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Michigan’s largest egg farm lays off 400 workers amid bird flu outbreak

Chicken eggs on a basket with chickens
Commercial egg production in Michigan for the first time has been slowed by avian flu. Infected birds need to be destroyed to halt the spread of the virus. (Shutterstock)
  • Avian flu at Michigan’s top commercial egg producer resulted in 400 layoffs this week
  • The disease has affected U.S. birds since 2022, but this is the first time the state’s egg industry has been impacted
  • State and federal officials continue to battle the spread of the disease, which also affects dairy cattle here

May 22: Michigan farmworker is 2nd known human case of bird flu in nation this year

Michigan’s largest egg producer is laying off 40% of its staff as the company and state agriculture officials grapple with the spread of avian flu.

Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch told the state on Wednesday that it launched a mass layoff affecting 400 workers across five of its facilities in Ionia County.

The layoffs deepen the impact in Michigan of the spread of avian influenza, two weeks after the state declared an “extraordinary animal health emergency.” 

For the first time in Michigan, a commercial egg producer is culling flocks to halt the likelihood of spreading the disease, which in nearly all cases is fatal for affected birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has also hit commercial turkey farms in three counties.


Herbruck’s — also among the nation’s top egg producers — supplies eggs to retailers including Meijer Inc. stores.

Without birds in its Michigan barns, Herbruck’s turned to layoffs while its facilities are decontaminated, an effort that state officials estimate could take weeks. 

“Herbruck’s has reached the difficult decision to conduct layoffs at the affected facilities where work is not available,” Greg Herbruck, CEO of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, told Bridge Thursday in a statement. 

The highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) — which can quickly wipe out entire flocks of domestic chickens — had spread in poultry and cattle in six Michigan counties when the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development declared the emergency on May 1.


As of this week, a total of 10 Michigan counties have been affected by the disease in either poultry, cattle or both, according to the department

“There's certainly an economic hit to the farms,” Tim Boring, director of MDARD, told Bridge Michigan on Thursday.

Michigan’s first cases this year came when an infected flock was found in early April at Herbruck's Green Meadow Organics facility in Ionia County. At the time, it was the fourth case of avian influenza in a commercial facility since the disease was first detected in the state in 2022, the state agriculture department said. 

As of mid-May, bird flu has been found in poultry in four counties in Michigan: Ionia, Ottawa, Newaygo and Gratiot. Seven sites had to “depopulate” their birds, Boring said. 

The latest report on affected dairy cows came this week in Gratiot County. Dairy farmers are also separating sick cows, Boring said, adding the disease typically doesn’t spread through an entire herd.

State officials across agencies are working with local health departments and federal officials to test for bird flu in Michigan and take other measures to control the disease, Boring said.

“There’s low risk to human health, but we continue to take aggressive steps … for what's been a developing issue with a lot of unknowns in front of us,” Boring said. 


Michigan produced 5.06 billion eggs in 2022, according to the USDA, when the state had 16.8 million birds. 

Nationally, about 90.1 million chickens have been affected by avian flu since 2022, according to the USDA

The layoffs at Herbruck’s affect workers at five of the company’s facilities, three in Saranac and two in Lake Odessa. 

The layoffs target many hourly and salaried employees,  the company told the state in announcing the move, as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Some layoffs may be permanent. 

Affected workers will come from farming operations and company warehouses, as well as administrative roles in accounting, human resources and marketing. 

“We expect this to largely be temporary, as we plan to rehire many positions as we work to repopulate our facilities and continue egg production as safely and quickly as possible,” Herbruck, the company CEO, said. 

“We understand this is a stressful situation for our team members, and we are working with our state partners to provide them with resources, answer questions and assist in their individual family situations.” 


Boring, the state agriculture official, said the full economic impact of the avian flu in Michigan is not yet known. In 2022, egg prices soared to around $5 per dozen in part because of commercial flocks lost due to the disease. Reports indicate that egg costs are starting to rise again. 

“I don't have all the current picture of what this means for food supply chains in Michigan,” Boring said. 

While immediate needs involve biosecurity of Michigan’s agricultural systems, Boring said, economic concerns also are leading the state’s response. 

“One of our priorities within all of this on both the dairy and poultry side is to keep farmers farming,” he said. 

“I would anticipate that some of these facilities … are going to be looking at getting birds back into the barn soon and getting back into the business of putting eggs on supermarket shelves.”

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