Celebrating Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs and their award winning Christmas packaging, we talked to William Sandle, the farmer who look after their free range, happy hens, about what free range actually means...and we were surprised to find that when chickens are allowed to be chickens, they have some pretty adorable behaviours.
This article was created in partnership with Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs
It's pav season! And although we always go for the eggs marked "Free Range", and while we're pretty sure they taste better, have brighter yolks, make better pavs, scrambles, quiches and more, and have brighter, healthier looking yolks, we don't really know what makes them different. So we talked to someone who really knows: WIlliam Sandle, a farmer for Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs, who was literally born and raised on a poultry farm.
William, his wife, Teiria, and their daughter Harper
Otaika eggs come from happy hens that are free to roam on the beautiful fertile land on farms in Whangarei and on William's farm, at Kaharoa near Rotorua. He credits his upbringing as his training, and loves the problem solving as well as being out in the country and seeing the chickens roaming free in the paddocks. Not only that, he is the third generation of his family in the poultry farming business. His mum, Riet van den Broek, looks after the chickens (and she even reckons they talk back!). His children love being on the farm too - helping with the chickens and collecting the eggs.
So it's little wonder William and his team take great pride in their product, and get very excited when the gorgeous foiled Christmas packaging arrives, presenting the eggs in a festive and special way.
"Our team loves working with the cartons because they are so lovely to look at they take great pride in the product and it’s always a great feeling knowing it’s the lead up to Christmas," he says.
When that packaging won an International Creativity Award in 2017, the crew at Otaika Valley were bursting with pride, especially because William and the team even had a hand in the design of the packaging. His wife, Teiria Sandle, was even on the team of designers they worked with to create it.
It's a badge of honour for the company, and one that is proudly touted along with their happy free range eggs. William reckons they taste better, and now that consumers are becoming much more conscious of the ethics of their food, they're starting to see the demand rise. Free range farming wasn't common back in 2007, when William’s father Peter Sandle bought the Otaika Valley farm.
But William reckons it makes a difference to the chickens. “I believe a chicken that is free to roam and can partake in their natural behaviours would be a happier chicken, doing what they love” - so here's what it means for a chicken to be truly free range:
So what does it actually mean for a chicken to be free range?
William: Free range means the chickens get to roam free outside and partake in their favourite daily activities such as scratching, perching, dust bathing and foraging.
How is the life of a free range chicken different from the life of a battery farmed chicken?
The life of a free range chicken in comparison to a battery chicken is quite different. Battery chickens live their life out within a small cage and never get to see daylight or partake in their natural instinctual behaviours, which I think is very sad.
How big is the area that your chickens live in?
During the day they are free to roam in our vast paddocks. At night they return to the barn to sleep where we have around nine birds per metre squared.
Where do chickens sleep at night?
After a day out roaming our chickens are well trained and come back into the barn every night to drink, feed and huddle together and keep warm and sleep.
What do your chickens eat?
Our chickens eat high quality wholesome natural grains and oyster grit (crushed oyster shells) for calcium which produce the highest quality free range eggs!
Do chickens have distinct personalities?
Yes they do! They’re surprisingly similar to humans and have their pecking orders. They love being around humans! It’s quite funny when we take people to see the chickens and walk through the paddocks, they get a fright when they turn around and there’s a swarm of chickens right behind them.
Do free range eggs taste different from a battery farmed eggs?
Yes we can definitely taste the difference and so many people tell us the same thing. They say they can taste the love, happiness and sunlight in our eggs!
We hear free range eggs even look different from their battery-farmed counterparts?
Sometimes people will notice and comment about the difference they’ve noticed when discovering our free range eggs. Their shells are a beautiful brown colour, smooth and bright orange yolks.
Why is it that eggs from happy hens taste better?
I truly believe you can taste the happiness in the egg!
Do you ever have any trouble with your chickens getting a bit too free range and having to be wrangled back into their area?
Occasionally we have the odd rogue chicken gone wild and sometimes they don’t make it back in time for dinner before the barn doors are closed for the night. Luckily we have our farm manager who lives on site to go and check on the chickens and any chickens left outside are put back into the barn for the night.
Is it ever difficult to find the eggs laid by free range chickens?
Actually our chickens are well trained to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes we very rarely have any eggs that are laid outside.
What is something that might surprise us about chicken farming?
Chicken farming is not as easy as some people may think. My parents have over 60 years of poultry farming experience and they are still learning something new every day. My mother is super passionate about ‘her’ chickens she even talks to them and believes they talk to her!
What is your favourite egg-based food?
My favourite egg-based food would have to be a warm and comforting veggie quiche! Leftovers are always the best if we’re lucky.
Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs in festive packaging are available at North Island supermarkets from 1 December.
Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs