The egg shortage gripping New Zealand has prompted a scramble for hens, as supply of the household staple is expected to remain tight until the middle of the year.
Manawatū hen seller Margaret Fullerton-Smith has had a busy start to the year, filling orders from egg lovers keen to secure their own supply.
Over the weekend, she’ll be dropping off 76 hens to customers across the Whanganui area, but there’s not enough of the birds to keep up with demand.
"I've had a huge amount of emails, about 2,000 in the last three days, trying to fill orders, keep people happy, it's quite difficult,” said Fullerton-Smith.
Trade Me figures show in the past week searches for chickens and related items increased 77% on the previous seven days.
The egg shortage emerged late last year, with some supermarket shelves left bare. But it’s really been a decade in the making.
In 2012, farmers were told battery cages would be outlawed from the start of 2023. They had the choice of moving to either a free-range, colony, or a barn-raised system.
About a third switched to colony-farming, which means larger cages. But in 2017 the supermarkets signalled they’ll stop accepting colony eggs by 2027 at the latest due to animal welfare concerns.
The Egg Producers Federation executive director Michael Brooks said that left farmers unsure about what systems to use and so hen numbers have dropped off by about 400,000.
He said it takes about five months from a chick’s birth to start laying, so the egg shortage is expected to last till mid-year.
The SPCA warns people against buying a chicken unless they have the right environment and time to care for the animal.
"The best thing is for the chickens to have a coop to live in which allows them to shelter, it allows them to nest. They need a nice safe outdoor space which is protected from predators," said Gabby Clezy, SPCA chief executive.
Fullerton-Smith said she always gives new customers the “dos and don’ts” of raising hens.
"They need similar care and attention to any other pet animal you have," she said.
Hens lay eggs about every 26 hours, but their production slows down after three years.
"So although chickens live for up to eight to 10 years, they're not laying eggs the whole time, so people need to understand that they're lovely companion animals," said Clezy.