Paul Kelly – Kelly Turkeys
Springate Farm, Danbury, Essex
If you pass by woodland in Danbury, Essex at the dead of night and see a man running around with a torch crashing into trees don’t be afraid. Paul Kelly is not a madman; he’s simply passionate about farming. And catching turkeys in the dark is all part of his master plan to grow turkeys in the wild.
The idea stems back to when Paul, managing director of Kelly Turkeys, looked at the business’ carbon footprint. “We’ve got all this woodland locally that is a wasted asset,” he explains. “And if we grow the turkeys in the woods we get immediate carbon credentials.”
The first trial flock went in last Easter and he now plans to place 150-200 turkeys to an acre this year. As an added protection from predators, he is rearing the poults with puppies so that they bond at a young age; the dogs will then defend the turkeys in the wild. And if the scheme is successful, he plans to completely change production from free-range to woodland.
This passion for experimentation and innovation runs through the veins of the Kelly Turkeys’ empire like a charging bull. It stems back to Paul’s father, Derek Kelly, chairman, who in 1972 visited Oregon, USA to select slow-growing breeding stock for the Christmas turkey market.
The clincher came nine years later when Derek rediscovered the traditional bronze turkey and set out to preserve the bloodlines by collecting the few remaining flocks in ‘82. Two years later, the KellyBronze turkey was launched in the UK; a top secret blend of all of these bloodlines.
Hailed by celebrity chefs and food critics as the “Rolls Royce of Turkeys”, Paul has lived and breathed the KellyBronze brand over the last 26 years.
“We are a farming company first and foremost. As soon as we move away from being a family farming business we lose a lot of that magic. We might do a good job with our marketing and packaging but we’re turkey farmers and we must never forget that,” he proudly states.
So what is so unique about their turkeys? Apart from the secret KellyBronze bloodline and traditional free-range, rearing practices, Paul believes that focussing on the post-mortem makes a massive difference to the meat quality.
“Our whole discussion with customers after Christmas is what we can do to make it better. Rather than what can we do to make it cheaper? It’s a totally different way of thinking,” he says.
With joint venture companies in Europe, Paul is also now looking at breaking into the Thanksgiving market across the pond in America. But, like adding fuel to fire, he’s been told that you can’t sell expensive turkey in America.
“Don’t tell me that down the east seaport for Thanksgiving there aren’t millions of people who aren’t prepared to pay for something that’s fantastic,” he says. “The sales of champagne go through the roof but the only turkey they’re given is a soggy old thing in a plastic bag because it’s in the hands of the industry – the big corporate players.”
Watch this space. But back home, Paul remains committed to the UK poultry industry speaking at conferences, completing a Nuffield Scholarship, attending industry meetings and events, supporting his hatchery customers and franchise growers.
“As a hatchery company, we bring the whole industry up by helping our customers to market their turkeys well,” he says. And this family concept doesn’t stay within the poultry sector. Paul is currently spearheading the idea of a ‘Farmily’ to bring back the mixed farm.
“We’ve all gone off and focussed on our own specialist areas but we’ve lost the magic of what was a mixed farm. Let’s pull together the resources and create the perfect mixed farm again,” he enthuses.
So why was he running around at night in the woodland, you may ask. Simple – he wanted to test how easy it would be to steal the turkeys and quickly realised that it was almost impossible.
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“We might do a good job with our marketing and packaging but we’re turkey farmers and we must never forget that.”