The covid-19 pandemic has influenced people’s dietary preferences such that many erstwhile strict-vegetarians have resorted to eating eggs for the first time in their lives, to obtain absorbable protein easily and in a cost-effective manner. The statistical impact of this new trend is that the per-capita consumption of eggs in India increased close to 10% from the pre-pandemic period and when the per-capita consumption in toto is seeing a fall in the country, Poultry is showing a surprising upward trend.
With the limelight now on the poultry industry, consumers have started to gather more and more knowledge and understanding about the different choices available in the market – from free-range, to free-run and organic. At different price points, each of these varieties offers different nutritional and ethical value to the now diverse customer base.
Each of these varieties is also vastly distinct from each other in terms of cost, investment, and profit potential and based on the market demand. The quality of an egg is a function of what the hens are fed, the kind of sanitation and space they’re provided, their exposure to sunlight and free mobility, the amount and quality of water that she drinks as well as the general climatic and weather conditions, which makes these factors worth exploring for prospective poultry farmers.
Let’s look at each of these in detail–
These account for the cheapest of eggs in terms of both cost to the producer and cost to the final consumer. These are generally low-to-medium quality eggs that are hatched by hens that are predominantly fed grain-based feed, often spiked with antibiotics and hormonal injections which lead to an increased yield and decreased nutrition per egg.
Even though India is one of the three largest producers of eggs in the world, most of these eggs fail to meet the food security standards that are internationally prescribed, which means that these eggs cannot be exported. On the domestic front, these eggs are sold at cheap prices which justify the cheap diet and the cramped cages that most of the hens producing these eggs are made to live in.
Conventional eggs cost about Rs.3 to Rs.4 per egg to produce and are sold anywhere between Rs.5 to Rs.7 in the market. Also, there are a plethora of suppliers in the conventional egg segment, making it difficult for suppliers to command the higher price in range. This low-margin and low-cost set-up is, therefore, suitable for those who are pursuing poultry farming as a supplement to another livelihood, and do not necessarily rely on it as their sole source of income–or they are producing at massive scales to take advantage of the scale in order to reduce costs further and push profits higher.
Free-range eggs seem to be the most ethically upright option for first-time egg eaters and morally motivated consumers as these offer chickens the best of conditions and the most amount of freedom among all the methods of rearing chickens for eggs. The chickens have access to the outdoors for the most part and are also given shelter to rest with adequate space per hen, to the tune of 2 square feet for resting in shade.
The feed is wholegrain in addition to the hens’ foraging as a result of them spending their days outdoors in a natural environment. This foraging includes insects, seeds, and earthworms in the soil which lead to a much more nutrient-rich and holistic feed, which is much more in tune with nature than any man-made diet.
Given the nature of the laying and hatching environment, free-range eggs are much costlier to produce and consequently, command a higher price in the consumer market as well. A free-range egg costs about Rs.10 to Rs. 20 to produce, and goes for Rs.25 to Rs.30 in the final consumer market–and with growing suburban demand, the number of takers is sure to see consecutive new highs in the near future.
Also known as the next-to-best option, free-run eggs are a compromise between the conventional poultry farm and the free-range poultry far. While the hens do not have the freedom to roam around outdoors and go back to the nesting area to rest, the hens are not kept in singular cages. There is a confined space where all the hens are let loose and within that confinement, they can move around.
The feed is also managed and hens are not let loose to do their own foraging. While this ensures that the hens are not kept completely captive, they’re still kept in manageable confinements which makes farm management easier. These eggs cost Anywhere between Rs.5 to Rs.10 to produce and go for Rs.10-Rs.15 in the market.
The end goal that organic eggs tend to serve is to combat the wrongful use of antibiotics in the poultry industry which has been spawning global superbugs and skewing up the food chain. Organic eggs are a product of organically fed hens which means that the feed comprises of non-spiked grains and beans in addition to any other nutrient sources, as long as they’re not artificially enhanced.
For the most part, free-range farms prefer an organic diet for their hens, however, any farm (in terms of mobility and infrastructure) can claim the production of organic eggs, and rightly so, as long as the diet of the hatching hens is comprised of organic feed. Since the spectrum of farms is broad, and organic eggs are a function only of the feed, the cost of producing an organic egg can vary vastly, i.e., from Rs.5 to Rs.20, and thereby, can command a price between Rs. 10 to Rs. 30 in the final market.
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