Farmer who has taken on first flock of Christmas turkeys says they have 'a lot of character each with its own personality'

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Pluck is a word used far too rarely these days. It is an admirable quality to denote one’s courage and determination in tackling challenges. Plucking, however, is a completely different matter, especially if you’re a turkey.

Alastair Trickett of Fortshot Farm, Wike, near Harewood, certainly possesses the values in the former of the two words and is presently engaged in the latter, with the assistance of a fellow farmer, in preparing his first ‘toe in the water’ flock for the Christmas Day festivities.

Farmer Alastair Trickett, of Fortshot Farm, Fortshot Lane, Wike, near Leeds, who looks after a small number of Kelly Bronze Turkeys alongside his flock of Romney sheep, pictured with his mum Amanda. Credit: James Hardisty.

Farmer Alastair Trickett, of Fortshot Farm, Fortshot Lane, Wike, near Leeds, who looks after a small number of Kelly Bronze Turkeys alongside his flock of Romney sheep, pictured with his mum Amanda. Credit: James Hardisty.

“It’s our first year having reared turkeys,” says Alastair. “We bought them as six-week olds in July and specifically went for heritage niche breeds of bronze turkeys because of their superior taste.

"They’ve been quite fun to have around and have a lot of character each with its own personality. They are certainly not shy, just lovely inquisitive birds. They’ve roamed in our fruit orchard eating apples.

“Our breeds are Roly Poly, Rolstad and Plumpy. I’ve had some great help from John Holtby of Dowthorpe Hall near Skirlaugh who has had many years’ experience of them.

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"We only took on a flock of 40 as we had no idea what the demand would be. It’s looking good. We have a sign up in a field on the main Leeds-Harrogate road just near to the lane that leads to our farm.”

Alastair is a young man on a mission since having returned to the family farm his grandfather Michael Trickett took on as a tenant at just 22 years of age and that his father Peter continues to run today.

“My grandfather took on Fortshot and then added another tenancy at Mill Farm by Harewood Bridge while still only 28. That meant he was running an 800-acre farm by the 1950s.

"He had come from a non-farming background and had studied agriculture at university in Leeds. He’s an inspiration. I have his photograph in my office and looking at it makes me think am I pushing hard enough?”

Peter studied biology at Leeds and moved the farm from what had been predominantly a dairy farm operation to an arable enterprise. Alastair changed the mould.

He studied philosophy at St Andrew’s University in Scotland and started out on a quite different career path taking in business consultancy, advertising, marketing and sales, albeit with some connections back to farming through managing the e-commerce of the like of Jordan’s cereals. But eventually farming called him back home.

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“If you’re brought up on a farm it is almost as though it is in your blood and I just wanted to get back into farming. It’s a really exciting time for agriculture because consumers are realising farming has a very positive role to play in the balance between food production and the environment.

“I’m a farmer but also an environmentalist, probably like every person of my generation. I care about our farmed environment and with my own background in marketing and sales I’m very interested in how we can sell what we produce and create that vital direct connection with the consumer.

“We come from having been a mixed farm and we are now trying to get back into being a mixed farm for environmental reasons. If people realised how their food was produced I think there would be more animals in the countryside.

“It’s imperative we have animals on our farm. We want people to understand when consumers eat meat produced on the farm it is part of the bigger picture in improving soil health and biodiversity. It regenerates the environment.

“That message is particularly important right now with tales of meat being unhealthy and damaging the soil and wildlife.”

Three years ago when Alastair returned to Fortshot, with his wife Katherine, the Tricketts bought a flock of Romney breeding ewes that now runs to 300.

“Livestock is a tool in the system of soil regeneration. We graze them on a holistic system whereby they are moved every two or three days. They eat grass right through summer and then go on to cover crops with a mix of Fecilia, vetch, rye and kale.

"The lambs go on to herb and flower pastures eating such as red clover, white clover, chicory, plantain and trefoil. I also have a Suffolk tup and I’m trying to produce the best lamb in the country.

“I’d like to add other animals that will all contribute to our becoming a regenerative farming enterprise, but you can’t be green if you’re in the red and some things come at a cost initially.

"That’s why we are undertaking a great deal of research into the financial side.

“I would like us to have a range of products people can buy from our farm. I don’t yet know what the end picture will be as we need to see what demand there is, but I’d like to see us with pasture reared chicken.

"One of the things we suffer from on farms is starting with something because it might be a good thing to do and then we have to try and find a market for it. It really should be the other way round with us thinking firstly about what the consumer is interested in, what the demand is and then how we meet that demand.”

Fortshot runs to around 1,000 farmed acres and as such it is still firmly an arable farm at present with Alastair’s additions of Romney ewes and turkeys, but change is most definitely in the air.

He’s recently also taken on the role of chairman of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire organisation and has strong views on where agriculture should be heading.

“Agriculture is perhaps the only industry that can actually start reversing the effects of climate change. A large proportion of the carbon in the world is stored in our soils.

"We are starting to improve our natural environment and the way we will achieve that is by rearing produce off the land that people buy because they find it delicious. By buying it the consumer is then helping us reach our mission of being a regeneration farm.”