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Where the chicken comes first

Thousands across the country flocked to The Warehouse this week hoping to score a carton of a dozen eggs for $5, generating significant national discussion about the ethics of colony cage eggs.

The $5 eggs are available at The Warehouse in Masterton.

A spokesperson for the store said they had proved to be a popular choice, especially when times are financially tough for many families.

“Eggs are clearly a key staple for families across Wairarapa and New Zealand as our $5 eggs have been flying off the shelves.”

They said they work closely to follow Government and public sector advice regarding food production and are supportive of any changes made to animal welfare guidelines.

“We sell free-range, barn and colony eggs to give Kiwis a choice as we strive to be the cheapest go-to for breakfast and lunchbox essentials for families and bring the price of groceries down in a tough market.”

Animal welfare groups criticised the reason behind the cheaper eggs, citing deprived living conditions – resulting in disease, parasites, feather loss and brittle bones for the hens laying the eggs.

An entrepreneur – with family and business ties to Wairarapa – operating a free-range egg business believes free range is the only way forward in the egg industry.

Nathan Williams – former owner of the Top Pub in Greytown – founded his appropriately named company, Eg four years ago. He told the Times-Age that he wanted to change the egg industry norms, which often involved facilities with limited space and ventilation.

“Everything that you’d have a problem with in egg farming, I believe I’ve fixed,” Williams said.

When completed, William’s set-up in Bulls will include four long sheds placed in a cross formation, each separated by an expanse of grass on either side and the ends pointing towards a central packing house.

Each shed houses 30,000 hens, separated into flocks of 5000.

He said that the third shed is due to be completed in April, at which point the operation will house 90,000 egg-laying birds.

“If it’s raining or windy, the sheds are designed so the chickens can still go out,” Williams said.

“It’s the extra space which is important; it’s like a balcony.”

He noted that the operation involved gruelling work at the start, with staff needing to be on-site from 5am to 11pm every day of the week.

“I think I’ve dropped about 20 kilos doing it because it’s hard, intensive work,” Williams said.

“We had to lift 30,000 birds up to their sleeping aviary each night, and then every morning, you must comb the flocks, picking up stray eggs laid in the wrong place before they get cracked and dirty.

“Now, most of the chickens are trained to jump up to the sleeping aviary by themselves, and it’s really cool to watch.”

He said chickens take about six weeks to be trained to jump up to the aviary when the shed lights go off.

When eggs are laid in the nest boxes, they roll down on a conveyor box into the central packing house, where they are graded and packaged.

He said the facility’s design is unique, allowing chickens to move at their own free rein over 240 hectares.

“They can move outside to either side of the sheds, they have their own range, and all the buildings are fully ventilated and appropriately lit.”

Williams said Eg had recently expanded into select New World and PAK’n’SAVE supermarkets [including Masterton] and received regular direct orders from Wairarapa customers.

Trays of 20 eggs are sold from Eg for $14.99 at PAK’n’SAVE Masterton, a price Williams said reflects the environment in which his chickens are raised.

“I believe all animals have the right to see sunshine and grass.”

By the end of this year, Williams said the fourth shed in the complex will be complete, allowing the operation to house 120,000 birds.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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