A Proper Turkey
Clare O'Connor visits an organic turkey farm in Limavady
The backlash against over processed, intensively reared meat is gaining momentum in Northern Ireland as people become more conscientious about what they eat.
Heading the charge are the Mullan Brothers in Co Derry. They farm beef, sheep and egg laying poultry but with Christmas fast approaching, it’s their turkeys that are most in demand.
Michael, pictured, sees organic farming as the only credible way of producing food in the future but going organic hasn’t been easy. In order for his turkeys to be labelled ‘organic’ he has to comply with strict EU regulations.
The birds need to be accommodated in a free-range system on land that has undergone the required chemical-free conversion. Buildings need to provide generous feeding and watering space. That feed must come from an approved organic source - expensive. And then there’s the foxes to contend with!
For all that this is clearly a labour of love for the Limavady farmer. To his mind, the better the animal welfare the better the end product. He takes pride in the fact that his birds are of a slow growing breed, the ‘Kelly Bronze’ from the world renowned Springate Hatchery in England. 'Their slow growth rate and the fact that they are allowed to roam about is what gives them their great flavour.'
The turkey is indeed a weird and wonderful looking bird, making the polytunnel in which they are housed look like a Star Wars set. The birds are black and bronze with vivid red, white and blue coloured heads. In order to be ready for Christmas they are hatched in June. This is an unusually long lifespan by today’s commercial standards and is again, key to the superior flavour rendered.
The farm also rears geese for the Christmas market and Michael’s specimens are a world away from the forlorn, cramped variety all too prevalent in poultry farming. These boyos even have their very own pond to splash about in.
Good food doesn’t come cheap though and until organic food production becomes mainstream we won’t reap its obvious environmental, social and health benefits. Still, with farmers like the Mullan Bros doing their bit in what is a notoriousy conservative domain, maybe that day isn’t so far off.