RIP Turkey Lurkey
The end of the road has already arrived.
There aren’t too many guaranteed dates each year when a huge cull takes place with a good reason, but pre Christmas is one of them and you can be certain that by mid December each year millions of turkeys face the chop to feed a century’s old tradition of feasting. Let’s not beat around the mulberry bush it’s a bloody businesses but something farmers have to go through every year in order to make sure you have a tasty Christmas meal. Believe it or not most of turkeys have already said their last 'gobble gobble' by the 12th December. We looked into it some more to find what our farmers are busy doing in the run up to Christmas.
The beauty of the farmers’ market turkeys is that they stay on the farm for their entire lives. They aren’t transported miles to any abattoir, they have all had a free range life, in small friendly flocks and suffer minimum stress which is good for the bird and good for the texture and flavour of the meat, a tough turkey has normally had a tough life. Some supermarket turkeys have it pretty bad these days in cramped sheds pecking each other. But spare a thought for the turkeys of the 1750's that were marched for weeks (even months) from East Anglia down to Smithfield in Central London, they had to walk so far that hot tar was painted on their feet and then dipped in sand so that they could put in the miles for this turkey marathon. Farmers’ market turkeys have it pretty good these days, so before the turkeys said their last gobble this year we spoke to one of our poultry farmers to see what hard work was ahead of them in order to get your bird ready for the Christmas table.
(If you're squeamish or don’t really care how your turkey gets to the Christmas table then read no more, if you want the detail read on.)
Nick Ball has been farming turkeys for many years at Fosse Meadows Farm in Leicestershire. We asked him when it all really kicks off for Christmas preparations.
’Some folks moan when they see mince pies in the shops during October; well we see turkeys in June!
'We start getting ready for Christmas in June when our day old turkey and geese chicks arrive, it’s a stressful time as we have 800 extra mouths to feed and this year the cold damp weather meant we had to keep them extra warm'.
'Once they start growing it’s a fairly routine process of feeding, watering, checking for any illness but by October they are getting really big and their appetites are huge which mean large costs for the farm in grain. Because all our poultry is free range they actually eat more than barn reared birds as they use lots more energy running around the farm. We only have bronze turkeys for flavour, kept in small flocks and they have a great diet of additive free cereals. It helps to give them a delicious taste and succulent meat texture.'
The turkeys look huge they are almost waist high- are they ready? How will they fit in my oven?
'Pretty much, once all the feathers are off they aren’t so big, the stags (males) are bigger than the hens- and look a little scarier.'
It must be a really busy and stressful time. When does all the action start?
'Well from about the 4th December we start taking the turkeys. We put them into a nice quiet barn the day before and then take the turkeys early in the morning when its still dark as they are more relaxed, first they are stunned individually using an electric current which makes them unconscious so that they feel nothing more, they are for all purposes dead at this point, then they have their necks cut, its a quick clean and painless process for the turkey at this point. We then hang the birds up until just before Christmas before being eviscerated dry plucked and dressed ( which is less gory way of saying removing their guts ), the best bits (hearts and liver) are kept for stock and pate. Then all we have to do is drive them to London in time for the last markets before Christmas.'
How long does it take?
'We have 800 turkeys to kill and plus the geese and chickens so all told it takes over a week, we don’t get much sleep'
Is this way better than the big bootiful turkey farms?
'Far better our turkeys do not leave the farm, our turkeys are hung for a few weeks which give them excellent flavour and tenderises the meat. Many supermarket turkeys are gas sealed in a bag to keep them fresh for weeks rather than using traditional methods of keeping the meat fresh.
'All our turkeys are free range and slow grown over 6 months and we belong to the Traditional Farmfresh Turkey Association as they uphold our principles of welfare and quality whilst offering many farmers experience and expertise to ensure the very best free range turkey.
Lots of choice of poultry farms this year at our markets and if you want to try something different or have a smaller family to feed try a goose or cockerel instead.
Fosse Meadows are at South Kensington, Queens Park, Parliament Hill and West Hampstead Farmers' Markets, and will also be attending the Broadgate Christmas Markets on the 11th and 12th December.
Take a look at Fosse Meadows Website here