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UK turkey producer set to launch turkey 'butterflies' in bid to stave off imports

PUBLISHED: 10:15 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 11 April 2019

Kelly Turkeys' poult day - Paul Kelly showing the difference in conformation between male and female turkeys  Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHR

Kelly Turkeys' poult day - Paul Kelly showing the difference in conformation between male and female turkeys Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHR

Roger Ranson/BHR

A premium turkey producer has announced it is launching into the turkey 'butterfly' market in order to beat off overseas competition.

Delegates Kelly Turkeys' poult day  Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHRDelegates Kelly Turkeys' poult day Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHR

More than 200 turkey farmers from all over the country gathered in Essex to hear from Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys, based at Danbury, who spoke about the major changes to the turkey sector since he came into the business in 1984 to join his father and company founder, Derek.

Back then there were 11 seasonal hatcheries supplying day-old poults for farmers producing turkeys for the Christmas market.

Now there were just two supplying the UK market. Today Kelly is one of only three turkey breeders across the globe, he told delegates.

MORE – ‘If we can’t get access to labour market, we are finished here’ warns poultry entrepreneur

From the start of its breeding programme in the 1980s focused on reviving traditional bronze turkeys, the company has continued to acquire breeds and now maintains 28 pure lines, with mature weights ranging from 2kg to 30kg. Its gene pool of coloured turkeys is believed to be the largest in the world.

Hung birds on display at Kelly Turkeys' poult day  Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHRHung birds on display at Kelly Turkeys' poult day Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHR

The FarmGate Hatcheries conference, held every three years, aims to highlight the latest innovations for the sector. This year’s event, held at Little Claydons Farm at Howe Green, heard how using oats and a higher proportion of whole grains in feed could help with costs. “You can achieve an outstanding finish by using oats,” said Paul.

Unlike mass market producers, the focus of the firm was on flavour and eating quality over growth rates, he said.

“Unlike the international breeding companies we compete not by selecting for growth but for amazing shape and eating quality,” he explained. “A lot of the eating quality comes from the dark meat and we regularly taste the stock from cooking the turkey to assess flavour.”

Paul is a strong advocate for a ‘whole bird’ approach, but his sales manager, Philip Regan, told delegates the firm would be launching a ‘butterfly’ or breast joint product in response to the growing threat to UK producers from imported ‘butterflies’ sold through butchers’ shops, which contrasted with the policy of supermarkets in promoting the sale of 100% British turkeys.

Paul Kelly of KellyTurkeys speaking at its poult day event  Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHRPaul Kelly of KellyTurkeys speaking at its poult day event Picture: ROGER RANSON/BHR

One issue was the lack of availability of ‘butterflies’ from British producers and Kelly’s was planning to introduced its own this year, encouraging butchers to major on the local provenance, he said.

The company also highlighted new gas stunning equipment, and its gains in carcase quality and perceived welfare benefits. It said the technology, already widely used by large poultry processing plants, was now within the reach of small producers.

The company had been working with hatchery consultant Ed Hurford over the past two years with the help of a £80k grant from the Local Environmental Action Fund (LEAF). The technology was successfully trialled on a Kelly farm last year, and will be marketed in future through Gallus Systems, a joint venture between Kelly Turkeys and Ed Hurford’s company, Gallus Solutions.

The conference took place in March.

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