South Australia's largest egg producer, Days Eggs, is about to begin a multi-million-dollar expansion to completed in 2016.
The company, which currently has just under 300,000 laying hens, with about a third of them in cages is set to increase its free range operations, and hopes to have a total of 500,000 hens in by the end of 2016.
"We've been lucky enough to get a 324-hectare property at Port Germein," Managing director Dion Andary said. "The property will house six 30,000 free-range sheds for egg production."
"The whole concept of large paddocks with lots of free-range chooks is not conducive to the best welfare outcomes for birds."
The company also wants to build a feed mill and use grain from local producers to supply all of its operations, including its existing free-range farms at Two Wells.
Andary says the expansion will be carried out over the next few years, but the market will dictate the speed of development. "We're trying to meet retail demand at the moment and trying to move away from cage production, so in order to accommodate that shift from trend, we need to be able to expand. But if there are changes and the market stalls, then it may take a little bit longer."
The company says the market is forcing the expansion into free range production, even though the company believes caged egg production is often of a higher welfare standard and more efficient.
"A lot of people are familiar with the old flat deck cage system, where it was six birds stuck in this little cage. That doesn't exist anymore. Since 2008, all those old systems have been obsolete.
"We have minimum requirements nationally, so there's minimum floor space required for birds and the new system is probably one of the best production systems in the world from an animal welfare perspective."
"The whole concept of large paddocks with lots of free-range chooks is not conducive to the best welfare outcomes for birds. But we have to respond to our markets and our markets are insisting that this is the way they need to move. We don't agree, but we also don't agree with losing business."
Source: ABC Rural