your chicken’s water from freezing. If your hens go without access to fresh water for even several hours, it can decrease the eggs their bodies can produce.
What has worked well for me for the last 10 winters is to use a heated pet bowl that I plug in with an extension cord to keep my chicken’s water from freezing.
This has been a great system because I keep a small flock but may not be super effective with a large number of chickens. If you have a lot of chickens, I recommend using a larger waterer and heated plates to keep them from freezing.
Even though I have a heated watering system, I still had a layer of ice form on top of the chicken water multiple times this winter. It definitely happens to even the most attentive chicken owners.
6) Other hens in the flock
The phrase, “birds of a feather flock together” is so true. They also lay eggs (or in this case don’t lay eggs) together. Just like young female college roommates might start ovulating at the same time of the month after spending several months together, chickens are also affected by the hormones in the flock.
If one hen goes broody, others often start going broody too. If one hen starts to lay eggs, it can often trigger other hens to start laying eggs as well.
And while it’s more likely that egg production is affected by day length and available nutrients, other hens’ hormones can for sure influence things.
Living in a stressful environment creates, well, stress. And let’s be honest, wintertime can be very stressful to animals. Plus the natural pecking order (this is a real thing and causes stress to the hens at the bottom of the pecking order) can cause additional stress. Especially if the flock is confined to small spaces or is overcrowded.
For chickens in particular, in areas where there is a lot of snow, they may be cooped up (this is where the term comes from, by the way) and not able to get out due to snow levels for days or weeks at a time. Winter is challenging and stressful for sure!
8) Molting, Illness, Broodiness
There are so many other factors that can affect egg production, including molting, illness, or broodiness.
It’s pretty unlikely that a hen will be going through a molt or become broody during the winter months, but it can happen from time to time. Usually nature creates strong signals of when a hen should be going through those phases.
Most molting happens in the fall and most broodiness happens during the spring or summer. But it’s not unheard of for these things to happen during the dead of winter.
Illness can also happen. If your hen is not feeling well, she will have a drop in egg output as you can well imagine might happen during an illness.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables and conditions that need to be just right in order for a hen to lay an egg. Many of the things I have mentioned here do not create favorable conditions during the winter months to lay eggs on a regular basis.
What? Eggs are a seasonal food?
I find it interesting that most people have become so removed from their food source that we don’t realize that EGGS ARE A SEASONAL FOOD.
Because of the reasons mentioned above, many chickens drastically reduce egg production during the winter months or completely stop laying altogether.
Historically, people did not eat as many eggs in the winter months because they are more scarce in the winter. They weren’t making frittatas and omelets in the dead of winter because they simply did not have enough eggs to spare.
Perhaps we would be wise to do the same. Reducing the amount you eat of something according to the natural seasonality of a food is probably a good idea.
So, back to our original thoughts about the chicken feed conspiracy theories. Is it possible that there is some change to the chicken feed that is causing backyard flocks to lay fewer eggs?
Of course it’s possible, but in my opinion, it’s VERY unlikely.
It’s much more likely that something from the list above is causing a natural dip in backyard flock egg output during the winter.
There are definitely legitimate concerns going on online, though. There’s no doubt about that!
What is causing the chicken feed conspiracy videos and posts?
Here are 3 things that I believe are actually causing the chicken feed conspiracy conversations to go viral in the cyberworld right now.
1) High egg prices
If you have your head in the sand (like I did), let me tell you. EGG PRICES ARE THROUGH THE ROOF RIGHT NOW!
Where I live, we used to be able to get a dozen, factory farmed cheap white eggs for $1.50. Now, the same dozen costs $5.00 or more. This may be more or less in your area. I’ve heard that a dozen eggs in California costs somewhere between $7.00 and $9.00. Wow!
To sum it up, the high egg prices are being caused by a large amount of bird flu happening. I have not checked the truthfulness of this, but I read that if a chicken farm has any symptoms of bird flu, they are required to cull (kill) the entire flock.
For some of the large factory farms, this means culling tens or hundreds of thousands of birds. Then having to start completely over with chicks and waiting the 5-6 months until they begin laying.
When you drastically have to cut the supply, it will drive the price up. This is basic economics. Because they’ve had to cull so many hens around the country, it has really affected the available supply of eggs but the demand has not changed. People still want their eggs, darn it. So the price had to adjust upward.
There are always price fluctuations happening. This one was just drastic enough that we all are feeling it!
Oh man, fear can do some CRAZY things, am I right? When people feel afraid, they can go down mental rabbit holes that simply aren’t true.
If someone saw the high egg prices, they might feel like there is something wrong in the food supply which then makes them feel unsafe. So they start looking for explanations for what could be causing this price increase.
Their mind goes to some crazy documentary or article they read online about the government having secret bunkers. (I’m 100% not saying that this is actually happening, just that people’s minds can create some interesting scenarios).
Then someone who has gone down this mental rabbit hole makes a video and posts it online. Which then triggers everyone else’s fear glands. And here we are with a whole bunch of people legitimately believing that the government is behind all this!
Fear is a powerful driver!
3) Inexperienced chicken keepers
Combine all of this with the fact that many people who have backyard chickens are less experienced chicken owners and we have now created the perfect storm.
If you recall, during the covid shutdown, many people bought chicks for the very first time. Depending on when they were purchased, last winter would have been those chicks first winter season and this winter would be their second winter. If they were purchased at the VERY beginning of the covid shutdown, this winter would be their third winter season but they likely were not laying yet during that first winter.
If you’ve ever heard the term “spring chicken,” it means a hen who is in her first year of laying eggs. These hens DO tend to lay straight through the first winter once she starts laying. But after that, most hens drastically reduce or stop altogether during the winter months. Each year after that, egg output continues to decline. Eventually, a hen stops laying eggs completely. Most people don’t even realize this.
But it makes total sense because the same thing happens with humans. Ahem, menopause anyone?
So all these chicks that were purchased during covid are no longer spring chickens and experienced chicken owners would not expect them to lay during the winter anymore. But a lot of these chicken owners are fairly new and inexperienced and don’t know that winter egg supply decreases or stops after the first winter that a hen begins laying.
So, as I mentioned, these 3 things have created the perfect storm for these videos and social media posts to go viral very quickly.
Viral videos and posts usually tend to include fear based language (and most of the ones about this conspiracy theory do) or are something that is very funny (“Charlie bit my finger” anyone?).
Things will calm back down as egg prices continue to adjust, and this whole thing will just be another drop in the bucket in a long list of things that people freaked out about. Humans are so funny like that (myself included!).
So what are we supposed to do about the egg prices?
There are definitely things you and I can do given the circumstances we find ourselves in. Here are some ideas for you to ponder.
If you are someone who purchases eggs at the store:
- Stay calm. First and foremost, relax and know that over time, things will get better. The market has a great way of adjusting to the needs quickly if we stay out of the way.
- Buy less eggs for a short period of time. Gasp! I know. I just asked people to sacrifice! But guess what? A time of high prices is not the time to be stocking up or buying more eggs. If we can collectively REDUCE the demand, the price will begin to adjust. Plan meals that do not require large amounts of eggs, change up your breakfast routine, use egg substitutes where possible. True, some things you simply cannot make without eggs. Such as meringue, pavlova, angel food cake, macarons, etc. But if you notice, most of these foods are luxury desserts to begin with. It’s time to try out some less eggy recipes!
- Be willing to pay the price without complaint. If you do choose to purchase the high priced eggs, at least do it with a smile on your face and gratitude in your heart that you have the ability to purchase them. You may want to consider rationing them, though. Ha, ha! (cue the funny memes you may have seen about trading a dozen eggs for a Jeep)
- Look for local sources if you can find them. I’m guessing that your local farmers are getting slammed with inquiries about eggs right now. But you could seek out and find some local people who have chickens that have extra eggs you can buy. Keep in mind, it’s winter so their egg production is probably down at the moment too. But, we ARE coming into spring, so this might be a solid strategy for you in the coming months!
If you own chickens:
- Stay calm. First and foremost, relax and know that over time, things will get better. If your personal flock’s egg production is down, know that it’s probably for one of the reasons I shared in this post and not some crazy government conspiracy!
- Find ways to add more protein to your chicken’s diet.
- Supplement from other chicken owners or local farmers if you need to. Again, I’m pretty sure the local chicken farmers are all getting hammered with questions right now. But you can probably find someone who is perfectly positioned to supply you with eggs if you need them. Ask around, you never know!
- Be patient, they will start laying again soon as the days start getting longer. Mine have already started to increase their egg output and we’re only in the second week of February. We’re almost out of the winter woods!!!
- When you have an abundance of eggs this spring and summer (as I always seems to have), learn to freeze some for the slow winter months. I like to crack my eggs one at a time into a small dish, scramble it slightly with a fork, then pour it into a muffin pan and freeze until solid. Once frozen, I pop them out of the muffin tray and put them into a ziploc bag. They freeze well for a very long time (up to 9 or 10 months) and work great in baking or for anywhere you’d use scrambled eggs! There’s your tip for the day. This has helped me even out the seasonal and variable nature of backyard/farm eggs.
And If you want to learn how to raise chickens:
- Stay calm. First and foremost, relax and know that over time, things will get better. Please be sure you are wanting to get chickens for the right reasons and not just out of fear. Having said that, if this is the motivation you have needed to get started then jump right in! Raising chickens is so fun!!
- Second of all, GOOD FOR YOU! I’m so excited that you have the desire to take control of a part of your food supply. Way to go!
- Find a local source for chicks and feed if available in your area or plan to order online. You can ask people you know locally that have chickens or search for a local facebook group to join. Chicken people love to help other chicken people! Case in point in the next two items on this list.
- Check out my chicken supply page for my recommended supplies for coops, feed, and chick rearing supplies.
- Most important of all, grab a copy of my FREE ebook for beginner chicken owners. It will walk you step by step how to decide which breed to get, how to decide whether to start with chicks or adult birds, what supplies you will need, and what kind of coop to get. It’s a quick read that will teach you what you need to know to get started. It will help get you into action mode SUPER fast!
Do I think there’s a chicken feed conspiracy?
So, to sum up this lengthy discussion, NO, I do not think that there is a government conspiracy or even a collusion between corporations in the egg industry to cause the recent jack up in egg prices. Or to somehow stop backyard chickens from laying eggs.
I do, however, believe there has been a lot of bird flu, causing them to cull (kill) a LOT of chickens recently, which has caused the increase in egg prices and has led to fear based thoughts.
I also believe that there are very natural and logical explanations for why chickens lay fewer eggs during the winter months such as short day length, low temperatures, stress, etc.
The chicken feed conspiracy theories, in my humble opinion, are nothing more than a combination of high egg prices (caused by bird flu outbreaks), fear (lots and lots of fear), and inexperienced chicken owners (who don’t know that chickens generally only lay through the winter when they are a “spring chicken” – i.e. during their very first winter).
What can you and I do about the high egg prices?
And yes, I believe there are things you and I can do. STAY CALM! The world is not coming to an end. The sky is not falling. And there are more important things to focus on than the cost of a dozen eggs.
We can buy fewer eggs or use them sparingly (as people have done in the past). And we can do our best to support our backyard hens with good nutrition and be patient until they start laying again in the spring, and we can start or increase our own flocks.
If you are interested in learning about raising chickens, I encourage you to grab a copy of my FREE ebook and start planning!
It’s a quick way to figure out if you want to start with chicks or adult birds, which breed(s) to get, and what supplies you will need.
I hope this post has helped increase your understanding of natural chicken behavior and has helped shed some light on the truth of these current events.
And I hope it has encouraged at least some of you to get a flock of your own!
Happy Chicken Keeping,