The race is on to find backyard poultry keepers for a project run by Massey University.
The 139-hectare property is set to become New Zealand’s leading egg production site as it develops over the next five years to ultimately be the home of 320,000 laying hens free ranging in the forest’s 90,000 native and exotic trees with eight laying sheds. The site will produce eggs under the Heyden Farms Free Range brand for egg producer and supplier Better Eggs Limited.
Better Eggs chief executive Gareth van der Heyden says the forest free range farm is an agroforestry venture combining forestry and poultry enterprise.
The pine, oak, poplar and eucalyptus trees planted on the property will be milled for timber or pulp when they mature. The growing trees will sequester carbon.
“Better Eggs is a New Zealand family-owned business with strong family values,’ says Gareth.
“These values are what have led us to innovate a whole new way of poultry farming in New Zealand that will enable the hens to live in a natural environment from which they originated, 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. 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.”
The farm is highly automated enabling staff on site to spend a greater portion of their time caring for the hens. Eggs are transported from the nesting boxes via conveyor belts to a robot that packs the eggs into trays and pallets which are then collected by trucks for delivery to the existing grading and distribution facility nearby in Lichfield.
Land for the forest farm was purchased in early 2018 and the first shed was completed in late 2020. The second shed is scheduled to be completed in 2022 and tree planting for shed three will get underway in September 2021.
Better Eggs is the combination of three proud family-owned poultry farms, Heyden Farms Limited, Henergy Cage-Free Limited and Rasmusen’s Poultry Farm Limited. Henergy pioneered cage-free barn egg production in New Zealand and Rasmusen’s is a fourth-generation family farm founded in 1937. Under the banner of Better Eggs, Heyden Farms is now pioneering free range egg production with this leading forest free range project.