Gavin Martin lived on a lifestyle farm in Hanmer before moving to his current farm at Okuku in North Canterbury three years ago. He owns 9 hectares but leases some adjoining land from the regional council so altogether farms about 30-40 hectares. When asked what made him buy that particular block, Gavin said, "Location - and the fact that it had a lot of character, not just a house on a few acres."
Gavin has 600 free-range organic laying hens and is the only SPCA accredited free range/organic egg producer in the South Island. He hopes to eventually work full time from home and sees chooks as a very viable option on a lifestyle farm. Other livestock includes about 20 Boer goats who work on weed control and pasture enhancement while also providing interest and a small income. White Galloway cattle were added as Gavin liked the look of them and thought they would appeal to other lifestyle farmers and therefore provide more income. A few beef calves round out the numbers.
And the future holds more hens! Gavin's intention is to increase his laying flock to 3000 birds and converting the remainder of his farm to organic production. The Boer goats will provide the main weed control and the poultry manure from the hens will be recycled to ensure fertility for the land.
It's not easy to get organic certification. There are strict rules to follow when producing free-range and organic eggs. The maximum ratio is 875 hens per hectare and there is a maximum flock size of 1200 for free range or a maximum of 600 per flock for organic. They must also have grass cover all year round. Gavin has has three paddocks dedicated just to the hens so he can rotate them around as the paddocks become bare. The lucky chooks also have a 'winter garden' attached to the shed where they can shelter from bad weather yet still scratch about.
Gavin says he doesn't really have a farming background, "although my parents did and I have spent most of my adult life in the country and always had a few 'farm animals'." This means he 'pretty much' knew what he was in for when he first bought his farm.
What are the benefits of living on a lifestyle farm? "No close neighbours!" he laughed, "seriously, it's the peace and ambience of the country, not forgetting the animals of course."