Helen Hurst of Walters Turkeys speaks in her own words about daily life on a turkey farm.
My parents, Phillip and Julia Walters, have been selling turkeys since they were married in 1971. Today, the whole family is involved in producing turkeys. Ours is a mixed farm, so we also grow cereals, and have a beef herd as well as a flock of sheep.
My Dad is one of the hardest working people you’ll meet. When the turkey poults are first delivered at the end of May someone has to check them nearly every hour to make sure they are not too hot, too cold or blinded by sunshine. They are very temperamental birds when young.
Around 10–12 weeks old, depending on the weather, the free range turkeys start going outside daily. They are let out early around 6:30am, and then shut up at night just before dark. This is a huge commitment to my father and brothers. If you try to shut them up too early or late it will take three times as long. It makes going to family weddings very difficult!
Come December it’s all hands on deck, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, until the last delivery leaves the farm on 23rd December. I tend to spend most of this time in my ‘portacabin’ answering the phone, chasing butchers for their orders, and dealing with email enquiries. My Mum is in charge of keeping us all fed and watered (with plenty of cups of tea); Dad keeps the farm running and moves the turkeys around; whilst my brothers Ed and George are in the plucking shed, keeping it going as smoothly as possible.
Turkey for Christmas
And yes, every Christmas we still sit down and have turkey on the big day. My Mum has traditionally chosen which turkey we'll have in the run up to Christmas, and many times my Dad has accidentally sold it! Christmas is our day for relaxing. We have a drink, sit down to a large traditional dinner often with 18 people or so, check the animals, walk the dog, and then watch TV. Many of us fall asleep! Boxing Day it's back to work again, making sure any unsold turkeys and joints are all vacuum packed and frozen for use throughout the year.
The business has grown from selling 400 turkeys to individual customers in the 80s, to now supplying farm shops and butchers all over Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire. We still sell turkeys directly too. Some customers have literally been coming since Mum and Dad got married back in 1971.
We do get frustrated with supermarket chains trying to market their turkeys as 'Traditional' and 'Free Range'. When looking at the label closely they’ve sometimes had water added to increase the weight. We are very proud of our turkeys and do use all the traditional methods to ensure that they are fresh, moist and succulent.
This is a classic lovefood article
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