After six years redeveloping a major Hawke's Bay egg production plant to try to meet demands of modern society, former sheep and cattle farmer Laurie Horsfall does find time to relax, even aware there's possibly some way to go yet.

At his Mangaroa farm, opposite the gates of the prison - which doesn't buy his eggs - he says the colonised caging plant billed once as the first of its type in the Southern Hemisphere is "the best we can get at this time".

Simply, the cost of harvesting eggs if his hens roamed free is prohibitive.

He's not sure what the ultimate answer may be, but the world is consuming eggs at significantly increasing rates. Britain, has recently reported to have increased production by 10 per cent in three years.


The common image of the egg is the variety across the breakfast table: fried, poached or scrambled, but it represents only a small proportion, with egg product used in almost every food imaginable.

Mr Horsfall, whose 48,000-50,000 "birds" vastly outnumber the 2500 sheep and 1000 head of cattle he had on a Turakina Valley farm (near Whanganui) that was more than 25 times the size of his current allotment, says when he made the decision to move onto the property he had owned for several years, it was with the attitude change was coming, and it was best met as soon as possible.

Cage size was increased to meet new requirements, and feeding regimes and lighting were improved. Animal rights groups maintain opposition to cages but Mr Horsfall says there have been major improvements to the rat-infested conditions which used to exist on poultry farms.

Hence the "New Generation" plant which is dwarfed by some large operations, and which serves a mainly Hawke's Bay market, with trucks each day also going to the Whanganui and Manawatu areas.

Hawke's Bay Eggs, the company he formed in the redevelopment of former Clay's Poultry farm, is paid $2.70-$3 per dozen, prices which are largely determined by the negotiations between the supermarkets and the big players such as Seagolds which draw from plants of up to 500,000 birds.

The costs are significant. Each bird costs up to $12, and there is a continuing cycle of stock moved in from breeders near Levin at age 16 weeks, to be out the door at 84.

It costs about $100,000 a month to feed them, the sustenance coming mainly from Mount Maunganui, but with plans for feed from maize in Hawke's Bay, nourished by the Mangaroa plant's own manure.

Mr Horsfall says that when he first started the development, it was a cycle 70-80 hours a week, without days off, and he knew that sooner or later that also would need to change.

The plant supports a staff of about seven, with a big family input from wife Shirley, daughter Shelley, who takes care of marketing and audit requirements, and son Aaron, who cares care of mechanics and daily requirements on site.

A keen sheep dog trialist, who plans to follow most trials this season with his current team of two heading dogs, he says: "What we did first was surround ourselves with people who knew more than I did."

"Now we can take it easy, we've done the hard work, and the kids can take it to the next level if they want to."