Pressure mounts for turkey farmer as big day approaches

With Christmas fast approaching, most households will have discussed what they’re going to eat on the “big day” and be starting to worry about cooking the meat, preparing the vegetables and having all ready at the same time, but for Jackie Riby that worry is magnified 300 times.

Jackie Riby with one of her bronze turkeys
Jackie Riby with one of her bronze turkeys

Jackie has been rearing and selling Christmas turkeys on her farm for nearly a decade and says the only downside is the pressure as Christmas nears.

She said: “It is a very special time, and the Christmas dinner such an important occasion that I want everyone to have the best meal possible. I want their turkey to taste delicious, be cooked to perfection and overall for them to have a fantastic meal.”

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To this end, Jackie gives each of her customers a little disposable meat thermometer that they can insert into the breast and which will “pop up” when the meat is ready.

She said: “Traditionally, one of the complaints about turkey meat is that it is dry and it isn’t at all, it is just about how you cook it. We work hard to ensure that our customers have the very best meal possible. We choose Bronze turkeys as they are self-basting, that is they have an extra layer of fat which means they don’t dry out as much and there is no need to cook them upside down.

“I give out the thermometers with each bird, so customers don’t feel the need to overdo the cooking.”

Jackie started with turkeys ten years ago, after going to buy one at Christmas and seeing how expensive they were.

“I just thought, this is something I can do. We had plenty of redundant buildings, like the milking parlour, that would be suitable and the turkeys would provide another income, with, in farming terms, a fairly fast return of about six months.

“We finished milking cows at around the same time so it meant we could utilise what we already had, for another purpose.”

The following summer, in 2004, Jackie bought 100 day-old turkeys and brought them back to her farm in Fraisthorpe, just outside Bridlington. The business quickly expanded and by 2006 she was farming 300 turkeys each year.

Jackie said: “We’re very lucky in that our business spread via word of mouth. Customers return year after year and I have quite a few who have bought from me every year since I started.”

The turkeys are kept inside a traditional brick barn, under gas brooders until they’re big enough to go outside. Once they can go out Jackie and her family make sure they’re out every morning and then bedded up with fresh straw before they bring them back in at dusk.

“It can be a bit of a bind sometimes,” she admits, “as once the clocks go back we have to be home earlier and earlier each day to make sure they’re in. But we have to get them in before they perch as otherwise they’re really difficult to move.”

Since 2006 Jackie has stuck at around 300 birds each year as she says that is a manageable number.

She said: “I do them all myself, from day-old chicks until they’re finished. If we had any more then the buildings we’re using wouldn’t be big enough. I like the fact that with 300 we can keep them all together in one group, hand pluck them in a few days and hang them without having to erect any new buildings.”