A Kiwi company is taking a novel approach to egg production, with its new free-range forest farm in Waikato.
The 139-hectare property near Tokoroa opens on Thursday and will ultimately house 320,000 laying hens, which will live amongst 90,000 native and exotic trees in the forest.
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 Heyde says it's a completely 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," he said.
"We are providing the birds with the highest animal welfare and hen enrichment standards."
The site will be developed over the next five years and will eventually employ 15 people.
The free range forest will also include an element of forestry, with the pine, oak, poplar and eucalyptus trees planted on the property to be milled for timber or pulp when they mature.
When the farm is fully developed there will be eight laying sheds on the site, van der Heyden said.
The farm is also highly automated, with eggs transported from the nesting boxes via conveyor belts to a robot that packs the eggs into trays and pallets. The pallets are then collected by trucks and delivered to the company's existing grading and distribution facility in Lichfield.
There are currently 20,000 hens on the site.