No yolk: still working on egg farm at 96

Jim Quested rides his e-bike to the hen houses. Photo: Sally Brooker
Jim Quested rides his e-bike to the hen houses. Photo: Sally Brooker
Jim Quested knows his eggs.

The 96-year-old still works every morning on the Waitaki Valley egg farm where he grew up.

Mr Quested's grandfather first settled on the site at Georgetown, east of Duntroon, in 1875, having come out from lowland Scotland.

Mr Quested's father worked on the railways before serving in Gallipoli in World War 1. He returned blind in one eye and could not get his old railways job back.

So he started keeping hens on his 4ha - a common practice in the district in those days.

Mr Quested, who had a younger brother and sister, said he was the one who was ''stupid enough'' to take over the egg operation.

He spent time away from Georgetown for service in World War 2, firstly as a driver in the army, then as an air force air crew trainer, finishing up the 16th Battalion in Japan.

Mr Quested and his late wife, Mary, brought up three children at the Georgetown farm. Son Stephen runs it now.

''They've all got degrees,'' Mr Quested said.

''It didn't worry me if the children took over the farm.''

After he had been ''on the farm for a while'', economic conditions created such anxiety that he developed a stomach ulcer. So he shut down the operation and did 11 seasons at the Pukeuri meat works.

''Stephen took it on about three years after I started at the works.''

New regulations for housing laying hens are coming in. That means the Questeds will have to replace their existing cages by 2022.

''It's going to cost a lot of money.''

He believed hens were better off in cages than going free-range.

''They lay more. They don't need to be drugged up to be kept alive.''

Whereas the current cages hold six hens each, the new ones will hold 60. Mr Quested said if he was a hen, he'd rather share a cage with just five others.

A survey by the egg industry indicated about a third of hens would be in cages under the new regulations and two-thirds would be in barns or free-range.

''Eggs will go up [in price]. People will have to pay. There are so many costs in free-range hens.''

Meanwhile, Mr Quested bikes the short distance from his house to the hens in the mornings. When his knee got too sore for pedalling in recent times, he bought himself an e-bike.

''That's what happens when you let him loose on the internet,'' his son said.

''As far as I'm concerned, I'm more mobile than ever,'' Mr Quested said.

''Without it, I would be stuck. You've got to get out sometimes.''

He said the work he carried out was ''not too strenuous or laborious''.

''I can do egg grading. I go round and check the machinery's OK. I don't really do much.

''Machinery is very important now. The biggest problem is when it breaks down. The hens still need to be fed and watered.''

Mr Quested doesn't get attached to the hens, but makes sure they get everything they need - ''or they won't repay you''.

''The modern hen is a totally different bird to what we had 40 years ago.''

All the breeding was done in North America, and the hybrid birds were multiplied in New Zealand.

''They lay about twice as many eggs as they used to, with the same feed.''

In between tending the hens, Mr Quested lives alone and spends a lot of time reading. He gets two newspapers a day, as well as all the freebies arriving by rural mail.

''I watch TV a bit, but not during the day.''

He mostly uses his cellphone, rather than a computer, to access the internet.

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