Christmas comes but once a year. And, in all fairness, that’s probably far too often for a turkey. As consumers are becoming more interested in the provenance of their food, the traceability and treatment of the celebratory bird comes into the fore. For those hosting a festive celebration, the turkey is usually the signature dish served up to guests, so consumers are also focussing on good flavour and quality meat. A range of turkey farmers are stepping up to these demands, and their flocks shine brightly amongst the Christmas lights.

Out in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Barra Bronzes are the passion of Craig and Maria Michie. Their 2000 turkeys are proudly free-range. They opted for female, large, slow-growing foraging birds: Wirall, Hockenhull and Devonshire Bronze Turkeys. And for anyone looking for something a little special (it is Christmas after all) they breed a rare Bourbon Red Turkey which is known for its rich, gamey flavour.

Craig says: “A Barra Bronze grows up feeling the wind on its feathers and the sun on its back. The birds live a great life out here where they have an environment that allows them to express their natural instincts. This enhances the end product.” The turkeys also have views of Barra Hill and Bennachie, if that so interests them.

The Michies themselves are of farming stock, tracing their ancestors back to the 18th century at Sluggie Farm in Glenbuchat, and they’ve been working the land at Barra since 1928. Craig has heard tales of his grandfather harvesting oats to feed to the flock, as he felt this cereal gave the turkeys a creamy coloured finish. The birds also nibble on apples, pears and beasties in the orchard, or they’re tempted by brassicas and red clover. The Michies think that this varied and fruitful diet adds a depth of flavour and a unique taste. Allowing the birds time to grow and ingest all the goodness is also a key part of their story: Barra Bronzes grow for more than 25 weeks, so they’re more mature than your average bird.

After processing on the farm, the birds are dry-plucked by hand, rather than wet-plucked by machine, which is said to avoid bruising and retain the top layer of skin (the bit that goes deliciously crispy in the oven), before being hung for two further weeks to allow greater maturation. The turkeys can be ordered online and delivered anywhere in the UK, or collected straight from the farm gate. But, as the farmyard empties, will the Michies be lonely this Christmas as their birds disappear?

“You do feel it," says Craig, "however you think about the wonderful experience that families will have eating our turkeys as everybody is brought together for a special day.”

Heading further south, down in Angus, the Pate family of South Powrie Farm are gearing up for a bumper season that might get a bit wild. The reason for this isn’t too much sherry during the Queen’s Speech, but their KellyBronze turkeys. This breed originally wandered wild in Mexico, reaching British shores in the 16th century. The bird fell out of favour and faced near extinction in the UK in the 1950’s, as consumers increasingly opted for white turkey, until a process of conservation and rejuvenation began. Susannah Pate was particularly interested in this ‘wild’ breed.

“We chose KellyBronzes," says Susannah, "as having tasted them we knew they were in a different league. The high welfare, slow growing, natural diet approach, as well as traditional game hanging and selling direct to the consumer were all things we really believe in, so it seemed a natural fit. Everything in life is so fast and immediate these days, so it’s nice to spend time producing something different, and for customers to come to the farm and enjoy a calmer retail experience. Christmas is a special time, and it’s good to produce something that people really enjoy.”

Again the South Powrie birds are free-range by day, with indoor shelter at night, they’re grown to full maturity, hand-plucked and hung. Turkeys and all the trimmings can be ordered online to be collected from the farm itself. Here, customers receive a glass of mulled wine and nibbles, therefore collection day is becoming a bit of a date in the festive diary for regular customers. The birds can also be delivered across the UK, or collected from Pittormie Farm Shop, near Dairsie, in Fife, Balmakewan Farm Shop, in Laurencekirk, or Grewar’s Farm Shop, in Muirhead, Dundee.

Last, but not least, in the Christmas Turkey Celebration is Millhill Farm Turkeys, which has the best USP to date. Not only are their Bronze birds free-range, exploring the woodland by day, and bedding down in an airy sheep shed by night, they get the opportunity to listen to West Sound Radio. How this affects their flavour is unknown but it possibly puts a spring in their step or calms them down. Radio connoisseurship aside, the Carr family near Dumfries has been rearing turkeys for 28 years, and realises that consumers wish to purchase animals that have enjoyed a certain quality of life. Millhill birds can fly, dustbath or roost, climb trees or explore the bracken, before being rounded up by sheepdog Skye at the end of the day. But what difference does ‘contentedness’ make?

Susan Carr says: “Our turkeys have a good life. Processing them calmly and humanely on the farm eliminates travel and stress for the animals. It’s the best way. We believe you can taste the difference, but it certainly feels better dining on a turkey that lived well.”

But as the Christmas lights’ twinkle diminishes, and the tinsel’s sparkle starts to fade, what’s next for Scotland’s turkey farmers immediately after the festive season? Some focus on their cereal crops or livestock, it can be a case of clearing up, invoicing and planning for the next year, others say they spend two months recovering! Until Christmas 2018, of course…

Contact details:

You can order online at Tel. 01651 871 600 Tel. 01382 504 637 Tel. 01387 730472