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USDA Must Provide Accurate Flock Numbers


The report on the Monthly Cage-Free Egg Flock, retrievable under the STATISTICS tab, and the EGG-WEEK report in this edition question the accuracy of USDA data on flock numbers. For many months, USDA has reported almost consistent small increases in the size of the national flock as new pullets attained maturity and were placed in laying houses.  The number of hens in the total flock and the national flock have also corresponded closely on a weekly basis. 


Over the past twelve weeks, 13 million hens were depleted of which approximately 47 percent were classified as cage-free including approximately four million hens in California.  The estimated six million cage-free hens known to have been depopulated through informal collection of data by the UEP are not adequately reflected in the Monthly Cage-Free report covering December 2023, Total cage-free hen numbers for the three months of the fourth quarter, were respectively, 126.2 million, 125.1 million and 123.9 million.  Given a fairly constant number of pullets placed 22 weeks before the given monthly flock figures, and the fact that cage-free hens are generally not molted, values posted by USDA cannot be reconciled with estimated numbers based on flock depletions and pullet replacements. The overestimation of flock numbers may be the reason for the unrealistically high average hen-month production data noted on the monthly Cage-Free Reports during the fourth quarter of 2023.


Given the importance of weekly flock numbers, discrepancies distort prices and detract from rational decisions on molting and age-related depopulation. USDA should provide an explanation for evident discrepancies and should display more transparency in how they arrive at numbers for cage-free and conventional hens in the total and producing flocks.