Fewer medium eggs are coming off Alberta farms, and Christina Robinson says that’s a good thing.
Medium-sized eggs are less sought after in the marketplace than larger eggs and fetch producers a smaller return, yet Alberta sees a larger percentage of these than other provinces.
The national average of medium-sized eggs compared to total egg production hovers at about 15 percent, but it can be 20 percent or more in Alberta.
Excess medium egg production can cost producers $2 per bird per year, said Robinson, producer services manager with Egg Farmers of Alberta.
“Lots of food service industries still use medium eggs, but it’s harder to sell them and they are sold at 50 cents less per dozen,” she said.
Robinson said large eggs are sometimes brought in from other provinces and the United States to meet demand, meaning producers are leaving money on the table.
“We’re not meeting the demands of the marketplace, so that’s another concern, not just the viability of farms,” she said.
The Alberta group began studying the issue in the late 2000s, surveying producers, identifying farms that were producing more medium eggs and working with them to identify management practices that could optimize production.
Officials were surprised to learn that some producers were trying to produce more medium eggs for improved egg shell quality.
“That was very eye opening for us,” said Valerie Carney, a poultry re-searcher with Alberta Agriculture who worked on the project.
“A medium-sized egg … even though they’re getting a discount, it was still worth it because they were getting paid something versus not getting anything for cracked eggs at the end.”
Producers can help maintain egg shell quality with proper nutrition. Excess calcium, for instance, can be harmful.
“They’re quite good managers because they know how to manage in a way to affect egg size — you have to have some management savvy to do that — but they didn’t understand the broader context of the choices that they were making in terms of the levies and stuff like that — the cost to the industry,” said Carney.
The Prairies can see higher medium egg numbers than other parts of the country because of the number of operations raising their own pullets and using their own on-farm feed mills, said Robinson.
These farms may be less likely to have a regular feed testing program and nutritionist consultations, while on-farm feed mixing can see variations in ingredient composition.
Management plays a key role: smaller hens will lay smaller eggs.
Carney advises producers to pay attention to bird weights, allow “the birds to guide your management decisions” and feed above breeder guide targets when needed.
“Because the genetics of the birds are moving so quickly, the breeder guides are typically out of date,” she said. “It’s at least a year, probably more like a year and a half or two years, behind the actual genetics that you have today, so if you’re just using the guide to guide you, you’re out of date.”
The Alberta producer project culminated with a series of workshops in 2013.
Robinson said she doesn’t expect to see Alberta’s medium egg numbers fall to the lower end, but she’s pleased with the small decline.
“I see in our numbers that our medium egg production is going down, and I think we can attribute that to better awareness,” she said.