Chicken feed, it's for the birds

By Jacquie Webby

When Ross Mitchell and Jock Webster joined forces in 1972 to farm together, little did they realise what the partnership would lead to.

More than 30 years later, Mitchell and Webster, under the brand name Topflite, supply quality birdseed, small animal treats and a range of stock feed New Zealand-wide and to international markets.

The home farm and processing business is in Airedale Rd, Weston, and Topflite is dedicated to providing bird lovers with premium products that are nutritionally complete and a well-balanced source of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.

The company also produces products for small animals such as pet mice and rats, rabbits and feed for poultry and dogs.

Such is their dedication to always striving for the most complete, balanced product to suit the animal and the market, that Mitchell and Webster constantly measure themselves against overseas companies.

New products, such as wild-bird feeders, which are easy to attach to a tree, are among the latest to join the product line-up.

The Topflite brandMitchell and Webster began to specialise in birdseed production with Topflite Birdseed in 1974. Initially, the partnership farmed sheep and, following an enquiry for locally produced sunflower seed which had not undergone the heat-treatment required before it could be imported from Australia, a 5.5ha block was planted.

Sunflower seed, rich in oil, is a valuable addition to stock and birdseed. Today, about a quarter of Mitchell's and Webster's gross income is earned by producing sunflower and canary seed.

Their company now farms about 1340ha in North Otago and grows a variety of crops, including wheat, barley, ryegrass, rape and kale. Five hundred and fifty hectares is used to grow seeds for Topflite and the crops are rotated on paddocks to maintain absolute fertility. Although the company grows most of the product, some seeds are brought into the country to achieve the aimed-for annual average production level of more than 1000 tonnes of birdseed.

Staff numbers at the Weston and Totara operations total 13 and Webster remains firmly at the helm, Mitchell having retired recently. Webster was joined by Mitchell's son, Peter, in 1995 and his own son, Nick, in 2007.

Quality seeds and quality serviceToday, Topflite has earned a reputation for quality seed and quality service.

The aim is to produce the highest quality products at competitive prices.

The company supplies retailers, wholesalers and bird clubs and, says Webster, the service can be customised to meet the requirements of the customer.

Products are manufactured at the Weston site using machinery which has either been specially sourced or adapted, to suit the work. The products are based around New Zealand-grown and sourced ingredients, most of which comes from Mitchell's and Webster's own paddocks. The company ethic is if materials are sourced offshore, quality is of paramount importance and, in most cases, is not treated.

Maintaining a product line-up which is dust-free and of top quality is the cornerstone of the Topflite brand. The company also aims to dispatch on the same afternoon if an order is received at the Weston office by 10am. Some products, such as canary seed can be exported offshore, because it meets biosecurity requirements, and the company also imports product, including millet sprays from China.

"We grow the products, mix it here in Weston and deliver it promptly to our customers," says Webster.

"Because we grow and manufacture it ourselves, we know the exact history of each mix we make."

These days, he says, customers like to know the people behind the brand.

"We supply about 95 per cent of the pet shops in New Zealand, but that doesn't allow us to rest on our laurels," hesays. "We are constantly focusing on the future growth of the business.

"Being successful means maintaining and growing our market share.

"It has been an interesting journey since we began all those years ago, and here we are in 2012, still looking ahead and making sure we deliver top-quality products to our customers every time."

- Hamilton News

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