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Turkey farms are preparing for a downsized ‘Covid Christmas’ dinner

PUBLISHED: 08:41 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:06 24 September 2020

Free-range Norfolk turkey farmer Rob Morton expects to sell smaller whole birds and more turkey joints this Christmas as coronavirus restricts festive family gatherings. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Free-range Norfolk turkey farmer Rob Morton expects to sell smaller whole birds and more turkey joints this Christmas as coronavirus restricts festive family gatherings. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

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Norfolk’s turkey farmers expect fewer large birds to be sold this Christmas as traditional family feasts are curtailed by the continuing coronavirus restrictions.

Will we be looking at smaller turkeys on Christmas Day?  Picture: NSPHOTOSTUDIOWill we be looking at smaller turkeys on Christmas Day? Picture: NSPHOTOSTUDIO

With the strict “rule of six” likely to restrict festive gatherings, the county’s poultry producers are adapting to prepare for demand for smaller birds or individual turkey crowns and joints.

Farmers who were ordering poults or preparing to incubate eggs in March as the lockdown struck said they had been able to pre-empt a “leaner year” by stocking smaller sizes and numbers.

One of them is Rob Morton, of Morton’s Traditional Taste in Skeyton near North Walsham, who usually delivers around 1,000 traditionally-reared bronze, white and Norfolk black turkeys each December.

This year, he said he expects customers could “downsize” their whole-bird order, or switch to smaller joints – so he is preparing to launch two new stuffed turkey breast products currently in development.

James Graham of Peele's Norfolk Black Turkeys at Thuxton near Dereham. Picture: Matthew Usher.James Graham of Peele's Norfolk Black Turkeys at Thuxton near Dereham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

“We are looking at all the options – we have to adapt,” he said. “A lot of turkey farmers hide their head in the sand and never like cutting their turkeys up, but that is where the market is, so we have to adapt to that or get left behind.

“It is harder to sell the bigger birds if you get left with them, so luckily we took the decision to have smaller birds.

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“We book our birds in March to come in the first week of June. We looked at what was happening and we cut out some of the bigger birds when we booked the poults this year.

“We are expecting anything from 4.5kg-8kg coming through, but whatever happens we will have to deal with the consequences at the other end. We are already taking orders and we are seeing a few more people ordering breast joints rather than whole birds. But even then we are still getting people ordering 5,6,7kg birds, so whether people will downsize later on, I don’t know.

“People having a 7kg might drop down and have a 4.5kg one because they still like having the whole bird. It is always a juggling game. We can take the legs and thighs off to make a 7kg bird into a 5kg crown if they are happy to have just breast meat. So it might mean we do more crowns and joints if people don’t want something so big. It just means a lot more cutting.”

READ MORE: WATCH: How Norfolk turkeys are reared for Christmas dinners

Another free-range farmer is James Graham who is the fourth generation of his family to produce Peele’s Norfolk Black Turkeys at Thuxton near Dereham. He usually expects to sell around 2,000 turkeys for Christmas, but only hatched 1,700 chicks this year after the possible implications of the pandemic became clear.

“I pre-empted this a little bit,” he said. “I had to make the decision in March when the initial lockdown came in we were just getting the eggs ready to put in the incubator. I decided then to cut my numbers a bit and downsize, pre-empting a leaner year. I have gone down 10pc and I don’t think I’ll have a sell-out this year.

“The pure Norfolk Black is quite small so we don’t get too many big birds anyway, so it might work in my favour. If anything, people wanting crowns or portions might increase as well.”

Both farmers said they were optimistic of another, more positive, influence on demand – that people will be determined to give their friends and family a premium treat for Christmas after such a difficult year.

Mr Graham said: “We have got some orders coming in for Christmas on the online side of things, so I am reasonably optimistic. I think the majority of people will say it has been a such horrible year, but we will still have a turkey – but it will be smaller birds.

“I think people will struggle to sell the larger turkeys and the margin is not so good on smaller birds, so the question is whether some people will push the price up for smaller turkeys. But we are keeping our prices the same. I have got a good loyal customer base and in trying times we have to be fair on people.”


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