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About turkey supply

Henry VIII made eating turkey at Christmas fashionable, right? Wrong.  That was Edward VII. Nowadays, during the Christmas season an estimated 10 million turkeys are eaten in the UK, with three quarters of households choosing to serve turkey as their Christmas dinner centerpiece. That makes turkey barns and turkey farming overall essential to our economy each year.

Turkeys were once considered a luxury until the Fifties when they became more affordable and accessible, and when refrigerators helped families to plan ahead. With such high demand for this popular bird, it takes a lot of scheduling and preparation by suppliers to make sure our turkey-loving nation is ready for Christmas Day.

Breast is best
There is 43 breeds of turkey, the most popular ones in the UK being the standard white, bronze and the Norfolk black. Planning for Christmas must start several months in advance, so that the contracts, transportation and delivery from large-scale turkey producers, as well as smaller farms, can be organised.

The breast meat is the most important part of the turkey because, although it makes up 25 per cent of the bird, it results in 60-70 per cent profit. Therefore, farmed turkeys must have the correct diet and nutrition available to them, to ensure the breast is at its best.

Turkeys should have at least eight hours of darkness and seven hours of light in any 24-hour period, to produce the best quality yield but without upsetting their daily rhythms. The risk of infection and injury also needs to be accounted for, so the turkeys’ welfare is prioritised. Lost turkeys means lost profits, after all.

Meeting customer demand
At about the five-month mark turkeys are slaughtered, processed and packed for distribution. In October and November there’s a Thanksgiving market to consider, too. Some British producers take advantage of this, making sales well before Yuletide. Ideally, all birds should be slaughtered before distribution, so that any surplus or shortfall in weight can be accounted for, with no customer being left disappointed.

Although frozen turkeys can last longer during distribution, other turkeys need to be delivered, stocked and sold much faster, to ensure freshness. Fresh turkeys require more planning by farmers and retailers, which, though being more difficult, is more profitable due to the higher price they can demand.

Legal requirements
Owners and organisers of transportation must ensure that all vehicles are suitable for the type of stock they’re moving. Both live and frozen poultry have differing requirements, such as the need for well-maintained units that can store frozen turkeys at or below -18C. For live turkeys, laws on animal handling and transportation should be adhered to (including not holding the turkey by the neck, not overcrowding them…).

Managing stock levels and storage
The logistical planning that goes into ensuring healthy, well-fed and satisfying turkeys are delivered to millions of people by 25th December is extraordinary. While enjoying our Christmas dinners this year, perhaps we should take a moment to appreciate the hard work that’s gone into it all. Importantly, retailers should always look ahead, making sure that they have adequate storage for turkeys at Christmas. Too little space could result in selling out fast, losing potential sales, and having disgruntled and frustrated customers to deal with. Conversely, having excess stock could also risk the retailer making a loss if the turkeys aren’t sold by the end of the season.

So, it’s all about striking the right balance and making the correct decisions, which is usually achieved through having experienced personnel in your dedicated ‘turkey team’!