With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching it was that time in our calendar to catch up with our turkey supplier and inspect their premises and livestock.
At 6.30am last Thursday, Freddy (head butcher) and myself (Guy –butchery manager) headed out into the English countryside, Tenterden in Kent. Our mission was to check how our turkeys are doing at this time of year, paying particular attention to the condition and welfare of the birds on the farm and to check that John Howe and his team are ready to meet our demand in finished quality and weight requirements.
We were greeted by John and his wife, who, with the rest of their family), run and manage all aspects of the turkey production from start to finish. They started their business in 1976 with just 25 birds and their attention remains very much on the quality and welfare of their turkey stock. This was very apparent as John happily talked us through all the stages of the rearing process, explained with great enthusiasm, detail and care. They’ve even set up a turkey hospital on the farm for those that have been pecked by other birds. These are then looked after separately.
Our interest was mainly in the bronze turkeys, which are richer, fuller flavoured and gamier in taste; they are closely related to the wild turkey that is native to the huge expanses of North American forests.
Johns words “ Our ethos is simple; all our birds, both white and bronze, are free range and roam the grassy paddocks and meadows of our farm from eight weeks of age. Birds that are happy and have access to covered yards, clean straw, bedding, food and water means that ultimately their meat will be more tender and succulent. Our birds are slow growing, old fashioned breeds; reared to full maturity and fed on a natural cereal based diet, free from antibiotics and growth promoters.”
As all the birds are grown to full maturity, John uses different breeds to produce the different weights of turkey. Some will only grow to 7kg for example and can’t genetically grow anymore, whilst other breeds are used for the larger weight required. Breeds used include Roly Poly, Wrolstad Bronze, Plumpie Bronze, Wirral Supreme and Broad Breasted Bronze.
We saw the turkeys exploring their surroundings, playing in dust baths and roosting on straw bales, low branches and fences. John said at night they take themselves off to bed on the deep straw beds in the barns and field shelters, where they go for warmth and protection, away from the elements and with a constant supply of fresh food and water. A great visit and a great product.