It’s said that turkeys first landed on Henry VIII's table around the 16th century, having been brought over from North America. We know now that they had been evolving over there for nothing short of 20 million years. Having spent much time over the last 6 weeks working closely with turkeys, it’s quite easy to imagine them living in prehistoric times . They are inquisitive and powerful creatures, and have ultimately been successful in thriving in wild, dangerous environments.
We took on a smaller 'rafter' of turkeys this year as an experiment to see if they would be viable for us to scale up and produce for public consumption in years to come. We sourced the turkeys from a conventional turkey farm which were being raised in barn-range conditions. Since the turkeys were coming from barns, we integrated them onto the farm slowly. Initially we housed them in a barn for a week to allow them to climatise, and then we moved them into our orchard alongside the chickens.
We have the most commonly domesticated breed of turkey called the broad-breasted white. This particular breed was listed in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfect in 1874. Since then it has become very popular across the globe. The reason being it has larger breasts and makes for a cleaner carcass. In commercial settings, the totally white turkey allows farmers to easily assess the health and cleanliness of the bird.
We have had great success with this breed so far. They put on weight quickly, gaining about 1kg for every 2kg they eat. We started them off on their usual diet of corn, barley and wheat and have slowly been introducing natural foods from their current environment such as apples, pears, worms, and insects. In the future we’re excited to experiment with more wild breeds of turkeys to compare their eating habits etc.
Similar to the chickens we’re interested in how the turkeys may serve as land managers. We have them in the orchard eating bugs, rejuvenating the soil and fertilising the ground they walk on. If we were to have them for a longer period of time we could also look at running them through our vegetable patches and our new vineyard to control pests and weeds.
The turkeys should have a final weight of around 10kg - 15kg. The bigger ones may be too large for a domestic oven so we’ll experiment with cooking them rotisserie style. To do this we first steep the turkey for 24 hours in a salt, orange, clove, and bay leaf brine. We then tie the turkey in the rotisserie position with it’s legs tucked away. Slow cooking the turkey over a wood fire is our preference and this takes roughly 3-4 hours, ensuring the thickest part of the turkey reaches 69 degrees. There’s nothing like a wood-fired cooked turkey on Christmas day (also frees up space in the oven for extra roasties)!