Matthew Quested’s hens are not at all shy of human company.
The Traditional Free Range eggs brand launched this year.
The hens have been known to hitch a ride on water delivery trucks.
The farm has a number of distinct paddocks for groups of hens.
The eggs are sorted by a weighing machine from Italy.
A Whangaripo Valley free range egg farm has proven that the economics of happy, healthy hens can produce a thriving business.
In the eight years since the farm was founded, it has grown from 24,000 to 60,000 birds on its 57ha farm, and produces 300,000 eggs each week.
Owner Matthew Quested says 2000 trees have been planted each year to keep building up a natural habitat for his hens. Matthew says a happy hen is one that has fresh feed and water, can roam outside and peck the grass, have dust baths, and is not enduring the stress of predators or overcrowding.
The farm is broken down into five different barns. Each has several access points to allow hens to move freely in and out through the paddocks.
The only time the doors are shut is when feral cats descend during kitten season to snatch a chicken.
The outdoor area, directly outside the chicken doors, is lined with lime rock which cleans the chicken’s feet on their way back from the paddocks.
The chickens are so free range that they have gained a reputation for hitchhiking their way out on trucks. A feed delivery truck got to Takanini before it realised it had a hen perched on its back.
Matthew says the cost of producing free range eggs over cage eggs is 40 per cent higher, but he believes it is the way of the future.
“If you had ever been to a cage farm, you would never buy a cage egg again,” he says.
He also draws a distinction between free range eggs and barn eggs, which merely means the hens live in a large shed without cages.
Whangaripo Valley Free Range eggs are distributed to smaller grocers in north Rodney, as well as a few speciality grocers in Auckland.
The farm also supplies eggs to Whangarei-based Otaika Valley Free Range eggs.
This year, Matthew launched a new brand, Traditional Free Range, to supply eggs to Countdown and New World supermarkets throughout Auckland.
He says supermarkets approached the farm to distribute eggs in Hamilton, but he declined in order to keep the “food miles” of his eggs down.
Eggs from the Whangaripo farm are delivered the day after they are laid.
In New Zealand, eggs officially have a shelf life of 35 days. The average age of an egg in a supermarket is 21 days.
Matthew says fresh eggs are much better for poaching because the egg white holds together better.
The farm employs 26 local workers instead of automating its production line.
“There might be the odd feather on our eggs, but all of our eggs are hand checked to ensure they’re not broken.”
A 24-tonne feed truck makes chicken feed deliveries two to three times a week, and Matthew spends $130,000 a month on feed.
“So, it’s not chicken feed,” he jokes.