Only the best Christmas turkeys qualify as finest*. We caught up with Jonathan Skinner, one of the many brilliant British farmers rearing birds for the finest* range this year.
How it all began
Crown Farm, in Norfolk, has been in my family for over 20 years. I took over the management after completing my agriculture degree at university. It’s a mixed farm – so we breed livestock and grow crops. We have a turkey flock, plus 70 purebred Bleu du Maine sheep, as well as growing grains such as wheat and barley. The farm is based across two different sites, very close to each other, and both sites are part of environmental schemes that aim to encourage wildlife to prosper by keeping natural hedges and grasslands.
‘The turkeys we’ve been rearing this year will go to Tesco to be included in the finest* turkey range. They are Bronzes, which are a top-quality breed that grows really well. We slowly-rear the birds and they usually reach 5·5-7kg (12-15lb) in weight. They have a slightly gamey flavour and lots of meat on their breast, which makes them great for carving at Christmas.
Our turkeys are hatched then raised on a specialist brood farm for the first six weeks of their lives, so they come to us when they’re good and strong. Then we look after them until they are ready for Christmas. A content, cared for turkey is a good-tasting turkey. We keep all our birds in a very natural environment, and maintain the highest welfare standards, as required by Tesco, so they have the happiest possible life.
Free to roam
The birds are all free-range and housed in large wooden sheds with open sides, so they can roam in and out as they please. They have access to 20 acres of field and pasture with plenty of grass, weeds and seeds to scratch and peck through. Inside the barns we keep deep litters of straw from our own farm and the birds have lots of natural light and ventilation. Turkeys are naturally active and inquisitive birds, and they need to be kept occupied. We give them lots of straw bales and perches to jump onto and hang CDs in the barn so they can see their own reflection, which keeps them amused and entertained.
When the Christmas season arrives, we try to keep the birds’ stress levels as low as possible, including making sure that the journey to factory is short – it’s just 20 minutes away. The turkeys are then delivered as quickly as possible to Tesco so they arrive in the best condition. We also try to be energy efficient in the way we farm, monitoring our use of energy and raw materials such as water.
We have a large family gathering at Christmas, and turkey is the star of the show. Luckily, I escape most of the cooking as my mother is a retired chef and an expert in the kitchen. You get so much meat from a Bronze that there’s always plenty left over, which we have in sandwiches with stuffing.