Rearing turkeys to the age when they are ‘perfect to eat’ rather than just the ‘right weight’ is the way to provide the best Christmas experience, says Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys.
He contends there is a vast difference in the flavour and eating quality of traditional turkeys reared to 22 weeks compared to cheaper birds from large strain hens processed when they are only 12 weeks old.
He explains the difference in his autumn newsletter to butchers and retail customers: “At 12 weeks of age turkeys are only at the third stage of physiological development – skeletal growth. The only muscle laid down is just enough to move the skeleton, but there is no intramuscular fat or carcase fat which is laid down later.
“The analogy in my opinion is these young turkeys are killed when they are the right weight – rather than when perfect to eat. The older the bird, the better the experience.”
He says their own premium product, the KellyBronze, is an average of 26 weeks old. “So the turkey is super mature. Then, of course, we hang it for 14 days which breaks down the collagen in the muscle to make it tender.”
He says the message about the age of the Christmas turkey is a big story to be told – pointing also to the greater breast meat yield achieved from their mature small strain hens compared with an immature large breed commercial hen.
He has analysed the yield from both these turkeys reared to 4.7 kg (10.4 lb). “The carcase shape says it all,” says Paul Kelly. “In this instance there was 48 per cent more breast meat on our SuperMini. So while our turkey may cost twice as much per kg as a supermarket bird, once you take the number of servings into account, it is only circa 25 per cent more expensive.
“A fully mature bird will taste better and produce an amazing gravy. If a customer come away from Christmas lunch really satisfied, then the extra money does provide great value.”
After holding prices for two years Kelly Turkeys is having to post a small increase. “Our method of farming and hand finishing is very labour intensive,” says Paul Kelly. “The living wage has had a big impact on our casual labour costs and the increase in feed costs, along with other inflation creeping up, means we have had to increase prices by three per cent.”
Retail prices from their Springate Farm at Danbury, near Chelmsford, Essex, range from £14.41 /kg for 4 kg (8.8 lb) turkeys to £11.22 / kg for 8 to 11 kg (17.6 24.2 lb) birds.