Otaika Valley case study

The hens at Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs near Whangarei are some of New Zealand’s happiest and most content, or so reckons fourth generation egg farmer William Sandle.

“The hens spend their day pecking around in the fields, scratching around for bugs and enjoy dust bathing in the beautiful Northland sunshine. It’s chicken-heaven really,” he says.

Happy hens have pecked and clucked away like this since William’s father Peter Sandle bought the Otaika Valley farm in 2007 with the goal of producing good, honest free range eggs. The farm is independently audited by Assure Quality Ltd, which verifies compliance with the Animal Code of Welfare (2012).

“Otaika Valley was one of the first to farm chickens this way. Consumers didn’t really seek out free range eggs until relatively recently, but we’re definitely starting to see the demand now,” says William.

Demand that increased after Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs uploaded a video of their free roaming chickens to YouTube last year, where it was picked up by international media. The short video of chickens streaming out of their barn in the morning to explore expansive green pastures has amassed more than 2.5million views and counting.

“More people are beginning to ask questions about where their food comes from and they want to know what goes into producing it. Our hens have plenty of space to roam, scratch, perch, forage and act as chickens naturally do. They’re fed with wholesome natural grains and no antibiotics or chemical additives go into the feed. It makes for a delicious egg with a rich, yellow yolk. You can’t beat it for taste.”

The demand reached such heights that Otaika Valley had to find a new farm. It’s a challenge most free range egg farmers are familiar with. 

“You certainly need to have more land area as a free range egg farmer than other alternative farmers. We need to allow 2.5 hectares for every 5,000 birds. It’s expensive to expand, but we believe we have a delicious, wholesome product that’s worth it.”

In late 2015 the Sandle family found the perfect plot in Kaharoa, near Rotorua on which to start their second farm. William, along with his wife Teiria and their three children, moved to Rotorua to set up the new farm on 130 acres of lush ex dairy pasture.

The farm was chosen due to its central location that makes supplying eggs to the central and lower North Island easier. Today Otaika Valley produces around 400,000 eggs each week between its Whangarei and Kaharoa farms.

“Countdown could see the demand for free range eggs was on the rise and were eager to give customers more free range egg choices, but they recognised it would take time for us to get production to a point where we could supply most North Island stores. The Countdown team was very understanding and collaborative throughout the growth process, and they continue to be today.

“Without Countdown we couldn’t have expanded the way we have. They’ve opened up distribution to the rest of the North Island for us and we’re now stocked in about 70 stores,” William explains.

“We’re working on supplying even more, but it has to be steady, sustainable growth that is true to dad’s vision; happy chickens in wide open spaces.”