Farm-fresh turkeys still popular choice
By Jeremy Hunt
A GOOD demand for farm-fresh turkeys is on the cards this Christmas. Official figures show that national UK turkey production is down by 9% this year, but established producers say it is still the most popular Christmas fare.
Lancs dairy farmer Jim Garth has been keeping turkeys for more than 30 years. As well as finishing about 1000 birds for the Christmas trade he supplies several thousand poults in late summer to other farmers, including bronze birds for free-range systems.
"Theres still a good trade for farm-fresh birds and plenty of opportunity for farmers to diversify into Christmas turkeys provided they make sure of their outlet before they start," says Mr Garth, who farms at Higher Knowe Hill, Lancaster.
"Dont go into turkeys and think you will make a killing by taking birds to a local auction mart sale."
He advises newcomers to rear at least 200 birds and to make sure they buy-in the type of hybrids that will meet their customers demands on weight.
"Some hybrids will reach 20lbs-plus in the same length of time that others will weigh 10-12lbs but if your market is predominantly for the family customer and not the catering trade you need more of the lighter hybrids."
Mr Garths birds arrive on-farm as day-olds in August. They are reared under gas brooders and taken off heat at four to five weeks old. Birds sold by Mr Garth as off-heat poults of the smaller hybrid types – to finish at 10-12lb – cost about £4.70 each.
"Chicks are at their most vulnerable during the first few weeks. Rhinotrachiitis can be a problem but by buying birds as off-heat growers, farmers wanting to rear a few hundred turkeys for Christmas can avoid the higher risk period."
Good, basic standards of livestock husbandry – including ample fresh air in sheds, plenty of straw bedding and avoiding over-crowding – make turkey rearing well within the scope of many producers.
Although feed costs are marginally less this year, other overheads have increased. "Buying birds at four to five weeks and rearing for Christmas can leave a margin of about £3 a bird," says Mr Garth.