Dressed as chickens and posing in giant cages, more than 20 protesters gathered outside the resource consent hearing of a proposed caged chicken farm in South Auckland this morning.
With about 310,000 chickens, Craddock Farms will be New Zealand's largest caged hen farm if consent is granted.
That decision was being considered by a panel which includes three independent commissioners and one Franklin Local Board member, an Auckland Council spokesperson said.
The hearing would occur today and tomorrow at the Franklin Art Centre.
Safe for Animals head of campaigns, Mandy Carter, said it was a "colourful" protest with lots of passing motorists showing their support, too.
"It was to send a message about colony cages to those councillors considering the Craddock Farm application," she said.
Colony cages are an alternative to battery cages, which were banned from being newly installed in New Zealand in 2012.
The colony farming method gives hens slightly more room and access to a nesting area, perches and a scratching area - conditions that activists say are still far from good enough.
"They are a credit-card sized bigger," said Ms Carter. "They offer hens just marginally more space than traditional cages - it is just another cage system in which hens spend their entire life caged and unable to express their most natural behaviours."
The terminology "colony-farmed" could also be misleading for consumers, she said.
Craddock Farm was also condemned by the Royal New Zealand SPCA, said chief executive Ric Odom.
"We believe the establishment of this farm is a backward step that fliers in the face of current trends towards improved animal welfare in the commercial farming of animals."
A Craddock Farm spokesman said colony farms were individual colonies of up to 60 hens - an "ideal number per flock, with areas for nesting, scratching pecking and perching".
"Food and water are always available and a continuous belt captures and removes waste," he said.
Colony eggs were cheaper for consumers.
"People who can afford to pay more for eggs have the option to buy either barn raised or free range eggs, if they prefer."
A council spokeswoman said the agency would not comment while the hearing was ongoing.
It would also not provide a copy of Craddock Farm's resource consent application.
If approved, the farm will be on Massey Rd, Pukekohe.
Egg Producers Federation New Zealand executive director Michael Brooks said colony farming was a viable and well-researched method of egg farming.
A report by the government-appointed National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee found colony-raised hens had the equivalent welfare status of free-range and barn hens, he said.
Mr Brooks said if there were no cage eggs in New Zealand, prices would double
"If only free-range eggs were allowed the price would at least double, continuing a trend of cost increases seen in other household staples, and driving people away from the nutritious egg to cheaper foods and the threat of poor nutrition and even further rising obesity."
Chicken farming conditions
• 18 hens per sqm
• 550cm3 per hen
• 40cm high
• 13 hens per sq m
• 750 cm3 per hen
• 45cm high
• 7 hens per sqm
• 1428cm3 per hen
• Height n/a
• 10 hens per m2 (when indoors)
• 1000m3 per hen
• Height n/a