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Home sweet home on the free range

Wairarapa Eggs owner Chris Martin with some of his favourite chicks. PHOTOS/ELISA VORSTER

Wairarapa poultry farmer Chris Martin bought 12ha of bare farmland last year with a vision to transform his already successful business, Wairarapa Eggs, into a high-tech operation producing five million eggs per year. ELISA VORSTER visited the farmer and his 20,000 chickens to find out what makes a good egg.

When Chris Martin was just 26 years old, he left his job as head baker at Masterton’s Ten O’clock Cookie café to take on poultry farming at Wairarapa Eggs.

Martin purchased the farm on Upper Plain Rd with his wife, Sunny, and it became home to their three children and 15,000 chickens.

Martin has successfully built up the business, becoming a major supplier of free range eggs to supermarkets, cafes and other poultry farms across Wairarapa and Wellington.

Now aged 32, Martin is fulfilling his dream of owning a purpose-built poultry farm with cutting edge technology, by moving the business to his new farm on Chester Rd, Carterton.

A batch of Wairarapa Eggs ready to be delivered.

“The [Masterton] farm has been around for 60 years – I’ve owned it for five years and I’ve closed it down already,” he said.

Martin said he was happy when he first bought the farm but didn’t want to get stuck in a routine of “same old, same old”.

The move from the 6ha farm on Upper Plain Rd to the 12ha farm on Chester Rd meant he was able to increase his brood to 20,000 birds and is planning to add another 4000.

Egg production will grow from 3.6 million eggs per year to five million.

Martin has been working tirelessly to make the farm as attractive to the chickens as possible, planting more than 140 trees, and incorporating leading technology which ensures the welfare of the birds.

Since buying the bare farm, Martin has installed several naturally-ventilated sheds, with dedicated feed lines that are monitored to keep track of each flock’s consumption.

“The technology gives us a lot more insight into what happens in the shed, so if there’s health concerns, we can help them much sooner.”

Food and water levels can be adjusted via a touch screen system, and nutrients can be added if needed.

The technology provided by Masterton’s Harvest Electronics means Martin receives around-the-clock alerts on his phone to notify him of possible water leaks and if the chickens have

Eggs arriving in the grading room on the conveyor belt.

not eaten enough.

“It’s all nice and wireless, which is good because free range farming is spread out.”

Martin said the sheer size of a free range farm meant collecting the eggs could be quite labour intensive.

To conquer this problem, nesting boxes around the farm are all connected to the grading room by conveyor belts.

Once laid, eggs then roll on to a belt which takes them to the grading room to be sorted, graded and packaged for deliveries.

Martin said the farm also had moisture sensors in the ground.

“When we irrigate the wastewater, we can respect the environment and not dump too much in one spot.

“Dairy farmers have been doing this for years – we’re just catching up in the poultry industry.”

Eggs being transported from the laying area to the grading room.

He said free range farming was more difficult than cage farming as you were at the “beck and call of the environment”.

He admitted it was more expensive to farm free range but was adamant free range eggs didn’t need to cost the earth.

“I love producing eggs and making free range affordable,” he said.

“Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and other essential vitamins – it’s nice to be able to produce something so good.

“With new technologies, we can keep the price reasonable.

“It’s also keeping with my world view – it’s just nice to see a paddock full of chickens.”

Martin planned to advance his business further, and make the farm more appealing to the birds, by building creative fencing, an artificial shelter, and planting a further 100 trees.

“We want the birds to have the option to go outside and feel safe,” he said.

He also intended to build a family home on the new farm.

“It pays to be on site living with the chickens.

“This is me for the long term, and I will be perfecting free range farming.”

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