Chat, football and a bed in the shed: how to rear a tasty turkey
Football and conversation are among the creative methods used by Irish farmers to ensure a healthy, happy turkey.
Far removed from the industrial turkey producers, these family businesses are dedicated to raising the best-tasting birds from the moment they hatch.
Robert Fitzsimons (43), from East Ferry farm in Midleton, Co Cork, is a sixth-generation farmer. The father of four, married to Yvonne, said: "We love turkeys, we grew up with them. My grandmother used to hatch chicks with incubators and we try to treat them the same as we treat humans, with respect.
"We give them footballs and bales of hay to play with in the yard. I'm sad when I see the turkeys go but we know we've done the best we can while they're here. And we know the turkeys will be a great Christmas dinner for families, so that makes it all worthwhile."
He added that his 950 free-range turkeys this year got very used to human company.
"They get accustomed to being fed and recognise people's voices, they get friendly with us."
Meanwhile, David McEvoy (48) spent the early summer weeks sleeping in a shed beside his turkey chicks to ensure they not only survived but thrived. "I have a bed out in the shed for when they are born because they're so fragile," he said.
He owns Termonfeckin Delicious, a company run from Highfield Farm, Termonfeckin, Co Louth.
And last week he said a final goodbye to thousands of birds, as they were shipped off in two 40ft lorries to be delivered for Christmas dinners.
The father of two has been working as a turkey farmer for 25 years, and since bringing his business online in 2010, he has been able to "cut out the middle man" - the butchers and supermarkets.
On reputation alone, he sells his turkeys "from the Inishowen peninsula in Co Donegal to the tip of Co Kerry".
He claims to be the first farmer to have brought bronze turkeys to Ireland in the 1990s - a breed closely related to the original wild turkey.
He says the birds, which he brought over from Britain, have strong legs and the "instinct to graze as well as forage". Bronze turkeys have become an increasingly popular bird in Ireland for Christmas dinner in recent years, and advertisements across the web are testimony to this.
David feeds his birds a diet of grass and wheat. They are hatched in June and are roaming outside day and night from July.
"The important thing is to let them out and let the turkeys have freedom," David said.
"In the summer, the turkeys must have spent weeks sunbathing, enjoying the weather.
"They have a simple existence but let them roam free and they're never bored. They run after the crows and when they see planes, they think they are birds of prey.
"Turkeys are lovely, sociable animals. There's a psychological effect when the turkeys go. There's an aspect of missing them. There's an emptiness after Christmas too, as I have no more work to do.
"I work 183 days straight and then it's time for a rest and it takes me a couple of months to focus on something else because it's full-on from the turkeys hatching in June."
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