'I bought eight chickens with my piggy bank money now I have 5,000'


Having a busy time as all 5000 turkeys are allowed out to a cool -1.5 degree morning.
Having a busy time as all 5000 turkeys are allowed out to a cool -1.5 degree morning.

Ken Whelan

It's that busy time of year for Bertram and Celine Salter when they round up their flocks of festive feathered friends and prepare them for the Christmas market.

The head count at the moment on the turkey farm and processing plant in Fenagh, Co Carlow, is running into the thousands.

The Salters run a varied farm enterprise which includes turkeys and chickens, and a small equine breeding operation which, in Bertram's own words, is "still waiting to strike gold", while his parents George and Olive supervise the tillage enterprise together with 200 ewes and 25 sucklers on the family's 300 acre holding near Ballon.

The idea of setting up the poultry business germinated back in the '90s when Bertram - then a school kid - used to help his mother Olive with her free range chickens on the farm. The budding entrepreneur decided to breed a few chickens himself and sold them on to local butchers... and the rest, as they say, is history.

"I started out with eight chickens a week and then used my piggy bank money to develop the idea," recalls Bertram.

By 2003, after completing his agricultural studies at Teagasc-Bagenalstown, the make-your-mind-up moment arrived - Bertram took the plunge and decided to build a poultry plant on the home farm for more money than was ever in his piggy bank. The plant was built to what he likes to describe as the "fully traceable standards expected from what was then called the EEC".

Today, 15 acres of the home farm is sectioned off to rear the free range turkeys from August to Christmas, while a further 30 acres are reserved for the free range chickens. Fifteen people are employed at the turkey/chicken plant and the Carlow free range brand of poultry is sold in over 100 independent butchers nationwide in multiples of thousands every year.

It is a real family-run enterprise with wife Celine, a former Bank of Ireland project manager, calling the shots on the production line. "She's up in the kill room as we speak," says Bertram. The couple's children Isobel (12), Jamie (11) and Lucinda (9) also help with the poultry, with Jamie taking a particular interest in our feathered friends.

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"Jamie rears show hens and cockerels which he exhibits at agricultural shows throughout the summer. This year, one of his hens carried off the top prize at the prestigious Oldcastle show in Co Meath," Salter senior says proudly of his son.

Apart from the birds, the Salters have a small equine enterprise on the farm where they breed their mares to locally based thoroughbred stallions like Shantou and Flemensfirth and sell them on at Goff's and Fairyhouse sales.

"I suppose we break even on the horses. We certainly haven't hit gold yet, but who knows?" Bertram says with the air of a man who keeps his fingers crossed.

Off farm, his main pastime is hunting and he regularly rides out with the Carlow Farmers - a habit he says is essential and addictive.

"Hunting helps me switch off totally and forget about everything on the farm. It is not a sport for dopes. You have to concentrate all the time.

"When I am out hunting with the Carlow Farmers, I am thinking about nothing else. You need a day when you can switch off," he says.

His philosophy about the sport is simple: "Hunting is all about following the hounds and not about killing foxes."

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