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25 things you didn’t know about turkeys

With Thanksgiving and Christmas suddenly just around the corner, the team at Bramble Farm in West Horsley are preparing for the busiest time of their year. Poultry farmers in Surrey since 1929, they are primed and ready with their award-winning flock of turkeys. Here we meet owner Adrian Joy...

  1. What’s the record for the biggest-ever turkey? Apparently the world’s biggest turkey ever was 39kg! For us, it was a still hefty 25kg bird. Just to put that in context, our 11-12kg birds can provide around 22-24 servings.
  2. What’s a group of turkeys called? We’ve always called them a flock. However, if you Google it, Rafter seems to be the general consensus.
  3. What are male and female turkeys known as?  Stags and hens.
  4. Can you tell the difference between males and females from a distance? Stags are generally bigger than hens - although that’s not always the case. Stags have much bigger Wattles (the skin under the beak to cool them) and Snoods (the droopy bit in front of their eyes / back of their beaks). They are also prone to puff up their feathers to make them look a lot bigger still if they feel threatened.
  5. Is there any difference in flavour between male and female birds? No, it’s a bit of a myth. In the past, hens have usually been more rounded – but, with better breeding, that’s not really the case now.
  6. How do turkeys naturally protect themselves against predators? They can get quite high on perches or trees if they have them nearby, one branch at a time as it were. They are - or can be - quite fast runners. Sometimes I can only just out run them (and I used to do triathlons!).
  7. How do you protect them against predators? We lock the birds up when foxes are at their most dangerous - so dusk to dawn usually. We do see foxes around in the day a lot more now, perhaps as some householders feed them. We check the animals every two hours or so, to keep an eye on any problems when they are free ranging. We also have fences, sometimes electric, which makes foxes think twice. We have also had problems with stoat and even mink.
  8. Do turkeys run for ‘leisure’ or just self-preservation? Yes. They run when we let them out and sometimes when they don’t want to be shut in.
  9. Does the flavour of a turkey change depending on its age? Yes, most definitely. Most supermarket turkeys haven’t matured. Ours are nearly twice the age of a supermarket bird and have an amount of intramuscular fat, which only comes from reaching maturity. What that means is you get a flavoursome, succulent bird. Unfortunately, a lot of folk have been put off by young, tasteless turkeys – we’re changing that though, hopefully!
  10. What makes Bronze turkeys a particularly special breed compared to the rest? We think it’s traditional. White turkeys were only bred as consumers didn’t want black stubble left – it can’t be seen on the white ones. They are a beautiful bird when the light reflects off their feathers. Check out our photos on our website – they’re really amazing.
  11. Do turkeys live in the wild in the UK at all? Could they, in theory?  In theory, possibly, but not domestically bred birds. They are too big and would be easy targets for predators.
  12. What is a baby turkey called? A poult or chick.
  13. Can turkeys fly? Wild turkeys are much better at flying than domesticated ones, mainly due to being less heavy. But, yes, they all do – just don’t expect them to get much more than five or six feet off the ground.
  14. Why is it so hard to buy turkey all year round? I think it’s getting easier – but chicken has such a strong hold on the white meat market. From a farmer’s perspective, it’s not very viable during the year. We do sell once a month on one specific day, but I think Christmas is the key market where foodies don’t mind spending a bit more for a treat and the centre piece on their table.
  15. Why can’t you (generally) buy turkey eggs? If you could, how do you cook them and what do they taste like? I don’t know why you can’t buy them – they are bigger than chicken eggs but taste very similar. You cook them just like any other egg.
  16. What does a turkey farmer do for the rest of the year with the exception of Christmas? Well, our Christmas turkeys arrive in July. When they arrive that’s it, we have to check them every two hours from 5.30am to 11pm. As they grow, we have to move them to bigger buildings, feed them and change their straw bedding regularly. When they are not here, we are usually involved in cleaning the buildings, repairs, replacing buildings even... if we need to. Things like meeting trade customers, markets and planning what we are going to do for the coming season. It’s basically busy for the first six months, then crazily busy for the last six months!
  17. How old are turkeys when they are slaughtered? Supermarkets usually 12 weeks – but our ones are 22 weeks plus.
  18. Is there such a thing as broiler turkey like in broiler chicken (old chicken)? We always use the term broiler in terms with poultry used for meat. So like broiler chickens, you could call turkeys ‘broilers’ as well I guess? As turkey eggs aren’t sold, there’s no need to distinguish between egg layers and broilers (although some are called breeders).
  19. What do turkeys eat? Our turkeys eat a good mix of GM free feed, soya, wheat and minerals
  20. How are they housed? In large barns with loads of natural light and fresh air. We’re keen on using high quality straw to make them as comfortable as possible. We also do as much as we can to add things to keep them entertained: perches, hanging CDs (they love anything shinny to peck at), bales to sit on and peck and lots of other things.
  21. Why is free-range better? Bird welfare. Nothing is more natural to see than a turkey free ranging, pecking at grass, nettles, finding grubs and insects. It’s always great to see. They are at their happiest in that environment, which is why we do it.
  22. Why is slow-matured better? It’s just much, much better. Moisture, succulent and flavoursome – there’s simply no comparison. More people need to try it and then they’d understand.
  23. How has turkey farming changed since your grandfather’s days? This is an interesting one. In some ways a lot and some ways not at all. We are more mechanised. It used to be much more labour intensive with hand feeding etc. We still do that when they are young, but we have got better facilities now. The general way that we look after them is still pretty much the same as how my grandfather used to.
  24. Do you hatch your own turkeys or do you buy them in? In my grandfather’s days, he used to breed. In fact, he had one of the largest brooders in the south east. No mean feat when you think there were 20 something poultry farms just in our village in his day – it’s just us now. Now we buy them in as day old chicks.
  25. Has the way people buy their turkeys changed much? Yes. We sell more directly to the consumer now as many people want to know where their turkey comes from and even, in some cases, want to meet the farmer who looks after them. As such, we are increasing our farm gate sales, keeping people updated with e-mail newsletters and also offer an e-commerce facility on our website so that people can buy our turkeys online.

Tags: meat turkey

A farming family...

Now in their third generation of farming, the Joy family has been farming poultry since 1929, with the business handed down from grandfather Frank to his son Derek, and now in the hands of Derek's son Adrian. The family prides itself on rearing its turkeys in the traditional way: allowing the birds to mature slowly from day-old chicks to develop the best possible flavour. For more about Bramble Farm, click here