High egg prices put the spotlight on Rochester-area hobby flocks, small farms
More people are turning to small, local egg producers as a sharp rise in conventionally farmed egg prices impacts the U.S. this winter.
ROCHESTER — With the price of conventionally farmed eggs skyrocketing over the past two months nationwide, interest has grown for farm-fresh eggs from local hobby farmers and small flock operations.
"I've had people I've never met before, new customers reaching out," said Tara Roadway, who manages a flock of 30 laying hens at Hidden Haven Homestead south of Rochester. "It makes me chuckle because, for the first time, my prices are actually lower than what some people are paying at the grocery store."
The high price of commercially produced eggs stems from 2022's avian influenza outbreak , which led to the deaths of millions of chickens, turkeys and other poultry across the U.S. In Minnesota alone, the USDA reports that more than 4 million birds have been affected by avian flu.
For the time being, fewer birds means fewer eggs being produced, leading to consumers feeling hard-boiled at the cash register. A dozen eggs that retailed for around $2 a few months ago might cost $4 or $5 now. This has driven some consumers to start looking for local eggs.
"We've had like 20 dozen egg orders this week, which for us was kind of crazy," said Hayley Polinchock, who cares for a hobby flock of 35 chickens with her husband, Joe Polinchock, at their home north of Rochester.
Both Roadway and the Polinchocks sell their eggs direct to consumers through their social networks. As hobby farmers, they don't typically turn a profit on their egg sales.
"People who have chickens as a side hustle, we have a lot of love for it," said Roadway.
Though their egg prices are on par with supermarket prices, small egg producers haven't been immune to the need to raise their prices. Eric Klein, owner of Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin, said the costs to feed his family's flock of 400 Rhode Island Red hens have gone up, bumping their local sale price from $5 in the summer of 2022 to $6 now.
As a larger production, Klein's adult children, Andy Klein and Katie Klein, sell their eggs through a home delivery service, the Rochester Farmers Market and at Bennett's Food Center in Plainview under the brand Katie's Eggs.
"It's just hard to get things, the logistics of getting things in," Klein said. "Now, you're forced to order six months or a year in advance just to make sure you have the egg cartons and the labels and everything that's needed to keep the supply chain going. So, that's added a huge expense and burden."
Roadway and her mother, Roxy Roadway, have also had to bump up their price for a dozen eggs. They now sell each dozen for $5, up from the $4 price tag they set when they first got their chickens three years ago. In addition to feed costs, Roadway spends time and money on safety improvements to the flock's shelter and extra enrichment with cracked corn, mealworms and flock blocks — big supplement squares that chickens can peck at for a snack.
"As a small business owner, you have to be able to pay yourself for the work that you do as well," Roadway said. "So, I've never paid myself for the time and energy I spend on my girls."
For the Polinchocks, who began raising chickens in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they have kept their egg price stable at $4 a dozen, but their organic feed costs haven't remained the same.
"If we buy 10 bags of organic food, it's like $267 for 10 bags," Hayley Polinchock said. "A month of feed for our chickens, we go through probably six bags of food. ... So for us, if we wanted to just break even, we'd have to sell like 45 dozen eggs."
Despite the increased cost burden all around, Klein said small farmers are keeping the egg market in check.
"It's a great opportunity, especially for the small (farmers) — the commercial guys have forced the price so high," Klein said. "Our premise is buy direct from the farmer, don't give your money to some corporate company. There's tons of farmers out there that want to supply your family."
And, at the end of the day, for many hobby egg producers, it's all about caring for the chickens.
"We're not in it to make money," Joe Polinchock said. "We just don't want to waste eggs. We love our chickens, and we take care of them as a hobby for us, and the eggs are a bonus. To be able to provide food for people is a good feeling for us."
"It's a lot of love that's put into this, and you can tell in the egg," Roadway added. "Even if I never have chickens ... I don't think I would ever go back to store-bought eggs. I would definitely be doing local farmers market eggs or locally sourced eggs because they just taste so much better, they make me feel a whole lot better, and I know how much work goes into that."