Poultry supremos celebrate 50-year link

Kelly Turkeys - a break in the weekend celebrations

Kelly Turkeys - a break in the weekend celebrations - Credit: Archant

Two poultry families - one from Essex, the other from the Netherlands - celebrated a 50-year link this summer.

Kelly Turkeys - Geert Coolen at the wheel with Paul Kelly

Kelly Turkeys - Geert Coolen at the wheel with Paul Kelly - Credit: Archant

The 50-year association between the Kelly family at Danbury, which has developed a renowned premium free-range turkey brand KellyBronze, and the Coolen family in Holland was celebrated by a weekend of leisure activities in Heythuysen including all-terrain driving and moto-cross biking.

The link began in the early 1960s when Derek Kelly, the father of Paul, the current managing director of Kelly Turkeys, was international director for River Rest Turkeys in Oklahoma. His brief was to develop joint ventures in Europe where turkey production was only established in the UK, Ireland and Denmark

In Holland the leading chicken processor was Friki.

“They showed interest, and the director Heinz Moorman introduced me to some Dutch poultry producers,” said Derek.

Kelly Turkeys - Marisa Kelly and her daughter India posing on one of moto-cross bikes.

Kelly Turkeys - Marisa Kelly and her daughter India posing on one of moto-cross bikes. - Credit: Archant


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“Thieu Coolen was chosen despite having the smallest business of them all. Moorman’s assurance that he was entrepreneurial and very capable proved prophetic. Coolen was soon to become the largest turkey hatchery in continental Europe.

“With Coolen being new to turkeys, I visited Limburg every three weeks for a couple of days to impart a little advice. They were heady times, with turkeys and facilities being doubled every few months.

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“Thieu could only speak 10 words of English and I could only speak 10 words of Dutch. But we could have a meal together and converse all evening! His brother-in-law, Theo Philipsen, was brought in as manager and he and I had a close relationship for many years.”

With the imported River Rest breeding stock, Coolen started its own breeding programme in 1972 under the Indico brand. The breeding lines were bought by Dutch livestock breeding company Euribrid in 1979 and two years later Euribrid also acquired the Canadian company Hybrid Turkeys, with the Coolen genetic material then transferred to the main breeding programme in North America.

The Kelly and Coolen families kept in close contact, and in 1985, Paul met Thieu Coolen’s son Henk at an agricultural show in Paris and they decided to work together.

The relation became close once more. Henk now hatches Kelly’s bronze poults for their joint venture in Germany, and for other customers in Europe. He also distributes KellyBronze Christmas turkeys in Holland.

Two or three times each year Henk brings a party of customers to England, while the next generation — three of Paul’s and six of Henk’s – have become close friends and have skiing holidays together.

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