Home on the free range

PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013

Home on the free range

Home on the free range

More people are demanding ethically bred, happy and naturally healthy birds for Christmas, reports David Rudge.

At first glance, youd be hard-pressed to describe the turkey as a pretty bird. When the young republic of the United States was looking around for a national emblem, Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey because it was a respectable bird. Despite his pleas, they decided to go with the bald eagleand you can sort of see why.

To Ole and Judy Gronning, though, the turkey is a special bird. Theyve been rearing them on their Warwickshire farm for 30 years.

They favour traditional, free range methods, breeding natural and healthy birds, known as Kelly Bronze turkeys, and they have earned a great reputation, especially just before Christmas, when they sell the birds from the farm directly to their customers.

Travellers on the road between Warwick and Henley in Arden know that Christmas is coming when they see the two giant turkey statues, made from hay bales, at the gates of Heart of England Farms in Claverdon.

Theres a tradition of rising early on Christmas morning to put the bird in the oven, and this has done the reputation of the turkey no good at all, says Judy.

There should be no need to cook the turkey until its dry and tasteless. Our Kelly Bronze birds have become more and more popular because they need much less time to cook. This is due to the marbling of fat in the meat. Our birds take longer to mature, and enjoy a good life out in the open fields during daylight. They sleep in open barns on deep straw, and have plenty of fresh air, she says.

Before intensive turkey production methods became commonplace in the 1960s, turkey was seen as a luxury meat. Now it has become one of the cheapest of meats.

While the industry is constantly threatened by cheap imports from Poland and Brazil via the big supermarkets, more and more customers are avoiding these intensively bred birds by buying from local farms, says Ole.

Peoples habits are changing. They want to know about quality, flavour and the welfare of the birds they eat. Free range birds are increasingly being bought for the Christmas table.

On December 23 and 24 the farm opens its gates to customers to collect their bird. We open the doors at 7.30am, but there are always people waiting, says Ole. The birds are presented in a sturdy, carry-home box with a sprig of herb, the giblets and detailed cooking instructions.

Ole and Judy also raise free range geese, birds which are growing in popularity as an alternative to turkey at Christmas. I have to admit, we always have a goose for our Christmas dinner, says Judy.

The farm doesnt just produce birds for Christmas. They also breed ducks, cockerels and pheasants.

If youre interested in a free range bird this Christmas, you can discover more at www.heartofenglandfarms.com

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