Oliver Moore explores some of the organic turkey options this festive season.Mary Regan's farm is 45 acres. Organic since 2006, her small mixed farm carries nine different mini enterprises, depending upon the time of year and requirements. This includes tablebirds, pigs, sucklers, lab, eggs, ducks, cereals, veg and from Summer to December, turkey.
(photo: Hell's Kettle Donard Wicklow)
“My turkeys come in as day olds in mid July. I buy a mix of buys mix of day old bronze and whites, to get a good range of weights; its usually about 2/3 bronze and 1/3 whites”.
Although she grows some of her own cereal for chicken feed, she also has to buy in organic rations. This is a mixture of cereals, expellers, protein crops, and is sourced from Collonneys.
“In the past, Morrins did make a compound organic feed in Ireland”, she tells me. “Now its imported from the UK or Holland”.
Prices had been rising anyway, but the post harvest prices really added to this again.The post harvest price rise this year was about 40-50e per tonne, while the overall organic feed price is 60-80E a tonne up on this time last year.
Her day olds are in a brooder for the first 5 to 6 weeks. They then move onto a turkey grower, then to a bigger shed with outdoor access.
“They come indoors at night, for protection from two legged and four legged predators!” I'm informed.
After being fed a turkey finisher, her birds end up at between 4.5kg and 8kg. They are available from the Enniscorthy farm shop direct (087-6682461) or in stores like the Organic Supermarket, Blackrock in Dublin.
Apart from feed costs, what are the main differences between organic and conventional turkey? I spoke to Gavin Lynch of the Organic Trust, who also keep turkeys on his Wicklow farm for the season that's in it.
Interestingly, his family used to rear conventional turkeys some years back, so Lynch can compare some aspects of the two systems.
“We kept 800-1000 in the same shed that the organic regulations have a limit of 250 on” says Lynch, who now carries 200 organic turkeys in this same shed.
These animals have to have outdoors access, and, in Lynch's Hells Kettle farm in Wicklow, the birds get about 25% of their feed requirements from outdoor eating.
With his agroforestry set up, the turkeys, as well as eating whatever grass and weeds are available, provide an ecosystem service in clearing out the leaf litter of his hazelnut orchard for the following year's growing season. They also fertilize the ground in preparation for the sheep that come into the Orchard in the Spring.
Lynch described some of the main differences in the organic system.
“We can't administer antibiotics as routine, anitbiotics are for when the animal is actually sick. So you really have to pay attention to all aspects of animal health. We also don't have coccidiostat, which is used in conventional to prevent the parasite Coccidia.”
He continues “our turkeys get fresh bedding once a day, there's no beak trimming or toenail clipping here either. With the extra space, there's no need for those practices.”
Aggressive pecking can be a problem in more confined set ups.
The Turkeys grow for about twice the length of time their conventional counterparts do, that's up to 140 days rather than 70-80 days.
“Outdoors in the orchard, when they are younger, they can also jump up onto the trees, and there's plenty of twigs and vegetation for them on the ground as well”.
(Gavin Lynch and Linda Geraghty, Hell's Kettle Farm)
Gavin Lynch provides what he calls “environmental enrichements”, in this case CDs hanging from a height in the shed for the Turkeys to peck on. The band he was in some years back, Denizen of Ilk, provide some of these CD enrichements.
Looks like that band are finally rising in the pecking order...
Hell's Kettle organic turkeys are available from the farm, with some deliveries too: see or ring 087 990 1104 for more.