Here’s a guest article from our friend Pete Ritchie who farms in the Borders on the seasonal conundrums of ethical eating at Christmas:
“A leaflet from a discount supermarket this week advertised Christmas turkeys at a quarter of the price we are charging our customers. Our first thought was ‘we need to give up – the poults we bought in as day-olds cost nearly as much as their turkeys’.
We don’t know where their turkeys come from or how they are reared: the UK turkey industry is in decline, with increasing imports from France and elsewhere.
We imagine that they would have been kept in sheds of 10,000 birds or more with standing room only. Their mothers would have been artificially inseminated because selective breeding for weight gain has made natural mating impossible. They would have had their beaks trimmed and the males would have had their snood (the floppy bit which hangs down over their beak) cut off. They would have been transported to an automated slaughterhouse, shackled upside down and killed on a production line.
They will be a lot ‘wetter’ than our turkeys, and will not have been hung for at least seven days to mature the flavour. But £30 more for a ten pound turkey still seems a lot..
Except that the traditional breed turkeys come from a small family farm which keeps the parent stock and allows them to breed naturally, hatching the day-olds in May..
Which they deliver in small batches to farms like ours, where we rear them under heat lamps until at 4 weeks they can start to wander about the garden..
And when they get too big for the garden they go up to the pig shed by which time they can fly, so free-range means anywhere they choose..
And when the pigs come in for the winter, and the indoor vegetables are harvested, they spend their nights on perches in the polytunnel, with twice as much space as required by the Soil Association. Every evening we gather them in from their favourite haunts round the farm. As well as grass and weeds, they eat organic wheat and oats and beans from Scotland, with a bit of imported organic soya.
So when it comes time to kill them, we do this one at a time, respectfully and humanely. Then we pluck them, and hang them in the woodshed, and then we dress them ready to eat.
Customers can come and see every stage of this process – from day olds to oven ready – so they know what goes into their Christmas turkey.
Not everyone can afford organic free-range turkey from a small local producer, even as a once a year Christmas celebration. But the alternative is a joyless and degrading industrial process to produce an anonymous global commodity at an unsustainably low margin. The UK’s two largest poultry producers were bought this year, as big becomes not big enough. Grampian Country Foods’ new Dutch owner VION has a turnover of £8bn.
From the turkeys’ point of view, big is not beautiful.”
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