A great idea, but what about the foxes, was the first reaction of Traditional Farmfresh Turkey Association members during a recent open day to a Christmas turkey unit that rears birds in a forest.
All those trees, all that long grass and green undergrowth – ideal cover for marauding foxes out for the kill after dark. “How many of your birds do you lose in a season to foxes?” they wanted to know.
Stephen Childerhouse of Great Grove Poultry, Norfolk, who reared 3000 of his bronze Christmas birds in a forest last year said: “Just three birds in all the 15 years.”
He said predators were kept at bay by a waist-high ring of electric fencing that circled the six-acre site. At nightfall birds were able to roost in safety on the lower branches, settle down in the undergrowth or take advantage of three sheds that date back to the time that the family ran a caged egg unit.
“We all know that the turkey is a jungle bird, so it seemed logical to keep the trees and let the birds have some fun,” said Mr Childerhouse. “Every one of the 15 or so Christmas flocks that we have had over the years has responded magnificently.”
Performance is not much different from birds on the open range, where, because forest flocks seem to enjoy themselves so much, we have been planting trees.
“No,” he admitted, “the forest flocks don’t taste any better. All our birds taste magnificent and the customers who come back year after year will confirm that.”