A young dad with a background in baking is transforming a family egg business.
At just 26 years old, Chris Martin owns and runs Wairarapa Eggs - a boutique egg farm producing about 9000 eggs a day in rural Masterton.
Spread over six hectares, the farm houses between 12,000 and 15,000 hens, and employs four fulltime and four part-time staff.
Martin took over the operation in 2011 from his in-laws, who had run the business as Masterton Poultry Farm since the 1980s.
Along with changing the name, he has ensured the emphasis was now firmly on free range, which makes up 90 per cent of the business.
The focus was also about maximising the quality of the product, he said.
"We do a lot of things here that a lot of people might think are not necessary, not really viable.
"In terms of the quality of food we give them for example, and the lighting [programme].
"But we just really want to deliver quality."
Martin said as a former head baker at a Masterton eatery, he knew the importance of different eggs to different recipes.
The small size of his operation meant he could tailor the product to customers' needs.
"If a customer wants an egg for poaching I can deliver that egg - smaller eggs from younger [hens] that hold together well.
"And if they want bigger eggs for baking then I will deliver those."
As well as supplying cafes, bakeries and restaurants, Wairarapa Eggs also sells to the region's three Moore Wilson stores in Wellington, Masterton and Porirua. The eggs retail at between $6.50 and $7 a dozen, making them cheaper than some barn-laid alternatives, he said.
"Free range is expensive, but not as expensive as a lot of people think. We price them very competitively - I want everyone to have free-range eggs."
According to the New Zealand Egg Producers Federation, 83 per cent of eggs are produced by cage farms, 14 per cent by free range farms and 3 per cent from barns.
"Free range is the market we want to be in," Martin said.
"It goes along with the mindset of what New Zealanders want at the moment."
His chickens have 24-hour access to paddocks, and can be seen off Upper Plain Rd roaming the grounds and pecking at grass. Most go indoors during bad weather or in the hottest part of the day, and nearly all stay inside at night. The firm received a "Good Egg Award" in 2011 from the SPCA and Compassion in World Farming.
There was little room to expand the operation, he said.
"With the business model it's really about efficiency, making everything as efficient as possible to make more money."
Martin lives on site with his wife Sunny and children Christiaan, 5, Levi, 3, and Mikayla, 4 months.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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