Hazeldene’s is the biggest private employer in Bendigo with more than 900 employees and contractors, most of whom come from the area. This family business, which produces chickens for market from breeding to plate, has been operating for more than 60 years. It processes up to 680,000 chickens a week at Lockwood, with breeding and rearing farms, a hatchery, growing farms and a processing plant across Central Victoria. In this article, Ann Conway, People and Performance Manager at Hazeldene’s, outlines the history of the Chicken Farm, its multicultural workforce, what works – and what does not work – with a diverse workplace with over 900 employees and contractors.
Hazeldene’s is a proud family-owned company based at Lockwood, near Bendigo in Central Victoria. Strong and continuous development over more than 60 years has put us at the forefront of poultry production in Australia. We are exceptionally proud to have been the pioneers of RSPCA Approved chicken in 2011, partnering with Coles to bring higher welfare standards to poultry production. Our obsession with producing the best chicken Australia has to offer sees us continue to strive for excellence in everything we do.
The Hazeldene story began in 1938 when Jack Hazeldene left Bendigo to pilot Wellington bombers during World War II, leaving the task of caring for his 200 fowls to his 10 year old brother, Dick. Sadly, Jack was killed in the war and so, over the next 70 years, Dick devoted his life to turning those 200 fowls into a thriving poultry business.
Hazeldene’s has its roots in Kangaroo Flat, a suburb of Bendigo in Central Victoria, where it began in various types of hand-built shedding and machinery.
Dick and Mavis Hazeldene became a formidable partnership in 1951. Their drive, professionalism and ultimate success saw the establishment of free-range chicken coops at Lockwood. Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm was incorporated in 1957 and has been growing rapidly ever since. With breeding and rearing farms, a hatchery, growing farms and a processing facility now scattered across Central Victoria, the heart of the business still lies in the unassuming country area of Lockwood.
- 1938 – Jack Hazeldene breeds approx 200 chickens for egg sales
- 1942 – Jack killed in the war, Dick takes over husbandry
- 1957 – Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm Pty Ltd commences as hatching & egg producing operation
- 1972 – Hazeldene’s commences slaughter of chickens for the growing chicken meat market – 400 birds per week (6 employees)
- 1984 – Hazeldene’s processing 20,000 birds per week (80 employees)
- 1985 – Fowl Plague hits Breeder & Broiler stock – wipes out 100%
- 1985 – Processing Plant commissioned – started 8,000 birds per week
- 2006-2010 – Expansion of facilities and investment in innovation (480 employees)
- 2011 – Coles and Hazeldene’s launch First RSPCA Approved Farms
- 2012 – Lockwood Primary Processing Plant Commissioning
- 2016 – Further investment in automation (employees 730)
- 1960s 6kg per capita to 40kg today
- Improved quality, product range and price competitiveness
- In 1975 it took 64 days and 4.7kg of feed to grow a market weight bird – now it takes 35 days and 3.2kg feed
Multicultural Employee Base
- 1970’s and 1980s – first groups of ESL employees, including Vietnamese, Chinese and Filipino’s commence work at Hazeldene’s in manufacturing roles with waves of migration to Australia and particularly Central Victoria. Several of these employees continue to form part of the Hazeldene team today.
- Early 2000’s – first waves of Karen people from Burma and Hazaragi (Hazara) people from Afghanastan commence work at Hazeldene’s
- Today – we have more than 95 Karen people, 20 Hzaragi people, as well as many Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Pacific Islanders, South African, Indian and Sri Lankans that comprise a significant component of our 790 strong workforce.
What works for us?
- Avoiding isolation with ESL and culturally diverse employees
- Providing support to cultural groups with leaders, and interpreters to ensure we create effective 2 way communication with all team members
- Meeting the cultural needs of employee groups
- Showing support for our team members communities within our region (strong supporter of the Karen Festival, and Multicultural week)
What Do We Practice?
- Smaller discussion groups meeting more regularly creates a willingness to speak up
- Identification of interpreters who are paid an allowance for service
- Extensive consideration of organizational fit and grouping of ESL employees
- Developing strong relationships built on trust
- Fair and consistent practices that are clearly understood across all employees with special consideration where required
- Preparedness to personally connect with employees
What Hasn’t Worked?
- Offering ESL classes – not a great uptake;
- Wrong people in wrong roles, lack of support for these people;
- Isolated cultures -cultural groups that don’t mix and engage; sharing food engages;
- Workplace diversity
- Committed, engaged workforce
- Increases applicant pool – particularly important in regional areas
- Significant contribution to Hazeldenes’ growth
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