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Easter Eggs May Get Bigger And Harder To Hide Thanks To UF Research

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Robert Harms (352) 392-1932

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Parents trying to hide Easter eggs may have a tougher time of it thanks to a University of Florida researcher who has figured out how to make hens lay larger eggs.

Robert Harms, a graduate research professor of animal sciences with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, discovered that feeding the birds corn oil causes them to produce larger eggs. If a supply problem can be worked out, the new recipe could mean lower egg prices for consumers during warm weather, when there is traditionally a shortage of large eggs.

“In the summer, a hen will not lay as big an egg as she does in the winter,” said Harms. “This creates a shortage of large eggs and an oversupply of medium eggs.”

At first the solution seemed obvious — just bump up the calorie content in the hens’ feed by adding a supplement and they should lay larger eggs. But Harms said the chickens proved too smart for the researchers and just ate less feed.

Harms said he didn’t know exactly how the hens detected the extra calories. But he was eventually successful in finding a compound the birds didn’t notice.

“We increased the calorie content by putting 6 percent corn oil in the feed,” Harms said. “The chickens didn’t recognize the change so they didn’t eat less. The hens took in 20 more calories a day and produced eggs that were an average of 3 grams heavier.”

That’s enough to bump most medium eggs up to the large eggs consumers demand, Harms said. The process also will help maintain large egg supplies by making young hens — which typically lay smaller eggs until they age a bit — lay large eggs. Egg producers also will be able to bump large eggs up to extra-large or extra-large up to jumbo, he said.

But regardless of how successful the technique is, one Florida egg producer said adopting the method depends on if enough corn oil is available.

“When you’re mixing the quantities of feed we’re mixing, you can’t buy corn oil in 55 gallon drums,” said Jack Hazen, chief executive officer of Hillandale Farms, which has some 900,000 hens at its Lake City facility alone. “You need to get it in tank cars brought in by rail. Then you also have to have a holding tank to store the oil from when you unload it until you can use it.”

Hazen said the technique probably won’t be adopted until the supply issues are resolved.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that this will work,” Hazen said. “But we need to find a source of corn oil at a price where we can make a profit.”