North Otago chicken farm sharpens its focus

Bowalley Free Range marketing and brand manager Anna Craig (20) relaxes with a flock of hens on...
Bowalley Free Range marketing and brand manager Anna Craig (20) relaxes with a flock of hens on her family’s free-range farm. PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Anna Craig knew it was the right time to get cracking and launch a new brand to market the free-range eggs produced on her family’s farm in North Otago.

The Lincoln University agribusiness and food marketing student said she was "torn" about how to spend her summer break.

She could spend it working on her family’s 450ha farm in Herbert, about 20km south of Oamaru, or seek work elsewhere, which might look better on her CV.

She returned to the farm and set herself a goal of launching a new brand to sell some of the eggs laid by about 30,000 free range shaver chickens there.

"I’ve been working all summer to create Bowalley Free Range."

The brand was launched on February 1.

The egg industry was changing rapidly, so the launch "had to be this summer."

"It was now or never."

Solar panels run the chicken sheds.
Solar panels run the chicken sheds.
Her family already had contracts to supply eggs to Foodstuffs for the supermarket giant to sell under its own brands.

The Bowalley Free Range brand allowed the Craig family it to tell its own story, she said.

Her great-grandparents, Ivan and Joyce, had a flock of 200 hens on a farm about 8km north in Maheno, from 1958.

Her grandparents, David and Linda, joined the business in 1969 and started growing their own grain in 1984.

Her parents, Brent and Bridget, joined the business in 1995.

In 2015, the first of the six modern free-range sheds was built in Bowalley Rd, hence the brand name.

Her brother, Tim, left Ashburton and a job working at Rabobank to work on the farm from this month.

He is set to marry his fiance, Jess Cairns, near the farm early next month.

"We are getting into the fourth generation now — which is great."

Another part of the story behind the brand are the sustainable farming practices on the farm.

The practices include:

The chicken sheds being run on solar power.

The farm growing its own grain — a mix of barley, wheat and rapeseed — to feed the chickens.

The hen’s manure being used as a base fertiliser on farm paddocks.

Her family was proud of its farm and wanted to share how it operated, she said.

A camera which began live streaming hens on a free-range farm this month.
A camera which began live streaming hens on a free-range farm this month.
In a bid to be as transparent as possible, a QR code was on Bowalley Free Range cartons so customers could scan it to watch a live stream from three cameras, located in and outside the chicken shed, to see the high level of care given at any time of the day.

"A lot of people don’t trust where their food has come from, so we have opened our doors."

She believed the live stream was a New Zealand first.

Her family gave her full control to build and launch the brand.

"It was great to have that freedom. It was a lot of hard work and I learned so much — it was such a great experience."

She pitched to Foodstuffs why they should distribute Bowalley Free Range eggs from its Christchurch hub to its supermarkets across the South Island.

"I had the Foodstuffs presentation the same week I had my exams — so that was a big full-on week."

After the eggs hit supermarket shelves, she went on a road trop across the South Island to introduce herself to buyers, and tell the story behind the product.

Since the launch, about four time more eggs had sold than expected.

Consequently, the family had been working extra hours grading eggs to meet demand.

She had questioned if she should return to begin her final year of study in Christchurch this week.

The brand was "taking off" but she kept reminding everyone the new business had been operating for less than a month.

Rather than making any hasty decisions, she would continue her study and collect sales data, review it in six months to decide how to evolve the business.

"Hopefully there will be growth — we would love to do more at Bowalley Free Range."

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