Free-range foray a success

'Accidental chicken farmers' Dan Love and his wife Lesley, of Omakau, serve up eggs at the Queenstown Farmers Market last Saturday. The couple gave up their careers in the police force to breed chickens and sell free-range eggs. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
'Accidental chicken farmers' Dan Love and his wife Lesley, of Omakau, serve up eggs at the Queenstown Farmers Market last Saturday. The couple gave up their careers in the police force to breed chickens and sell free-range eggs. Photo by Tracey Roxburgh.
An Omakau couple have swapped the front line for a free-range production line, having become ''accidental chicken farmers''.

Lesley and Dan Love, both formerly of the United Kingdom, established their business HennyPenny about two years ago after an initial purchase of five chickens rapidly grew to 300. The chickens live the five-star free-range life.

Mrs Love said after they got their first chickens they were often asked what they did with their spare eggs.

''We thought we could go selling some fresh eggs. From there, we started selling hens,'' she said.

''We sell point-of-lay - they get to 18 weeks and anytime from then on they are ready to lay an egg.''

The couple have sold hens to customers from throughout Central Otago, Dunedin and Invercargill and now also supply eggs to restaurants and sell them at farmers markets.

At the Queenstown Farmers Market last Saturday, the couple's bacon and egg sandwiches - made with HennyPenny eggs - proved a huge hit, a queue extending from the hotplate most of the day.

Mrs Love said the eggs were a testament to the lifestyle the hens enjoyed.

''They're fed on an all-in-one mash we buy wholesale and they have access to vegetables.

''We also provide to cafes and they give us their vegetables as well - they can't eat onion or raw potato ... just greens and fruit.''

For the couple, who served in the police force for 18 years, first in the United Kingdom and then in New Zealand, the switch proved to be a success, and they quickly saw how popular their free-range hens and eggs were, Mrs Love said.

''While it's very hard work ... to see an end result that you started and carried through [is satisfying]. I think it's more intense [than the police force],'' Mrs Love said.

''Certainly, there are more hours in the day ... or not enough.

''I think I'm just a bit more keen to get things done.

''It just seems to be taking over as more and more people get more interested ... People are looking to do their own thing [with free-range eggs].''

Queenstown Farmers Market organiser Sharlene Inch said HennyPenny had proved a popular addition to the Saturday markets, which would continue to grow as the summer season progressed.

''We're still waiting for a lot of fresh produce - because of the cold spring, the fruit's not ready yet,'' Mrs Inch said.

''But each week there will hopefully be new people here.

''It's all about supplying local produce which is fresh, or picked the day before.

''You can taste the difference.''

This year, the market was also running a competition involving school children, who had been provided with seeds, the idea being to see who could grow the tallest sunflower, biggest pumpkin and longest courgette by the end of the market season, Mrs Inch said.

The Queenstown Farmers Market, at the St Peter's Parish grounds, runs from 9am to 12.30pm every Saturday until the end of March.