Quality You Can Taste

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

When it comes to the food we eat, many of us refuse to settle for anything but the best tasting, highest quality and freshest products available for our families. Many companies like to talk about their food being the best, but few have Hazeldene’s decades of experience, passion for the industry, and care when it comes to producing top-quality quality chicken products for Australia’s growing market.

Incorporated back in June of 1957, Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm Pty Ltd remains a proud family-owned and operated business. Founded by Dick and Mavis Hazeldene, the business began as an egg producing farm with 15,000 layers. Around 1971-1972, the family began selling older hens to local butcher shops, and word soon got about the high quality of Hazeldene’s chicken meat. It was also at this time that the couple’s son, John, graduated from school and became involved full time in the processing side of the business, which continued to steadily grow until the family decided to go full-force into chicken meat production.

“In 1985, the processing side was growing at a fairly steady rate, and we felt eggs didn’t have the future in them, so we scaled back the eggs, and went 100 per cent into the meat production,” says John Hazeldene. Taking over as the company’s Managing Director seven years ago when his father retired, John’s older sister is Manager of Corporate Affairs, his brother Peter managing the maintenance and projects. Peter recently decided to follow his passion of farming, but remains on as a Director. John’s eldest son, Adam is Business Improvement Manager, Peter’s son Brett is involved in the maintenance area while John’s middle son Lee recently joined and is working in stock control. “We have a few family members involved, and we’re hoping to get a few more back into it as well,” says Hazeldene.

Today, Hazeldene’s is proud of its hard-earned reputation for quality, and is a thriving business. Never one to rest on its accolades, the company is continually seeking to improve its business and its products, and has developed into one of Australia’s only fully vertically integrated regional poultry processors.

Best Practice Hatchery

At Hazeldene’s, quality control is in place from start to finish, and begins with the eggs themselves. Located at East Bendigo and commissioned in 2007, the company’s best practice hatchery is responsible for hatching all of Hazeldene’s chicken stock. Unlike many other older facilities, this state of the art best practice hatchery provides control and standards that are setting new industry benchmarks worldwide in chick quality.

“In the old days, most of the hatchers or incubators were multi-stage, so you’d have eggs at a different stage right through,” says Hazeldene. “The setter was never turned off and disinfected, but now they’re all what we call single-stage. So after each batch it’s completely cleaned out, disinfected, and sanitised before a new lot of eggs are put in. So we find we’re getting a lot better results from our eggs since we put the hatchery in place.” Using modern equipment imported from Denmark, the new hatchery features not only the latest incubating and hatching technology, but vastly improved hygiene, backup power generation, water storage, air conditioning, and the assurance of constant temperatures throughout the incubation period.

Once the chicks are hatched they are transported on the same day to broiler farms, where they will grow until they attain the desired processing weight. At Hazeldene’s, the company is a big believer in the old saying, ‘The chicken is only as good as the feed it consumes’ and says that its superior-tasting chicken is no coincidence. To achieve chickens that are natural, healthy and taste like they are fresh from the farm, they must be fed a diet that is nutritious and complete.

Pure and Natural

All Hazeldene’s chicken meat is fresh and natural, and cared for with the best welfare standards possible. There are no added hormones – Hazeldene says this is a popular misconception, and that hormones haven’t been administered to birds in all the decades he’s been in the business. “There’s a large number of people who think just because chickens grow quickly that they’re administered hormones,” he says. “That is far from the truth. We don’t need to, with all the improvements that have been made in the last 20 to 30 years.”

Instead, all chickens produced by Hazeldene’s benefit from how they are raised, and the feed they consume, relying solely on genetics, nutrition, bio security and improved animal welfare and husbandry. “We put a lot into the feeding of the chickens, to give the meat a better quality and a better taste,” comments Hazeldene. Much like nutritional supplements for humans, poultry nutrition has advanced tremendously over the years. Quality chicken feed – a precise combination of protein, minerals and vitamins with cereal grains and legumes – not only fuels the energy needs of the birds, but results in chicken meat that is of superior taste and quality.

Antibiotics are only used in rare instances, under strict veterinary guidance, and in accordance with the requirements of regulatory authorities. This is done only when necessary for the health and welfare of the bird, and the use of antibiotics is largely unnecessary today, thanks to advancements in housing, husbandry, and vaccination programs over the years.

Believing that consumers should be offered choices, the company also produces Free Range chickens. No antibiotics are allowed under this accreditation and, like all Hazeldene products, the chickens undergo strict traceability protocols throughout processing and distribution. With accredited (FREPA) Free Range Farms at Murchison East and Sea Lake, Hazeldene’s is one of a handful of Free Range Accredited operations. Able to run free, the birds forage in secure areas during the day before returning to sheds at night, where they are safe from the elements and predators.

RSPCA Approved Farms

Earlier this year, Hazeldene’s achieved a milestone when the company became an Approved Producer under the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme for some of its chicken farms for Coles supermarkets. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals promotes kindness to animals, acts to prevent cruelty, and focuses on humane treatment. In the arena of food accreditation, the RSPCA believes farm animals must be treated with not only proper food, shelter, and veterinary care, but be raised in a way that meets their needs, in an environment that allows normal behaviour.

“The RSPCA will go on site to see how the birds are handled,” says Hazeldene, adding that sheds under the auspices of the RSPCA hold fewer birds, giving them more room to move about and be active. These sheds also have improved lighting, and more natural habitat such as perching areas and hay bales. “It is more costly, but there are a growing number of people who are concerned about animal welfare, and if they can eat an animal that they deem as being treated more humanely, so be it, that’s what we’re trying to capture.”

For Hazeldene, the RSPCA accreditation will give the company growth in the marketplace. Hazeldene’s is providing chickens to a large supermarket chain marketed as RSPCA accredited, and birds are produced under that label, which comprises about six per cent of Hazeldene’s overall production. For consumers, the additional cost is worth it, knowing the chickens have been very well taken care of.

Future Plans

At present, Hazeldene’s produces about half a million birds a week, and will soon be able to handle greater numbers. Construction is underway on a new primary processing floor, set to be completed in March, 2012. The company’s newer facilities will feature modernised equipment, such as gas stunning instead of traditional electric stunning, and post slaughter electro stimulation, which helps mature and tenderize the chicken meat. “It is all new equipment which we hope will produce us a better quality bird,” says Hazeldene. “We have a good processing plant as it is, but we’ve become a little bit hamstrung with size as we expand, so we decided that we would build a new green-field site for the primary process side of production and expand the old site to packing room floor, so it gives us a lot more scope for increased production of all products.”

In addition to offering an extensive range of fresh whole chickens, pieces, portions, value added, marinated and small options, Hazeldene’s produces a wide selection of frozen foods for the retail and wholesale markets, and its processing plant is an accredited Halal Slaughter Plant, by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Inc.

“Our processing is second to none,” says Hazeldene. “We have a very good, clean carcass, and our customers tell us regularly that our birds definitely do hold up the best: in taste and shelf life. We’re not the biggest, but we certainly want to be seen as having the best quality.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

June 21, 2018, 1:15 AM AEST