River Range Eggs – Courtney Ellison, Takapau
Courtney Ellison went from a backyard chicken owner, living in Wellington with three chickens, to quitting the rat race and buying free range egg business, River Range Eggs. Now, she has 1300 chickens, and couldn’t be happier about it.
River Range Eggs is located in Takapau and they pride themselves on fresh, free-range eggs from happy hens with a view of the Ruahine Ranges.
The first Covid lockdown was the catalyst for change for Courtney and her partner Warren Lobo. Living in Wellington, Courtney managed several large retail stores for Number One Shoes in the region, and when they spotted the business for sale on Trade Me it seemed a perfect fit for them.
“We thought it would give us what we wanted in terms of lifestyle, working for ourselves and being able to live off the land a bit more.”
Courtney grew up in Takapau, so it made sense to come back. While she’d always owned chickens, it was never on this scale, and the new business has been a big learning curve.
“Growing up here, we used to call our house the zoo, we’ve always been animal people. I do love chickens, they have the most amazing personalities, are so funny and just curious creatures.
“Every day we are still learning so much, but that’s one of the best things, the constant opportunity to keep learning and providing even better welfare and care for our chickens.”
River Range Eggs has 1300 chickens, with another 300 set to arrive in October. Courtney says they are still small scale compared to other free range egg producers and the aim in the next 10 years is to double their numbers. For now, they are content to focus on providing the best care possible for their chickens before expanding.
A big driver is ensuring a low stock density on the farm, providing plenty of space for the chickens to roam and enjoy. Big trees provide lots of shelter from the wind and rain in winter, and a place to cool off in the heat of summer. They have plans to plant natives to help with this, too.
Sustainability is an important part of their story and they recycle packaging that is returned to them by customers. Clean packaging is reused, while the rest is composted and put on the garden.
“We’re really trying to reduce our impact on the land so that future generations don’t have to deal with the same problems.”
Diet is important and all the chickens are fed Sharpes Farm Feeds special blend pellets, which they love. As well, they get fresh vegetables, like spinach, silverbeet and cabbage, grown in Courtney’s garden.
The previous owners of the business used Sharpes and, while they did look around at other options, they decided to stick with Sharpes.
“The main reason was because Sharpes is local to us. Supporting local with our packaging and feed is important to us. We like to support local business and source locally where we can.”
Price was also a factor, and Sharpes was competitive when buying bulk amounts direct on to farm.
They order six half tonne bags a fortnight and Courtney does all her ordering through the mobile app, which she is a huge fan of.
“I love it. I wouldn’t go back to ordering the other way. It’s fantastic, if I’m out feeding the chickens and I can see we’re getting a bit low or they’re going through it a bit quicker than normal I just order then and there. Get on the app, order, done, forget about it.”
The couple sell their eggs primarily at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market and also supply a few retail stores. Orders for home deliveries usually come through their Facebook page, but they tend to reserve that option for their elderly customers who might have trouble getting out and about.