Traditional Suffolk turkey farmers share their secret ingredient
PUBLISHED: 15:47 25 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:47 25 October 2019
For several years, the Mobbs - who run a free range turkey farm near Halesworth - would despatch a bumper 150 of its celebrated birds to Suffolk police headquarters in Martlesham at Christmas.
Sadly, those days are long gone, but the third generation turkey farming business has never lost sight of the traditional methods for which its birds are renowned - and which continue to attract discerning customers from a wide area.
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A turkey tradition
Chris and Judith Mobbs, who now run the operation started by Chris's grandfather, Percy, still abide by the same golden rules for rearing turkeys which he adopted when he started the business back in 1934 - even down to growing and making their own feed.
"If Percy was to come back to visit us today he would still recognise much of what we do, in particular the way we feed our birds," says Chris.
"We are the only producers who still grow the ingredients and mix our ration from scratch on the farm every day, just as they would have done in the 1930s.
"This is one of the key secrets to growing a really flavoursome bird and it is the most sustainable option - no additives and no food miles."
The birds' feed ration is mixed to the family's own recipe, and contains whole grain - which Chris likens to us eating brown bread and wholefoods.
Percy would also be able to recognise other traits, such as how the current generation prepares them for table, hanging them to mature the flavour and carefully hand finishing them from the plucking to the butchery.
But while the Mobbs have retained the best of these traditional methods, they have also made improvements, focusing in particular on environmental impact. They have moved from plastic to paper packaging and designed boxes that can easily be recycled and invested in other measures to reduce their carbon footprint. "We have introduced solar energy to power our refrigerators and freezers, and planted new trees and hedges across the farm to replace those which previous generations removed," explained Chris.
PA Mobbs and Sons, based in the village of Cratfield, celebrates its 85th anniversary this year, and the Mobbs have celebrated the impressive milestone with events including a 'turkey trot' around the village, with a walk, a quiz, and a chance to make the food that the birds eat.
The Mobbs family can trace its history locally back to the 1700s, and to Alburgh, near Harleston, when members of clan were working as bricklayers.
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The family's entrepreneurial spirit was really sparked by William Mobbs, born in 1858, and his wife Martha Hadingham. William crossed the border into Suffolk and came to Cratfield in the late 1890s to become village postmaster, grocer and draper - and the family has been there ever since. By 1917, when William was in his 60s, the family had amassed enough money to buy a farm in the village.
It was Percy - his youngest son - who became a farmer and set up the turkey business, which was subsequently run by his son Russell, and now Chris, his grandson. Percy kept a mixed farm, which he ran with wife, Mabel, with crops, poultry, pigs, sheep, cattle and even blackcurrants.
Percy and Mabel had three sons - Richard, Roy and Russell Mobbs. Richard, the eldest, was tragically killed while serving as a tail gunner in a Lancaster during World War II. The remaining two sons, Roy and Russell, built on Percy and William's legacy, extending the acreage and adding contracting to the range of enterprises during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when arable farming was much more profitable than it is today. Gradually sheep, blackcurrants and pigs ceased as they became less viable. But turkeys continued as a sideline under Russell.
The latest generation
As the third generation came into the business and arable farming became more challenging, it was necessary to look at things in a different way. Chris, who loved working with livestock, led on the turkey operation. The business needed to restructure as it moved to the new generation, and with a smaller arable acreage, the poultry became the central element of P A Mobbs and Sons, introducing a sideline in Suffolk guinea fowl to help broaden the business.
Thanks to a European Union grant, the Mobbs have been able to invest in new rearing and processing facilities, and expand production.
Now Chris and Judith's children, Frances, Alan and Graham - the fourth generation - have become a vital part of the team, particularly at events and in the lead-up to Christmas.
Adapting with the times
The range of customers they supply has expanded, as independent butcher's shop close down, and now include a number of farm shops and corporate clients.
The business has scooped two prestigious accolades this year - an award at the EAT Suffolk Field to Fork Award 2019, and Great Taste 2 Star Awards for its bronze turkey and Suffolk guinea fowl.
Chris has also collaborated with a local butchery to produce an 85th Anniversary sausage, which will be available to purchase this year alongside turkey and guinea fowl from the farm.
The business remains strong, and well supported, say the Mobbs, as shown during its Turkey Trot day, when they discovered that many people were still interested in what they do.
"During our 85 years there have been many challenges along the way, as agriculture and consumer expectations have changed dramatically," admitted Chris.
But he added: "We still have many customers - new and old - who like to collect their turkey directly from the farm. In some cases they too are second or third generation customers."