'It's peak madness now - we're working all hours, but that's the nature of the beast'
The Crowe brothers in Dundrum Co Tipperary have been rearing white and bronze turkeys on their mixed farm in the heart of the Golden Vale for the last decade.
TJ, John Paul, Patrick and Ned Crowe all reap a living for themselves and their four families off the farm which has been in their name for generations and which started out as a dairy farm before their father John got in to pigs in the 70s.
"My father reared Landrace pigs and saw a market for curing bacon which we have been doing on the farm since 1983," says TJ who has three sons with his wife Angela.
In 1997 TJ says he "stepped up to the plate" to run the farm full time as his father John was no longer in the position to do so.
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Now the four brothers work out of the same farm which he says is a challenge as they all have different personalities.
"There are four families making a living out of the one farm. Of course we fight like terriers at times. We all have opinions and are all well able to voice them but the work has to get done," says TJ.
In an effort to feed four families off the one holding, diversifying and thinking outside the box is always very much on the mind of the brothers. One such leap of faith came ten years ago when John Paul decided that they should start rearing turkeys for the Christmas market.
"We only bought 150 from the UK the first year as we weren't sure how it would go. That year was a real learning curve as we hadn't all the facilities in place. It has grown so much though that we now have 10,000 turkeys," says TJ.
"We have the right systems in place that in actual fact it is easier to rear 500 turkeys compared to five or six as we have the scale now to use automatic feeding."
The brothers receive their day old turkey chicks in the middle of the summer from a supplier in the UK and rear them inside for six weeks before they are strong enough to be reared outside organically in September.
"When passers by on the road see the turkeys out they always say to us that Christmas is on the way. We get a lot of people stopping by in their cars at the side of the road taking pictures with the turkeys," says TJ.
As most poultry farmers will know keeping predators at bay is always a challenge and one which the Crowe brothers fell foul to a few years ago.
"A few years ago a pine marten broke in to the turkeys during the night and did a lot of damage. 70 turkeys were killed and wiped out. They were killed for sport. That was hard to take but things can always be worse," adds the Tipperary man.
The weeks running up to Christmas are "crazy" says TJ but worth it for the good feedback they get from customers.
"It's peak madness now. We're up early in the darkness of the mornings and in bed late at night but that's the nature of the beast and our whole year is leading up to this."
The farm rear and sell bronze turkeys directly from their online shop to a loyal customer base and rear the white variety which they sell to supermarkets and wholesaler.
While TJ admits he was never fond of eating turkey before they started producing them, now he loves nothing more than a delicious turkey meal with all the trimmings on Christmas day.
"I really look forward to the bronze turkey now. I don't know what has changed. It's probably all the hard work that goes in to rearing them and knowing we produced the turkey that makes me enjoy it more.
"I cooked the turkey for the first time a couple of years ago. Bronze turkeys cook quicker, they've an extra layer of fat so they are almost self basting and adding bacon on top really adds to the flavour.
TJ says the best advice for cooking the perfect Christmas dinner isn't following a recipe word for word but relaxing.
"The best advice truly is to relax. People sweat and get uptight over it but there's no need to. If you follow the instructions it'll work out. There's no right or wrong way."
In an attempt to diversify further and not put all their eggs in the one basket, for the last number of years the Crowe family have also begun cutting their turkeys in to drumsticks to satisfy demand all year round..
"It's also a bit of import substitution that works for us all year round. It's nice to be able to offer this to customers as lots of turkey drumsticks come from Italy or Poland whereas ours is 100pc Irish. That's important to us as we are a member of the Love Irish food programme."
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