The world is experiencing strong growth in the demand for animal protein, and chicken is likely to make up around one third of total meat production by 2020. A big factor in its favour is that chicken has a high feed conversion ratio (FCR). It takes less than 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of chicken, but from 5 kg to 20 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.

Even so, it takes a lot of energy and water to grow and process chickens. One chicken company working hard to minimise its environmental footprint is Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm, a family-owned business located near Bendigo in central Victoria. Starting with just 200 chooks in 1938, the third generation of the family and its 750-strong workforce currently processes over half a million birds per week.

Responsibility for Hazeldene’s environmental performance rests with Environment & Sustainability Manager Daniel Mulryan. Here he describes progress to date and the company’s plans for the future.

What are the main challenges that Hazeldene’s faces in becoming more environmentally sustainable?

The main constraints are costs, knowledge and bureaucracy. Sustainable practices and operations usually involve replacing a carbon intensive asset with a low carbon or zero carbon option. The world is set up for the carbon options. Everybody understands how they work and reliability and operational knowledge are taken for granted. The sustainable option is like a step into the unknown and large companies do not like unknowns. Following this the government sets up funds and grants and incentives to help, but they are usually complicated and poorly understood and change with governments, creating more unknowns.

What are the key initiatives that the business has already implemented?

Water saving, water treatment and water recycling has been a great success for the company. We have a programme in place to constantly reduce water usage and in the future we will reuse more treated water. We are on a path towards solar PV and we now see it as simply a utility to be installed with every new shed. It’s like insulation or LED lighting – you don’t spend time looking at the payback, you simply install and absorb the costs in the capital but reduce your operational cost.

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Where do you see the greatest opportunity for improving environmental performance in the short-term?

We have a massive volume of treated waste water I see as a resource. We want to get away from buying drinking water, using it once, sending it to the treatment plant and then to irrigation it to get rid of it. Now we have an opportunity to filter this water to a level where it can be used for washing and cleaning non-production areas. Another achievable goal is to drive down our waste to landfill. I think a zero waste goal is very difficult to achieve but I know we can get close.

What about the longer term (e.g. 5+ years)?

Long-term goal is the decarbonisation of our energy, especially electricity and gas. Following that, and when the technology is there, we will look at our fuel for transport. We also need to reduce our dependence on drinking water coming down the pipeline, and want to be able to recycle, reuse and create our own drinking water.

What is the main driver behind Hazeldene’s pursuit of an improved environmental outcome?

Hazeldene’s has great pride in its products and its standards of animal welfare. We were one of the first RSPCA producers in Australia. Our environmental image and focus has not always been as good. We aim to change that through our actions. This year we intend to achieve ISO 14001, the internationally recognized environmental standard. We hope to reduce our water usage by 10% and install more solar. We recognize the social and economic benefits associated with improved environmental performance and standards.

Have you undertaken any environmentally beneficial projects that haven’t also provided a positive return on investment?

Yes. Last year we organised a group of employees, managers and directors and cleaned up one of the roads close to our processing plant. Over 1 kilometre stretch of road we collected 140 kg of rubbish, most of which we placed in recycling bins at the processing plant. In the future we would like to provide treated water to the local community to use in their gardens. We want to give people the opportunity to grow their own vegie’s and fruit without praying for rain or paying a water bill.

Long-term we have a soil improvement programme for the land surrounding the processing site, where we’ve planted crops and monitor the soil to ensure we improve the productivity of the land for generations to come.

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