Turkey – What do the labels mean and which one is best?
As with most meats, there is a huge difference in the way turkeys are grown and farmed. Not all are created equal and the way they are reared makes a huge difference when you go to tuck into your Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. There is no doubt that over the decades, there have been plenty of stories in the media about the variances between free-range vs. intensively farmed birds, but what do these labels really mean for the animal? Although these days free-range is pretty mainstream, we want to give you some food for thought about various farming methods and give you all the info you’ll need to choose a quality bird that has lived the best life and has been raised as humanely as possible.
The life of a turkey will vary considerably depending on the retailer or brand the chicks will go to. Below are different farming categories:
Indoor Intensive: This is the most basic way of farming whereby thousands of birds are raised in large indoor sheds, often without any access to natural daylight.
Free-range: This is a regulated term in the EU, which means that birds must have outdoor access for at least half of their lives.
Organic: Organic birds have the same lifestyle as free-range birds but eat 100% organic feed.
WHAT DO THEY ALL MEAN?
Intensively farmed turkeys are typically the cheapest and don’t tend to live very nice lives. They spend their time in a dark, overcrowded barn where they will never see the light of day. Lighting is usually dimmer than a streetlamp which is said to avoid aggression.
They are put on a high energy diet of cereal, vitamins and amino acids to speed up growth and weight gain. Between 12-16 weeks, the turkeys are taken in large batches for processing. While a lot of supermarket turkeys are free-range these days, there is still the option of buying an intensively farmed bird – which is appealing due to their low-price tag. Do not be fooled.
We encourage you to only buy meat that is free-range or organic. The animals are raised more ethically and humanely than that of intensively raised. From the time they are poults (baby turkeys) and delivered to the farms, they are given much more space to roam and express themselves naturally, which reduces their stress levels massively. Free-range/organic turkeys are a lot of the time reared in much smaller quantities.
As they grow, they move into the great outdoors, where they are free to roam the farm. Turkeys are really curious creatures and like to explore their surroundings. They are grown much slower than intensively raised birds and are given rich diets of oats and fruits which create a really nice layer of fat, leading to a better flavour. They are raised slower, giving them time to mature and develop properly. When the birds are fully grown around 25 weeks, they are sent for production in small batches, to ensure they do not get stressed. Overall, they have a much better life and looked after much better than intensively farmed birds.
From the moment a turkey is born and brought to us, it is good hands. We keep our chicks in a warm, cosy barn that we call the “turkey hotel,” to keep them protected from any harsh elements. Our festive process beings in February, when we order slow-growing strains of Norfolk Black and Norfolk Bronze turkeys. We raise between 800 – 1100-day-old chicks, which arrive in early June.
We believe in quality over quantity and believe the best things in life take time. Once the turkeys are old enough, after about six/seven weeks, they are free to roam around the farm and get into as much mischief as they want. We do everything we can to improve the lives and welfare of our turkeys and believe in raising them as humanely and ethically as possible.
Our birds have constant access to naked oats, which create a lovely layer of fat that keeps the birds moist when cooking. We don’t believe in rushing the process and give our birds as much time as possible to grow and mature. Intensively raised birds are processed around 14-16 weeks and ours live for nearly twice as long. It’s really important to let the birds mature as that is where the amazing flavour comes from.
After our birds have been reared for a solid six months, they are dispatched quickly and humanely in small groups to ensure they do not get stressed. They are dry plucked and hung for up to two weeks, allowing the flavour to fully develop. The way our birds’ taste is how turkeys used to taste years ago because we believe in rearing them in the time-honoured tradition.
We want our customers to know where their Christmas and Thanksgiving turkeys come from. It’s not just about the taste, we want everyone to have the assurance that their turkey lived the best life possible and was produced on a farm where animal welfare is an utmost priority. We’re a small farm and have never set out to be the next “super shed,” nor would we ever want to. We pride ourselves on producing small, high-quality batches of poultry with plenty of delicious flavour – gamey and moist.