WATCH: How Norfolk turkeys are reared for Christmas dinners
PUBLISHED: 14:57 29 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:57 29 November 2019
The Yuletide season is upon us, and Norfolk's finest free-range turkeys will begin leaving the fields this weekend to meet their festive destiny.
It is a time of year when many consumers are happy to part with more money to get the very best centrepiece for their Christmas dinner, reared to the highest standards.
And poultry producers said this high-quality, high-welfare ethos could become an increasingly important competitive advantage in a world where diet trends and climate concerns could drive down meat consumption, while fears remain that post-Brexit trade deals could flood supermarket shelves with cheap low-quality imports.
Rob Morton, of Morton's Traditional Taste in Skeyton near North Walsham, expects to process, package and deliver about 1,000 traditionally-reared bronze, white and black turkeys to customers this December.
He said the instinct to pay more for higher quality meat with better welfare and environmental credentials could be translated across the rest of the year - but there needs to be more efforts to educate consumers of the benefits.
"The current trend seems to be towards eating less meat, but better meat," he said. "So instead of having it seven days a week, you have a couple of meat-free days and when you do have something you have a really good piece of meat - rather than something that has been banged out in a factory farm.
"We are very proud of how we take care of our birds. We get a lot of people asking how they are reared and what they are fed on. They want to know the birds have had a good life. It is a trust thing. If we didn't have their trust they wouldn't keep coming back.
"Our customers want to know where their turkey has come from and they read about us on the website. They see we are in Norfolk and what we do and they buy into that provenance. The high welfare standards are so important to that story.
"People think: It's Christmas, so let's treat ourselves to a nice piece of meat. For the rest of the time it is about trying to educate people, really. Some people will always buy on price because it is all they can do. But I have grown up around this, so when I look for a piece of beef I look to see whether it is grass-fed and what breed it is."
The birds arrive on the farm as day-old chicks in the first week of June. They are initially kept under heat lamps but are free to range outdoors from the age of eight weeks.
"It is a long-haul to get to the other end, and to see that turkey we have tended since it was a day old being collected by a customer is really nice," said Mr Morton.
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.
Since 1880 the family has been synonymous with breeding and rearing Norfolk Blacks, and they also hatch their own chicks and make their own feed from wheat, barley, oats and beans grown on the farm, to ensure a healthy blend of nutrition in the birds' diet.
Mr Graham expects to sell about 2,000 of his "old-fashioned, slow-grown" turkeys this Christmas, with processing due to start next week.
"I am never going to have a cheap turkey," he said. "But I try to have a fairly-priced turkey.
"I don't get involved with too much wholesale trade, so people come direct to me and they know they are going to get a hand-reared, hand-finished quality bird and they will be priced for that. If they want a cheap bog-standard discount turkey, they can go somewhere else.
"I always think Christmas needs to have a special edge to it. We have been doing this since 1880 and we are not available in the supermarkets, so you have to come and see me to get one of these birds. I think that is quite special.
"People do think this is something a bit different so they will save up for it. So why should I worry about what the supermarkets or the bigger suppliers with their Red Tractor logos are doing? We have a business here that has stood the test of time for nearly 140 years, so I will keep doing my own thing."