28 April 1995

Bronzes have edge over pig production

BRONZE turkey production for the Christmas market has just replaced pigs as the main livestock enterprise on a Bedfordshire farm.

At Icknield Way Farm, Tring Road, Dunstable, Tim and Nick Clark grew their first two batches of free-range bronze birds last year. Two thousand were grown on contract for Essex-based Derek Kelly Turkeys, breeders of the bronze breed now coming back into fashion. A further 200 were grown for traditional hand plucking and maturing on the farm before sale at the farm gate.

The new seasonal turkey business, which cost about £5000 to establish, was a financial success, and will be continued this year.

£4000 to convert building

About £4000 of the set-up costs went on converting existing buildings to plucking and eviscerating rooms and on chilled storage facilities, with about £1000 being spent on feeding equipment, electric fencing and a temporary straw bale building with tarpaulin roof for the 200 free-range birds.

The 2000 birds reared on contract were housed in a converted pig building with a run out into a 2ha (5-acre) paddock. The 200 bronze birds for farm gate sales supplied under a franchise agreement with Kellys were kept in a 0.7ha (1.7-acre) paddock by the Dunstable-to-Tring road, where they could be seen by the public.

To promote sales, roadside notices advertising bronze birds for Christmas were erected close to the turkey paddock, which was electric-fenced all round for fox and intruder protection. No birds were lost from either foxes or thieves.

"We received 211 five-week-old birds on Aug 31, and at the beginning of December we plucked 209 of them," says Nick Clark.

Local sales of the birds were also promoted by leaflets put through letter boxes in local villages and towns. By Christmas Eve last year over 100 traditional farmfresh bronze birds had been sold at the farm gate at an average of £34 each. Fifty were sold back to Kellys with the rest going into the freezer for out-of-season sales.

Production, processing and marketing costs of the 200 birds was well under £20 a head including labour. At five weeks old the birds cost £4.54 each, the main other cost, feed, worked out at £3.93 a bird excluding grass eaten on range. The franchise fee was £1.50 a bird to cover the Kelly Turkeys support package of advice and training for newcomers.

Last Christmas selling prices of oven ready birds set by Kellys ranged from £2.01/lb for 18-30lb birds, to £2.65/lb for under 10lb.

Day-olds this year

This year the brothers are planning to take day-old birds in June instead of growers at the end of August.

Mr Clark says the main problems in year one were getting the farm processing plant ready on time, and some difficulty in hand plucking stubby birds slaughtered at 19-weeks-old. "This year we will avoid that by growing them to 22 to 23 weeks," he says.

Further information on franchising bronze turkeys from Derek Kelly Turkeys (01245-223581). &#42

Tim and Nick Clark averaged £34 a bird sale price from the first batch of free-range bronze turkeys they reared for the Christmas 1994 market.