China's chickens need to lay a billion eggs a day. Here's how they're going to do it
- Huge new hatchery produces 200,000 layer chicks a day
- China's agricultural sector modernising, mechanising
- Food safety concerns, efficiency behind transformation
Behind a row of sealed red incubator doors in a new facility in northern China, about 400,000 chicks are hatched every day, part of the rapidly modernising supply chain in China’s $37 billion egg industry, the world’s biggest.
As China overhauls production of everything from pork to milk and vegetables, farmers raising hens for eggs are also shifting from backyards to factory farms, where modern standardised processes are expected to raise quality and safety.
That's an important step in a country where melamine-tainted eggs and eggs with high antibiotic residues have featured in a series of food safety scandals in recent years. It is also spurring demand for higher priced branded eggs over those sold loose in fresh produce markets.
"These days if you're a small farmer, your eggs won't get into the supermarkets," said Yuan Song, analyst with China-America Commodity Data Analytics.
Tough new regulations on treating manure and reducing the environmental impact from farms have also pushed many small farmers out.
Most egg producers now have between 20,000 and 50,000 hens, said Yuan, a significant change even from two years ago. The remainder with less than 10,000 birds are likely to be shut down soon as local governments favour larger producers that can be more easily scrutinised.
Those rapid changes are driving investments like the 150 million yuan ($22.60 million) hatchery in Handan, about 400km (250 miles) southwest of Beijing.
The highly automated plant, owned by a joint venture between China's Huayu Agricultural Science and Technology Co Ltd and EW Group's genetics business Hy-Line International, is the world's biggest hatchery of layer chicks, or birds raised to produce eggs rather than meat.