Thoughts on how to choose a turkey

by sophie on December 14, 2008 · 3 comments

free ranging turkey

I’ve been pondering turkey choices this week.  There’s no real decision to make from a nutritional point of view; turkey is a relatively lean meat provided you don’t eat all of that crispy skin and besides, we’re just talking about a couple of meals out of the year.  Nope, it’s all the other stuff about animal welfare and sustainable farming that has been on my mind.

If Santa were to bring me a turkey I think this is what I would ask him for:

An outdoor reared turkey
Compassion in World Farming estimate that 90% of the turkeys raised for Christmas in the UK are intensively indoor reared with no outside access.  Intensive farming isn’t just a welfare matter either, the crowded conditions of indoor intensive turkey farming poses a real avian influenza risk.  I’d like a bird that has access to either fields or woodland during the day with safe, well-ventilated housing at night (probably, but not necessarily limited to birds sold as free-range or organic).

A bird with a reputable label
Unless you have a friendly turkey producer nearby who you can visit then the nearest there is to a guarantee that you are buying what you think you are is to use a trusted label such as one of the official organic certification bodies (or your national equivalent).  Roughly speaking there are three levels of turkey to upgrade to, much the same as for chicken.  If budget dictates an indoor reared lunch then an RSPCA freedom food bird is a good place to start. If you can afford it then free-range would be even better.  Personally, I’d also like to know that my turkey has been slaughtered humanely, not fed anything too spooky and hasn’t been given routine antibiotics, which leaves me looking at one of the official organic certification bodies such as the Soil Association. Another choice when it comes to turkeys is the Traditional Farmfresh Turkey Association whose Golden Promise turkey label which seems to cover all of those things I would look for in a bird, provided that you choose one that is also free-range.  They have an impressive list of stockists on their web site (41 stockists in Oxfordshire alone).

An old-fashioned breed
Old-fashioned turkeys breeds reach maturity slowly making for a healthier, stronger bird capable of walking about and indulging in normal bird behaviours.  The bronze turkey is listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste list of heritage food products in danger of disappearing but has had a resurgence in popularity in the UK in recent years and is a tasty choice according to a number of experts and taste tests.  Kelly Bronze have been instrumental in establishing bronzes in the UK, recently moving into Woodland reared birds and online ordering, Waitrose also stock Bronzes as do Sainsburys.

This week’s turkey pondering was very much prompted by those Bernard Matthews adverts with the Big Green Tick.  They seem designed to suggest a happy band of environmentally friendly turkeys and I was really hoping that they had massively cleaned up their act after their terrible animal welfare record from a few years ago.  Sadly apparently what the Big Green Tick actually means is, er, 100% turkey breast meat.  Nothing to do with sustainability then, or animal welfare.  Their corporate culture might have improved, I haven’t heard anything either way on that, but it certainly doesn’t sound like a turkey with a green tick is one that has been out and about.
Quality and welfare is expensive when it comes to turkeys.  A bog standard bird is around £4.50 per kg, with free range starting at around £8.50 per kg and organic £10 per kg, with the smallest birds starting at around 3kg in weight.  I’m wondering if it’s really worth it as there are just the two of us for lunch on Christmas day?  Maybe we’ll roast an organic chicken instead. 

If you are having turkey there are countless ways to use up your leftovers but for us it will be a toss up between this recipe for Barley Risotto with Turkey and Mushrooms or a turkey version of my chicken casserole with lemon and rosemary dumplings.  And turkey sandwiches, of course.  Though I’m likely to be tempted to go for something slightly smaller than Helen’s amazing Roast dinner in a Bap special.

I didn’t have any turkey pics in my photo collection so photo credits this week go to JGH52 on Flickr for the lovely shot of a wild turkey.


Wendy December 15, 2008 at 11:22

For the last few years we’ve bought our turkey from a local butcher. Not sure that the turkeys have any of the above labels but I know the farm that breeds them and love to see the birds running about the fields whenever I pass by. :)

Sophie December 19, 2008 at 16:41

That’s a pretty good sign if you’ve actually seen the birds running around in the fields. Probably rather more meaningful than a label!

Trig December 21, 2008 at 16:41

Your comment about antibiotics is important. I’m spending Christmas with the family in North Yorkshire and getting our lamb and pork directly from a local farm. Norman Bell the farmer was telling my dad recently that lots of customers look for organic food, but end up buying meat from animals that have been pumped with antibiotics and other drugs. His own animals are treated by a homeopathic vet. I thought that was really interesting, because in the case of pigs and sheep the beneficial effects can hardly be put down to psychology!
Have a great Christmas.

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