Once all the Christmas Turkeys were Bronze turkeys, with beautiful bronze tinged feathers. Then the consumers complained that the turkey skin had black flecks, leftover from the plucking. This resulted in mass-producing pretty looking but less flavourful, white-skinned turkeys.
Thankfully, that trend is slowly changing. The more discerning consumers are now buying turkeys for flavour, which are the slow grown birds, reared with the best animal welfare standards.
About Kelly Bronze Turkeys
Kelly Bronze, a family farm in Essex have been rearing high welfare, slow grown, free-range turkeys for decades. They have even won the Good Turkey Award from Compassion in World Farming for their farming practices.
In 1971, Derek Kelly saw the demand for old fashioned turkey in the UK. He went around the country to buy up any stock of Bronze and rare breed turkeys. From this flock, he started a genetic breeding programme. Today, the company is run by Paul, his son, and they supply rare breed turkeys to other farms in the UK and Europe.
Derek is still on the farm daily, although now his attention to rare breed cattle. He is trying to revive the interest in these rare breeds grass-fed cattle. So watch this space as they might be selling rare breed grass-fed beef soon.
When we visited in the summer, it was peak hatching season. This is the start of their busy period, all the way up to Christmas. These are different species that are being grown for different customers.
Their turkeys are slow grown, taking up to 6 months to mature, allowing intermuscular fat to build up and for bone marrow to form (which produces the delicious gravy).
They are fed additive free grain and are allowed to roam freely around big fields on the farm. The resulting bird has 50% more breast meat than the fast-growing turkeys.
The Kelly Bronze is dry plucked and no water is added and hung up to 5 weeks where the collagen is breaking down for tenderness.
The result is when you roast this turkey, it is juicy and moist, creates the most delicious gravy and the skin makes great turkey crackling. Because of the higher fat content which conducts heat better, the Kelly Bronze turkey doesn’t take as long to cook. A whole 5kg turkey will cook in just 2 hours (but they also provide a meat thermometer with every bird to make sure you don’t overcook your turkey).
By contrast, supermarket turkeys are generally hatched in mid-September, only 12 weeks until it is ready for the table. They are usually a different fast-growing breed with big bones that will reach saleable weight quicker. There is only enough time for the bird to build up muscle but no chance to build up flavour enhancing fat and bone marrow. Hence, most commercial turkeys taste dry.
A walk through the turkey farm
Our visit starts with a walk through their production facility which starts at the hatchery. The turkeys are hatched from eggs in the summer, giving them the optimum time to feed and grow for the Christmas table.
In their state of the art temperature controlled incubator, the eggs are turned 90° every hour, mimicking what a hen might do in a nest. This stops the embryo from sticking to the membrane and will ensure that the eggs will hatch.
Every tray of eggs is marked to identify the breed, farm and dates. Fertility is monitored closely and as they aim to achieve 90-95% fertilisation rate. If not, they will investigate where the problem is to fix it.
When they are a few weeks old, they are then let loose on the farm where they can roam around the fields or roost under the oak trees.
Rare breed turkeys: Bronze, Narragansett, Slate, brown, bourbon red, Crollwitzer
When they reach the right age and weight, the turkeys are humanely slaughtered using a carbon dioxide system, dry plucked with a pheasant plucking machine and hung for 14 days up to 5 weeks. By December 7th, they are ready to be prepared for the oven.
Kelly Bronze Parent stock
As we walk through the parent stock pens, these inquisitive birds will all group around to see what’s happening. You can talk to them too, if you make a noise, they will answer back en masse.
In the same barn, they do the physical extraction and insemination of the turkeys. On the other side, the hens will lay their eggs into straw lined nests.
Currently, to meet Poultry Health Scheme requirements, they are kept indoors in pens that can be cleaned daily to meet regulations. From next year, they are hoping to be fully free-range and will be first ones to be doing that.
Tips on buying a turkey to roast
Try to buy the best quality slow grown whole turkey that you can find.
Buying the whole bird is a better value than buying just a turkey crown, they will both cost about the same price and you will get more for your money. The legs, dark meat and all the bits make a fabulous gravy. If you don’t like dark meat, which is the tastiest part, give it to the dog or make a different dish with it. Treat it like beef mince. There is no waste.
Turkey is not just for Christmas
A lot of my friends will only grudgingly eat turkey at Christmas. I don’t blame them as what we get is usually dry, fibrous and bland. After you taste a Kelly Bronze turkey, you will change your mind.
Where to buy Kelly Bronze Turkeys
EatCookExplore was a guest of Kelly Bronze