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Early morning fire kills 50,000 chickens at a Waikato business

A firefighter on scene at an incident. 6 July 2016.

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File photo.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The fire at an Orini egg laying farm in Waikato killed 50,000 chickens, not the 75,000 the business had announced earlier today.

The fire started at 7.20am at a Zeagold Nutrition farm in Orini and took hold in two of the 12 barn layer sheds.

Chief executive John McKay said this evening “We have a specialist avian vet at Orini currently assessing and caring for the birds in the remaining sheds.

“His initial report is that the birds seem to be in good health. They will continue to be closely monitored in the coming days.”

He said the two sheds had been destroyed out of the 12 on site. Engineers and electricians had been called in to restore power, water and feed to all the remaining sheds.

“It’s expected the onsite packing facility will be operational from this evening to ensure all the eggs unaffected by the fire can be packed and delivered to customers.”

It would take time to rebuild the sheds and restore flock numbers. In the meantime the business would be “working hard to continue to supply eggs and get back to full capacity as soon as possible”.

“I know New Zealanders will be worried about what this means when eggs are in short supply. The reality is the losses at Orini, represent only 1.4 percent of the layer hen population nationally so while it’s a tragic loss it won’t have a significant impact on egg supply.”

Earlier in the day McKay said all 12 staff members on site were safe and unharmed.

Ten emergency vehicles were at the site and managed to contain the fire. Some units were remaining on site to dampen down any hot spots, McKay said.

“We would like to thank Fire and Emergency NZ for their quick response and great efforts today.”

The Orini egg laying farm has been running for almost two years now and has high standards of welfare for its chickens, McKay said.

The cause of the fire was yet to be determined and at this stage the focus was on the welfare of the company’s hens which survived.

The business was “devastated” to lose so many chickens, he said.

The country has been experiencing a nationwide shortage of eggs this year.

It’s the end result of a few different things: a 10-year transition away from battery cages; the decision by the big supermarket chains to go completely cage-free; and supply chain issues borne of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

At the moment, New Zealand’s chicken population is about 400,000 short to meet demand.

Egg Producers Federation executive director Michael Brooks said, although the Waikato fire certainly added to the egg shortage in New Zealand, consumers should not be affected.

The country had more than 3 million birds and the impact of the incident would not reach the wider industry, he said.

Consumer NZ agreed that this morning’s fire should not cause egg prices to rise.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said while the fire put more pressure on the industry, prices should not change.

The hens affected represented a small percentage of the total number of chickens in New Zealand, he said.

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