Video/gallery: Christmas is coming - sad news for the tukeys at Rumburgh Farm

Mick and Charlotte Binder of Rumburgh Farm Turkeys

Mick and Charlotte Binder of Rumburgh Farm Turkeys - Credit: Archant

Turkey at Christmas is a great British tradition. And a Suffolk farm has been rearing turkeys the traditional way for 25 years, James Marston reports.

Mick and Charlotte Binder of Rumburgh Farm Turkeys

Mick and Charlotte Binder of Rumburgh Farm Turkeys - Credit: Archant

It’s the calm before the storm at Rumburgh Farm.

Set in the rolling fields a few miles outside Halesworth, the farm is getting ready for the Christmas rush.

Mick and Charlotte Binder have been rearing turkeys here since 1988.

Over mid-morning coffee in their 16th Century moated farmhouse Mick, 66, explains how the couple got into turkey farming.

He said: “I am from a farming family near Maldon in Essex. We bought the farm in 1987. We moved in two days before the great storm.

“We only have about 20 acres so we needed to specialise. We had good links with Kelly Turkeys which is based in Essex so we started with 100 turkeys in 1988. Turkeys are still the core part of the business.”

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At the farm’s peak the couple were rearing 10,000 turkeys a year – nowadays they rear somewhere around 7,000 a year. Today the farm rears free range Kelly Bronzes and Norfolk Blacks as well as rearing some barn reared whites exclusively for the butchery trade.

Mick said: “We rear around 5,000 turkeys for Kellys and just over 2,000 of our own brand.

“We buy day-old chicks and they arrive usually in the second week of June. We rear them under heat for the first two to three weeks before they are moved from the brooding sheds to the rearing sheds. At eight weeks they go outside and from then they go in and out as they choose.”

The couple have planted trees in the turkey enclosures to allow the birds to feel more secure.

Mick said: “Turkeys don’t like wide open spaces, they are originally from Mexico and they naturally prefer scrubland with some shade and cover.”

Fed a specialist diet which starts with a high protein starter crumb, turkeys are fed specially formulated pellets made from a range of ingredients including wheatfeed, rapeseed, peas and beans.

Mick said the birds are fed four different types of diet at differing stages of their lives – starter, rearer, grower and finisher.

He added: “From 12 weeks onwards they are fed the finisher diet. The fat levels increase as the birds get older.”

Rumburgh Farm turkeys are reared over a period of 24 weeks – twice the length of time taken to rear the more intensively produced turkeys found in supermarkets.

The birds are humanely slaughtered on the farm usually at the beginning of December.

He said: “We have a licensed slaughter man and we hire about ten people to come and help. We pluck them here and hire a van to deliver them to butchers across Suffolk, Norfolk and London.”

In the Ipswich area Rumburgh Turkeys supply Andrew’s in Hadleigh and Five Winds in Melton.

Hand plucking ensures skin damage is kept to a minimum and with high welfare standards – the farm is a member of the Traditional Farmfresh Turkey Association of which Mick is a former chairman – farm gate sales, online and mail order, are also popular.

Charlotte, 52, said: “People love to come here and collect their Christmas turkey, it is part of their family tradition and we have a lot of repeat customers.

“One of the main differences compared to supermarket turkeys is that ours are reared over 24 weeks and then hung for a minimum of seven days to develop the flavour.

“People will spend that little bit extra at Christmas because it is a special time. I think people recognise that farm sourced food is better quality. We always sell out and this year the retail orders for the butchers are already good.”

Charlotte, who also does a lot of the administration for the business, said the farm has diversified into bed and breakfast in the past and nowadays owns and manages a couple of self-catering holiday cottages.

She said: “I didn’t know anything about turkeys when we came here. Mick does most of the day-to-day work but we all get involved in the run-up to Christmas.

“December is manic but I love being a farmer’s wife. Your work is also your home and we live and work in a lovely environment.

“Of course we have our moments but we like working together.”

As we walk round the large enclosures, the turkeys – a curious bird – come up close crowding round us.

Mick said: “I like to see the shine on the feathers, especially on a sunny day and the bronzes have fabulous plumage. I enjoy seeing a plump and well-reared bird and I like to see the finished product.

“So many people email or write to tell us how much they enjoyed their turkey at Christmas, it makes it all worthwhile.”

So how does the Binder family cook their turkey?

Charlotte said: “We have five children and there are usually around 12 of us at Christmas. We choose a bird we like the look of and keep it back for ourselves.

“I always cook the turkey breast down so the juices naturally baste the meat. We like turkey curry or turkey and leek pie with leftovers, if there are any.”