It’s midsummer and the sun is out but Catrionia Benson says now is the time to talk Christmas dinner, with her top tips for rearing happy, healthy turkeys…

Imagine the scene; it’s Christmas Day, the family are gathered round the table in anticipation of the most important meal of the year. From the oven you produce the most glorious, perfectly finished turkey: golden, crispy skin and juicy, tender meat. Cooked to perfection. Accompanied by homegrown vegetables, harvested fresh from the garden. Everyone agrees it’s the best turkey they’ve ever tasted. And it was reared by you, right here on your smallholding. It’s an idyllic picture, and certainly quite achievable on a smallholding.

Rearing your own, free range turkey for Christmas can be an enjoyable and rewarding process.The birds themselves are great fun to have around. They are intelligent, inquisitive birds, and will keep you amused for hours with their antics. They have an impressive range of vocabulary, too, from the well known ‘gobbling’ to some very strange ‘drumming’ sounds made by the stags when they are busy showing off. Rearing your own turkeys means that you can be absolutely sure that they are given the best life possible, with plenty of space to roam. You’ll delight in watching their natural behaviour as they explore their home, foraging for tasty treats and enjoying dust baths on sunny days.

When we choose to produce our own meat on our smallholdings, this is what it’s about for most of us – knowing that the animals that provided your food have had the best lives possible.You will reap the rewards at Christmas, too. A slow grown, free range turkey, when properly finished and perhaps hung for a few days after dressing, is a world away from the intensive supermarket birds in terms of flavour and texture.

Rearing your own, free range turkey for Christmas can be an enjoyable and rewarding process.

Before you rush out and buy your turkeys, there are a few things to consider. Most importantly, although Christmas seems a very long way away, you must have a plan in place for the final dispatch and preparation of your turkeys. We rear Christmas turkeys for sale here at Argae Cottage, and every December we get several calls from smallholders with turkeys ready for dispatch, and no idea at all how to go about this. Please don’t assume that you will just be able to find someone to do the deed for you. Poultry slaughterhouses are few and far between, and not many of them deal with small numbers of birds for individual smallholders.

This article extract was taken from Practical Poultry in the July 2024 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read the article in full, you can buy the issue here.

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