Week in Review

Starving chickens rescued from failed free-range farm

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Thousands of chickens, many in very poor condition, have been rescued from a rundown free-range farm in West Auckland.

When Newsroom visited Best Eggs in Massey, it found that thousands of chickens had been living in extremely overcrowded shipping containers.

An egg farmer from South Auckland, who is saving many of the birds by relocating them to his own free-range farm, said the conditions were the most appalling he had ever witnessed.

He spoke to us on the condition of anonymity.

“When we came down the hill to the farm the chickens started desperately running towards us. They usually run away when a stranger approaches but they were starving.

“We opened the doors to the buildings and the most terrible stench hit us. There were eggs everywhere, all over the floor, partly because there weren’t enough laying boxes, nowhere near enough, but also because the workers hadn’t collected them. They told me they hadn’t been paid for four months.

“I estimate they had 6000 chickens in a space that you would normally have 1000. For that number of chickens you need 60 drinkers, but there was only four in operation.”

It's estimated 6000 chickens were packed into a space that would normally have 1000.

The farmer says he hopes to rehabilitate between 3000-4000 chickens and is paying $3 each for the birds. He hopes to on-sell the birds once they have regained weight and been treated for parasites.

“Many of the older birds have not been fed properly for two years and have never laid an egg, we can tell that by looking at their body condition and bone structure."

A vet found the flock was infested with lice, red mites and scaly leg mites.

A post-mortem examination revealed the chickens also had tapeworms.

About 400 of the 6000 chickens were beyond saving and have been destroyed.

The sole director of Best Eggs, Paul Greef, said he accepted his share of responsibility for state of the chickens.

“I have found myself in a very tough situation but I wholeheartedly own my part in the situation.”

Greef, an Auckland IT worker, said he was a financial backer of the business which got into trouble by growing too quickly.

Greef said he and his partner started by leasing space at the Massey property and farming 2000 birds but the business had grown quickly to 6000 birds housed in six shipping containers.

“We operated three flocks of chickens and the aim was to rotate them around the land but my partner grew the business too fast.”

At its peak the company was understood to be producing 4000 eggs a day.

Greef says things started to fall apart when his partner left the company and he decided to advertise it for sale.

A vet found the flock was infested with lice, red mites and scaly leg mites.

Businessman John Denize emerged as a likely buyer. 

Twice a discharged bankrupt – 2001-2004 and 2012-2015 – Denize was also a director of the failed grocer chain Nosh, which went under owing 100 staff $300,000 in wages.

"John Denize came along after he saw the business advertised, but the negotiations for him to buy it dragged on and we came to an agreement for him to have an operating lease.

"John decided to consolidate everything into one location on the farm and run it with as little labour input as possible.

"He reduced the floor space and I don’t think there was enough feeders."

Denize did not return Newsroom’s call.

Greef says he was left in a difficult situation after Denize departed the business two months ago .

“Looks like my only option is liquidation but at least the birds are taken care of. This is my first business venture and I’ve learned some lessons.”

Newsroom understands a liquidator outlined a plan to slaughter the birds before selling off the equipment but some have been sold on Trade Me and the rest to other free-range egg farmers.

Greef confirmed that the farm had been put on a “risk management plan” by MPI and had been visited by inspectors five days ago.

An MPI spokesman said: "An MPI animal welfare inspector had been conducting inspections and was working with the owner to ensure concerns regarding proper feeding, housing of birds and general state of the farm were alleviated. The owner was later formally directed to take corrective action in relation to subsequent animal welfare issues identified, and given a period of time to implement these actions. The last inspection was in October 31.

"Not enough progress was being made and it became clear that the farm was struggling to meet their obligations due to a variety of reasons.

"We were also aware that there was substantial de-stocking taking place, which we supported as it was addressing immediate animal welfare issues.

'We are investigating further and will determine whether charges are filed."

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