Americans love their chicken. Fried, broiled, grilled, broiled—doesn’t matter. Each of us ate approximately 90 pounds of chicken in 2016, according to the National Chicken Council. However, chicken prices could jump soon thanks to a supply shortage. One possible reason for the shortage? The chickens don’t feel like breeding!
Chicken Prices Already Up 68 Percent
To keep up with demand, the U.S. poultry industry needs to get 750 million birds onto store shelves every month. The Wall Street Journal reported the percentage of eggs hatching broiler chickens fell to its lowest level in more than 10 years. Even a 1 percent decline in egg hatching means a $121 million loss in sales so far in 2017.
This means retailers need to make up the money somewhere—so, surprise, surprise, they’re doing it by raising prices. Boneless chicken breast wholesale prices increased by 68 percent. Consumer prices are up 3 percent, so far.
But, why aren’t chickens breeding the way they used to? Scientists don’t exactly know, but they have a few theories.
Chickens have become too fat
We like our chickens plump and juicy. The industry responded by mating large roosters with large hens. They also mapped chickens’ DNA to find chickens that gain weight rapidly. These new chickens reach 6 pounds (twice as big as their predecessors!) by the time they’re 7 weeks old.
As a result, the top-heavy birds get a little lazy and their breeding instinct fades.
“These birds can grow to become big ol’ couch potatoes,” said Phil Stayer, corporate veterinarian for Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms to The Wall Street Journal.
Some chickens are getting too old
Even chickens have an aging population. Once they get older, most chickens lose their breeding instinct. And, for those that don’t, their ability to produce viable eggs also declines. This leads to product shortages, as well.
The poultry industry continues to work on developing new breeding chickens to pick up the slack. However, raising a new breed means carefully managing diet to get the birds to peak performance.
So, if you’re a chicken lover, you might want to consider loading up your freezer before prices go up too much.