Turkey Blog Post 5 – Game Cover in Full Bloom and Stags Start to Show
The next few weeks are very exciting as lot will happening on the farm. At the beginning of September our game cover will be in full bloom which looks beautiful. If you are lucky enough to be walking by or catch our turkey cam, you might see some rather tall heads popping up amongst the turkeys. These are the stags and probably what you envisage when you think of a turkey.
Turkey Fact Did you know that we use 98% hens or female turkeys as they perform a lot better than male turkeys otherwise known as stags or Toms (would you believe!). If you didn’t know Tom Senior, who started the business, his father was called Tom and Tom Senior’s son is called Tom! That is a lot of Toms.
Right back to Tom’s, no I mean turkeys. We keep a small percentage of stags so we can reach the bigger weights. Most of our turkeys grow between four to nine kilos but like any natural product there are always a few which are tiny or super large but this can often only be one or two. The Copas family always put their customers first. Producing that most important part of the most important meal of the year is very stressful and they want to make sure everyone goes away ecstatic. As our chairman Tom A Copas would say –
"I don’t want my customers to be ‘satisfied’ – I want them to be ecstatic”
Turkey Fact Did you know, the biggest turkey that will fit in a standard household oven is a nine kilo turkey. If it’s any bigger you might need to remove the legs. But nine kilos will feed eighteen people so that’s a big family Christmas and you should definitely have some left overs ready to mix with your coronation sauce. If you haven’t tried it, make sure you do this Christmas as you will want to order a second jar.
This is also the time when we add oats to the turkey’s diet. As the birds reach full maturity we need to ensure they don’t grow too quickly and oats are perfect for offering the birds a balanced diet during this time. We have also found this gives a very bright whiteness to the meat which we know everyone is a big fan off although Tom Senior would want you all eating brown meat if he could. He’d say that’s where all the flavour is!
Turkey Blog Post 4 – Harvest and Oats added to Diet
This is usually another busy time of year on the farm as all of the fields are harvested however this year it has all been done early due to the unusual hot weather we’ve had through the first part of the year. It’s very nerve racking as you have to closely watch the weather forecast to harvest at the right time. You wouldn’t believe how many weather watching apps we have but I think it was 12 on the last check. There’s usually only time to check one and that’s often just looking up just before you go to bed to see what the sky is telling you. Sometimes the simple methods are best!
All the straw that’s harvested on the farm is then kept for the coming season. The biggest benefit of using straw from our own farms is that we can select when the straw is baled. We need the straw to be as light and fluffy as possible for the perfect texture for the turkeys. We also aim to reduce our waste as much as possible and utilising the entire farm to support our production is one of the best ways to do this.
Turkey Fact! Did you know that the commercial birds in the supermarkets begin to be grown from the end of August to around the beginning of September. This means the birds can be as young as 12 weeks and some will be up to 18 weeks but not the majority. Our birds are 12 weeks now and they have only just formed their bone structure to be able to put on any meat. You may remember from a previous blog post that the commercial birds are killed when the birds reach the right weight, whereas we have over 11 different breeds which are all grown to full maturity. This is why we have lots of variation in our birds as unfortunately some will eat more than others. But we think it’s much better to allow the birds to get to their natural weight. And as they say, the proof is in the taste!
Turkey Blog Post 3 – The Turkeys are taken to the Polytunnels
It’s hard to believe but our turkeys are already 10 weeks old and looking very fit and healthy. It has been a busy time of the farm over the last weeks and the weather has meant a lot of things have started early. We would usually be harvesting in August but due to the drought and very hot weather, it was all done in July which is unheard of.
When the turkeys were 5 weeks old our turkeys they were moved outside to their polytunnels amongst the cherry trees and foliage. That means the turkeys get day time entertainment from the footpath that runs directly through the farm. They are naturally curious, they love seeing and hearing people walk by and if you have time, stop and chat, as they will definitely have something to say back.
When we move the turkeys it’s a very slow process as we want to ensure their safety. Turkeys have a natural instinct to crowd into each other when they become scared. A loud noise or even a bigger bird flying close by overhead could scare them. So we make sure all the husbandry team are around to careful warden the birds up to the pens.
Turkey Fact! Did you know we bed up our polytunnels with straw every other day by hand. This gives our husbandry team the chance to check the flock and make sure the birds are in top health.
For the first week, we kept the poults inside the polytunnels, as before they are released, they still need to acclimatise to their new surroundings. And some of the poults may have a little longer in the tunnels if they’re not quite ready to be released. Then once Steve and the team are happy and the birds are strong enough, all the birds will be allowed to roam the fields. They will continue to bed the tunnels up every other night as the birds do like to come in to roost. Turkeys are also not big fans of a hot sunny day so often retreat into the shade when it gets too hot. They also quite like a dust bath when it gets really hot and humid.
Turkey Blog Post 2 – The Rings are let off
Now they say a picture says a thousand words but I think this one might say even more …
It’s now 2 weeks since the poults arrived and they pens have been let off. It takes a few days before they feel comfortable to venture into the whole barn but soon they are confidently roaming around. Slowly we expose them to more light and air so we can promote their feather growth. As the poults will be going outside in just a few weeks, we need to ensure they are ready to cope with the elements. Steve will always look at the birds and see when he thinks they’re ready to move as it can vary a little each year. Being a small producer, we have the flexibility to move when the birds are ready.
Turkey Fact! Did you know we use over 11 different breeds on our farm? Each bird is grown to full maturity and we use no growth promotors in our production. On commercial farms, birds are killed when they reach the right weight. These different breeds are also to key as they give the perfect bone to meat ratio
Over the next few weeks Steve will slowly introduce Kes into the barns. Turkeys can be very flighty, so Steve reduces the chances of them becoming scared by making this a very gradual process. Kes becomes extremely important once the birds are completely free range as she can do the work of 5 people in minutes. It will be a couple of weeks now before put the birds out in the ranges so we will have lots more exciting turkey tales and facts to tell you then.
It’s been a hard start to the year for all, with the Beast from the East one, two and even three depending who you speak to, and it felt like cold weather would never relent. But then finally summer arrived briefly in spring to put a smile on everyone’s face, but now, we have the best news of all. Our wonderful turkey poults are here! That’s right folks, it’s time for those long nights to begin for our husbandry team.
Turkey Fact! Did you know, we give the poults 24 hour care in the first few weeks of their life as they find it very hard to acclimatise once they’re hatched?
But before I tell you all about the arrival of the turkeys, let me tell you what’s been happening here at Kings Coppice Farm. We started the year with a number of projects to keep us busy. Although we’d love to be able to grow our turkeys all year round, there are some big benefits to not doing so. For instance, at the beginning of each year, we are able to muck out all our polytunnels and sterilise all our sheds. Now this doesn’t sound exciting but it means we reduce the chance of disease and can allow our land to rest before we use it again. Instead of using lots chemicals, we actually use the frosts which happen during the year to disinfect the site.
It also gives us the opportunity to plant further cover for the turkeys and trim all the cherry trees, which, would be a much bigger job with all those inquisitive turkeys around. It’s also great time for us to sit down and see what improvements we can make for the coming year as we are always focusing on how we can improve the welfare of our turkeys. If you didn’t spot it last year, we had some musical instruments in their pen last year. As they are naturally inquisitive, they loved making noise and keeping themselves entertained, who wouldn’t.
We do have other friends on our farm who we of course don’t forget about. Many of you will have already seen our fox wardens or more commonly known as alpacas and last year they did an outstanding job keeping the foxes at bay. And they continue to guard the pens even when the turkeys aren’t here. They looking rather smart at the moment since we gave them a much needed haircut ready for the summer. As you can imagine, it can get pretty warm under those wool jacket. Lucky we have all those cherry trees!
Do you remember Patch, our Turkey Puppy if you haven’t seen her, she has been working hard to make friends with Kes (our Turkey Dog) but she has a long way to go. It’s very much a Fly and Babe situation. If you haven’t watched Babe, it’s a great one for the family this Christmas.
Now, where were we? That’s right, the exciting news, the poults are here. Farmer Manager Steve has worked with us for nearly 21 years and during that time he has worked to improve how the birds are cared for. It starts with preparing their bed and giving them an extra thick layer of shavings that wouldn’t even give Princess Pea something to complain about. His team then makes sure they have constant access to food and water and if they need it, show them how to reach it. Yes all of the poults if they need it and that’s a lot of chirping mouths! They are kept around heat lamps is small groups and slowly but surely they will acclimatise to their surroundings. Caffeine is in high demand during the first couple of weeks.
Turkey Fact 2 – Did you know there are only 2 hatcheries in the UK that produce Traditional British Turkeys? And in the 1970’s there used to be 11. Now most farms use commercial breeds and there are very few people doing things the traditional way now.
We hope you enjoyed learning a little but more about our turkeys and will come back to hear what happens next.