Sprawling free-range egg farm set up in forest

Mon, Feb 27

With eggs in short supply due to a ban on caged hens, one business is getting creative — by setting up a free-range farm in the forest.

The sprawling Better Eggs Forestry Farm spans 140 hectares on a former forestry block in Tokoroa.

"We said, 'Hey, we have got to do something different. Let's have a go at this forest concept, how do we make it work?'" Better Eggs chief executive Gareth van der Heyden told Seven Sharp.

"This is natural for them; this is where they want to be."

With nothing but trees in sight, they were "working off contour maps and instinct" to develop their vision for the land.

"We had a vision of what we wanted it to look like, birds roaming around on the floor of the forest, and this will become a forest as these trees continue to grow around us."

More than 90,000 trees have since been planted, with "more to come", van der Heyden said.

The chickens stay in a barn, before heading to their "playground" in the forest about 400m away.

Chickens in a forest farm in Tokoroa.

The forest farm is part of the Better Eggs group, which makes up 23% of New Zealand's retail egg market, at a time where smaller players are struggling to reposition themselves after the banning this year of caged birds and two major supermarket groups making the decision to stop selling colony eggs later this decade.

Van der Heyden said they looked overseas to see if there were similar concepts being used elsewhere.

"We couldn't find one that had been done at scale, and that's probably the key — at scale — so we believe what we've got at the forest is a world first."

He said they were inspired by "trying to look at it through the eyes of the future consumer, the future shopper".

"What's still going to be acceptable to the customer, to the consumer, in 30-40 years and what do they expect free range to be?

"We've gone through that process and animal welfare, the environment, sustainability — those are front of mind for customers and consumers — and they have to be for us as we build out these projects.

"We're just so proud. Anyone who wants to go and visit, we'll make it happen. It's just so important we are transparent about what we're doing."