Lilydale free range chicken and some rambling


We are having roast chicken for dinner tonight. I fancied having roast chicken and I happened to see Lilydale Free Range Organic chicken on special - a small one - and so I bought it to cook today. It's a cool day before the heat tomorrow when we shall finish up the Salade Niçoise.


Coincidentally, last week on The Gruen Transfer (an Australian panel show about advertising) the panel was discussing the latest ads from Lilydale Free Range Chicken. Click on the link and you can watch one if you haven't seen it already.


The issue that was discussed was that the first part of the ad is of this bearded country looking guy, dedicatedly caring for his chickens, whilst reading a book on how to get the best size breasts and thighs. It then finishes with him cutting up vegetables whilst the oven glows behind him with the roasting chicken. The panel discussion was mostly, quite rightly, about whether this was effective. I mean it was a bit creepy really. On the one hand you've got the warm and fuzzy and ethical bit about really caring for your chickens but in the end, with a knowing wink, from the bearded guy, you kill it and cook it. A bit confronting, even without seeing the actual slaughter, and I think the majority opinion was that it may have gone a step too far, advertising wise.


But as the always contrarian member of the panel Russell Howcroft pointed out, that however we felt about cruelty to animals, chicken sustains a lot of the poorer people of the country. It is cheap and available and you can do just about anything with it when it comes to cooking. And yes in recent years there has been a big push for free range, organic, free of hormones, growth promotants and anti-biotics animals but nevertheless we do eat them. The Lilydale range was introduced in 2002 to exploit that market. Yes it is more expensive, but not that much and it is still cheap.


Provenance is a big word in animal husbandry these days and back in 2016 Lilydale Free Range Chickens introduced codes on their packaging that enabled you to be able to trace your individual chicken to a particular farm. I don't know whether this still exists. There is certainly nothing on the plastic wrapping for my little chicken. I suspect this may have disappeared. Unless the barcode contains that information. Anyway it would take a bit of effort and is obviously not meant for you or I. Maybe for food inspectors only. Which is interesting. I wonder why they stopped doing it?


So who is Lilydale? Was it some hard-working European immigrant out there in the Yarra Valley who grew his little chicken farm into a mini empire? Well yes and no. A European immigrant, but a much larger empire. Lilydale is actually part of Baiada Poultry which owns Steggles as well and is now the third largest poultry producer in Australia. The name comes from the founder Celestino Baiada who came to Australia aged 14 in 1916 with his father from Malta. Almost immediately his father found a job in Lithgow on the railways and Celestino was left to fend for himself. Aged 14! His first job was as a kitchen hand, but he was bright and a good negotiator, so much so that he gradually earned more money, bought property, started raising chickens, married and had seven children. He seems to have made most of his money at this stage through buying and selling property, but with WW2 he gained a military contract to supply poultry which enabled him to expand the poultry business. As did a contract to supply KFC. From just raising chickens the company expanded over the years into breeding, abattoirs, packaging, marketing transport logistics and research. As Celestino retired and eventually died in 1983, his grandson John took over, and now John's brother Simon is CEO. The company is based in NSW but have farms in South Australia, and WA as well. And to be honest I am not at all sure they have any farms in Victoria.


"Today, our Lilydale farms are located across regions in South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia."


says the website. No mention of Victoria at all. I think it's just a canny choice of name - a place on the edge of the Yarra Valley, famous for its wines, orchards and other produce with Lilydale as a typical country town. Well it isn't really that anymore - more an outer suburb of Melbourne. So Lilydale Farms is just the phrase they use for farms producing chickens for the Lilydale range. Nevertheless it's yet another of those immigrant rags to riches stories. The food industry, it seems, is full of them.


But back to the basic problem. No matter how carefully or lovingly the chickens are raised, they all end up in the same horrible slaughterhouses. It really doesn't bear thinking about and I really should go vegetarian. But I just can't quite manage it. Slowly we are eating less meat but I don't really see a day when we shall be absolutely vegetarian. It's just one of the many things I feel guilty about in life.


And by the way Baiada have had a couple of run ins with authorities and protestors - one over underpayment and mistreatment of its migrant workers and another over feeding their poultry GM modified food. I think the latter is probably an overreaction by a few purists to GM food. Personally I don't think I mind and certainly Baida's case was that they did not hide this, and that it was virtually impossible to get feed that didn't contain some GM modified grains. The underpayment and mistreatment did however result in large fines and improvements in working conditions.


It's absolutely ages since I have cooked a roast chicken. Years maybe. Will I remember how to do it? I confess I am a bit worried about it. But I'm about to go and marinade it for a bit in wine and lemon juice, and I shall stuff it with the Christmas turkey stuffing, cook it with potatoes and serve with beans, and hope that it will be alright. It shouldn't take long as it's pretty small. There will be leftovers of course, even though it's a pretty small chicken, but leftover chicken is a precious thing. So many possibilities, not to mention the carcass which will be turned into stock. I'll try not to think of where it came from.

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