15 Apr 2021

Business plan hatched to keep 320,000 hens in 139ha forest

7:35 am on 15 April 2021

A South Waikato free-range egg company is setting up a new model of business - creating a forest for its hens to live in.

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There are already 20,000 hens at the Heyden Farms Free Range site. Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The 139 hectare property will produce eggs under the Heyden Farms Free Range brand for egg producer and supplier Better Eggs Limited.

Developing over the next five years it will home 320,000 laying hens with eight laying sheds amongst 90,000 native and exotic trees.

Better Eggs chief executive Gareth van der Heyden said it was a whole new way of poultry farming in New Zealand that would enable the hens to live in a natural environment while producing eggs in a sustainable manner.

"They will be able to roam and scratch on the forest floor in the shade, shelter and safety provided by the trees and the laying sheds are specially designed to give the birds natural light and ample space to roam around in.

It was a new idea in New Zealand, he said.

"We are really just focused on the welfare of the birds, looking at what's important to the consumer and having sustainability, the environment and ethical food production at the front of mind.

"We are providing the birds with the highest animal welfare and hen enrichment standards. We sought advice from Australia and Europe that enables us to exceed best practice in many facets."

There are already 20,000 hens at the site, which has one laying shed with another to be constructed by next year.

Van der Heyden said he was excited as the project brought years of design work and research together to produce an environment best for the chooks.

The farm will also led the way in technology, with the eggs being transported from nesting boxes via a conveyor belts to a robot that packs the eggs into trays and pallets before being collected by trucks for delivery.