I was in Devon yesterday visiting Frenchbeer Farm, set above Chagford on Dartmoor in a very beautiful spot. Farmer John Malseed was a sheep shearing champion in his 20s (travelling the world!) and now aged 30 he is in charge of the family farm rearing 8,000 organic turkeys and managing 1200 acres of Dartmoor conservation moorland.
We spent the morning with John to understand how it all works;
In April, the one day old Turkey chicks arrive on farm and are housed for the first 5-6 weeks in heated barns until they are robust enough to venture out. From May until early December they live outside, roaming the fields during the day, coming back inside at night and generally making the most of the magnificent views across Dartmoor!
During the summer months the turkeys live and graze in long pastures planted with a diverse mix of kale, radish, clover and sunflowers. By the autumn the birds have fully developed their bone and muscle structure so for the last month before Christmas they are fed oats just to put the fat on the meat. And fat is flavour.
As John is rightly very proud to emphasise, everything they do is about developing the eating quality of the final product. This is down to;
- Slow growth - by Christmas they are 6 months old
- A natural diet of largely home grown forage, supplemented with some cereals and oats
- Every bird is hand plucked and then “game hung” for up to 2 weeks to develop a firm, flavoursome meat
For comparison, cheaper commercial turkeys are grown fast on concentrate feed to just 12 weeks, mechanically wet plucked and the meat is not hung at all.
As I told John, I really believe that he has changed the conversation around what a turkey can be. He has converted many of us to become enthusiastic about turkey at Christmas, myself included!
Order Frenchbeer turkey online here or place your order in the shop in person