Free range chooks rule raises anger

By John Maslin of the Wanganui Chronicle -
Ian Higgins (right) and son David made their points to Whanganui MP Chester Borrows when he visited the egg farm. Photo / Stuart Munro
Ian Higgins (right) and son David made their points to Whanganui MP Chester Borrows when he visited the egg farm. Photo / Stuart Munro

Moving into free range egg production has cost one Wanganui poultry farm hundreds of thousands of dollars, but now regulatory changes have them looking down the barrel of more expense.

David Higgins and his father Ian, who operate as Ian Higgins Poultry Ltd, are upset that the changes now being called for have happened soon after they had built four new sheds according to existing regulations.

Those sheds each cost $350,000 to build and are home to 5000 birds.

Last week the pair explained their concerns to Whanganui MP Chester Borrows when he visited the Rapanui Rd farm.

David Higgins said when they built the free range sheds the regulations demanded a 250mm gap at the bottom of one wall to let the birds move freely in and out of the sheds.

"But now the bureaucrats have decided the gap has to be 350mm. That means we've got to take the front walls of those sheds to create the new width they're demanding," he said.

Another change involves the size of the sheds and on the basis it means the Higgins' will have to cut the numbers of birds in each shed by 500.

"That's going to cost us more money," Mr Higgins said.

The changes have come from the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) which passed its recommendations to the Nathan Guy, the Minister of Primary Industry.

Mr Higgins said NAWAC appeared to be copying European standards and while he had no issue with that, he was upset with changes being made retrospectively and costing his business money.

"These hidden costs keep popping out of the woodwork," he said.

Mr Borrows told the Chronicle he could understand the Higgins' concerns.

"They built to the specifications they were told to but then changes were made. From a local MP's point of view it isn't good enough," he said.

"This has a $50,000 on their business but there's no justification for it."

Mr Borrows said demanding a 10cm increase in the height of access in the sheds meant a "really big" compliance cost and made no sense.

"Obviously regulations need to be consistent. But SPCA, who are our animal welfare watchdog, is saying the regulations are fine but officialdom is saying they're not."

He said they would be taking the matter up with the Minister.

The Higgins' made the move to free range production ahead of pending changes to the country's caged bird regulations.

They have already secured an endorsement from the SPCA and have bought more neighbouring land to increase the number of sheds for more birds. Eventually there will be 18 new 600 sq m sheds for the free range chickens.

At the moment they have about 15,000 free range birds, laying about 1100 dozen eggs a day but that output with triple in time.

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