Classical music features in larger egg sizes
Pull up to admire the view on your way to Yealands Estate winery at Seaview, south of Blenheim, and you will be greeted with the sounds of classical composers Mozart, Bach and Strauss.
The soothing music projected over the vineyards from four speakers is part of estate owner Peter Yealand's "project harmony", aimed to increase the vines' vigour and resistance to disease.
It is the latest idea from Mr Yealands, who is renowned for using slightly obscure methods to get things done.
"There's a line of thought among a few cranks like me that plants respond to music," he said.
But fans of heavy metal, country and pop music will not get their fix here - only classical music is believed to increase a plant's production.
The project, under way for almost a year, had not made a noticeable difference to the vines yet, except the leaves closest to the speakers have taken longer to fall in autumn, he said.
However, his mechanic and resident bird expert Wayne Funnell have noticed the estate's free-range chickens housed closest to the speakers are producing noticeably larger eggs compared with chickens further afield.
Mr Funnell tried moving the hen houses to different sites within range of the music, thinking location was the answer, but it did not appear to make any difference, he said.
"I've weighed the eggs singly and by the dozen to compare them and there is a 19 per cent difference," he said.
The free-range brown pullets lived in six hen houses scattered around the 1000 hectare vineyard. They were all the same age and received the same amount of feed.
Eight dozen eggs from the houses without music weighed 5 kilograms, or 52 grams each - about a size six, while eight dozen eggs from the houses with music weighed 5.9kg, or 62g each - about a size seven, he said.
"I've never seen anything like this. Apart from the music, I really can't explain why these chooks are producing such big eggs."
However, Massey University animal behaviour professor Kevin Stafford said there was a theory that cows, chickens and pigs would produce more milk, eggs and meat from music in animal sheds. It had not been proven why.
"There is evidence that shows the way people behave influences how animals behave, which helps improve their production," he said.
"So if you have calm, relaxed behaviour rather than erratic, rough behaviour, you will get more eggs, although I can't say it would affect the size."
Scientific research published by Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal suggests chickens prefer silence, rather than music, he said.
Poultry Institute Association of New Zealand director Michael Brooks said some members used music in their sheds to keep young birds calm, although they had not reported an increase in egg size.
He pointed out that in the first years of their lives commercial chickens' eggs will continue to grow too, although he could not explain why some would be larger than others.
Mr Yealands might not be able to prove the music is resulting in the bigger eggs, but it made him and his staff happy, and gave international visitors a kick, he said.
And he shrugged off the suggestion that some people would say it was a publicity stunt, aimed at boosting wine sales.
"They can say that, it doesn't worry me," he said. "I'm me, I'm always experimenting and I'm always challenging to do things differently."
The Marlborough Express