The schools may have only just broken up for the holidays and you may still be thinking about where to go on your summer break but some people are starting their preparations for Christmas.
This week, Baby G and I went to meet Paul McAvoy, a small holder and turkey farmer from Crouchley Hall Farm in Lymm, Cheshire.
Paul and his family had just taken charge of a 200-strong flock of six-week old KellyBronze turkeys which he will rear on his farm in a very traditional way. All destined for the table, this Christmas.
Unlike commercial birds, KellyBronze turkeys are bred especially to be slow growing and farmers, like Paul, go off the age of the bird rather than the weight.
Commercial turkey farmers only wait until a bird is the desired weight before slaughter. KellyBronze turkeys are given a longer life which, not only makes it have a happier time, it also means that, with age comes a much superior taste.
It is the Bronze part of the name which is the breed. The Kelly part is after the family who saw a British farming tradition worth saving and effectively saved the bird from extinction.
The traditional bronze feathered birds went out of fashion in the 1950s and 60s as the meat industry decided customers would prefer birds without such obvious dark feather stubs.
However, the loss of this tradition was stopped in the 1980s when the Kelly family bought up the last 300 breeding stock and continued to breed and rear birds for the table at Christmas.
Last Christmas alone, some 35,000 KellyBronze turkeys were eaten in the UK and, according to Paul, it is all down to the way they are looked after.
“Because they are a mature bird, our turkeys carry more meat than bone,” he said which lends itself to a tastier, more succulent meat,” Paul told us.
“They also cook very quickly-a five kilogram bird would cook in two hours so no need to be slaving over an oven all day,” he went on, the passion for his business clearly coming out in every sentence that he spoke to me.
All KellyBronze birds are kept the same as Paul’s with access to free range fields, somewhere safe to sleep and fresh food and water available. They also have toys like hanging CDs to keep them entertained. Their food contains no additives or hormones for growth. They really are natural and healthy turkeys.
All turkeys tend to have brown leg meat but it’s free range birds that have had chance to really stretch their legs and take exercise outdoors that properly develop the best, deeply flavoured, brown leg meat.
Just think on Christmas Day-no more slaving away at the oven for hours on end. If you are clever with your vegetable preparations, you will almost certainly have more time to play with your children and enjoy the day yourself.
Paul starts evaluating Christmas sales and trends in January and February. If, say only one person bought a 12 pounder, it would make no sense to buy in chicks that are likely to reach that size, fully grown. It seems as a nation, the 5-6 kilogram bird is preferred and, being mix sexes, the stags almost certainly are the heavier of the birds.
As KellyBronze are not commercially grown, sometimes nature has different ideas, like a couple of years ago when we had a warm, mild Autumn and there was a shortage of four kilo birds because they had all grown so much.
Turkeys, like chickens, are poultry but in terms of behaviour, looks and taste, that is the last comparison. Laying chickens lay an egg every day, regardless of mating. A turkey will only lay an egg when mating has taken place so nearly all turkey eggs are fertile-hence why you never see turkey eggs for sale in shops. Due to their nature, they are much more valuable as an egg to be hatched rather than scrambled.
So from now until the end of November, Paul will be busy looking after his flock and trying to keep them out of trouble. Apparently they are the most inquisitive animal and it is not unusual for them to hop up onto tractors or straw bales when they are being mucked out.
The problem with society however is that supermarkets are trying to make us all want something for nothing and obviously, the price of a KellyBronze turkey will be higher than that of a commercial bird you would pick up in your local supermarket.
Christmas is all about celebrating and having a treat though, so we need to turn the clock back to a time when turkey really was a treat. A succulent, juicy meat. Not the dry, tasteless birds we have now become used to.
Rather than lament this dry bird and follow the flock (sorry), continuing with this accustomed tastelessness, if you opt for a KellyBronze turkey, while you will be paying more, you will get a far superior taste and it really is value for money.
Last year, Paul and his family managed to get 23 meals out of their turkey which included the roast on Christmas Day, sandwiches, curry and the use of the bones for stock, to name but a few.
Don’t just take Paul and my own word about it. KellyBronze turkeys have a host of celebrity endorsement including Jamie Oliver.
It is smallholders with a passion, like Paul that are really keeping some of our farming traditions alive and it is up to the consumer to vote with your feet (or your wallet) to keep them going.
Award-winning KellyBronze turkeys are only sold at 24 locations around the country and you can find your nearest supplier here.
We are so happy to have been invited to Paul’s farm and we had a lovely day. We are hoping to return later in the year to find out about what happens to the birds closer to Christmas.