Otter Valley Poultry – Christmas Supplier Special
Ross Gardner is owner of Otter Valley Poultry, a collective of mixed organic farms near and along the south coast of Devon, which Ross works with in order to provide his birds with the space and comfort they need. The collective supplies all of our Christmas poultry, ensuring that your centrepiece is as high-welfare as it is delicious. Here, Ross shares his experience of getting his birds from farm to plate.
I spend all year planning and thinking about organic chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. I love farming, and to my wife’s despair spend seven days a week rearing them and preparing them as well, ready for customers like you.
The best time is when they come in as chicks; they’re like little fluffy balls, but only for about five days, and then all of a sudden wing feathers appear and they begin to look like the birds they’ll become.
Brooding is key to producing a quality bird – start off wrong and you’ll struggle all the way. The first thing a chick wants is water, followed very closely by food. We use organic chick crumb, which is made up of ingredients like wheat, barley, maize, soya, minerals, oils and ash and fibre. This gives the chick everything it requires to stay healthy.
Organic farming is all about looking after the soils, and treating the animals we rear with respect – feeding them the highest quality feed, and allowing the birds to roam freely so that they can exhibit their natural behaviours. The turkeys are reared on a farm that has lovely, rich, red soil, and they love to scratch in it and dust bath themselves! Providing the right environment, as well as keeping the pastures safe from predators, ensures the birds have a happy and peaceful life.
We have outdoor poultry sheds that the birds can come and go from during the day as they please. They’re fully insulated to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Chicken, turkeys, geese and ducks are really sensitive to changes in the weather; none of them like it too hot (it makes them pant), and if it’s too cold the turkeys and chicken huddle close together and burn lots of energy to stay warm. Cold temperatures are easier for the ducks and geese as they’re insulated with down under their feathers.
Because we choose slow-maturing breeds, we rear them much longer than most conventionally farmed poultry will be reared. Our breeds grow more slowly, which makes for a better quality bird, but also doesn’t put the bird’s body under strain as can happen in faster growing breeds. For instance, the chickens we produce are reared from organic chicks for a minimum of 70 days, and the eggs are from our organic parent flock of Hubbards (brown feathered mothers and fathers). This breed has a natural instinct for roaming the fields and hedges; in fact, anywhere they can get to, they will go!
Having looked after all our poultry, there is a time when they have to be slaughtered, and it’s really important the birds are handled with the utmost care at this time, so that they’re not distressed. We handle our own birds right through the process, ensuring each one is kept comfortable until they reach our processing unit where they are killed humanely under organic slaughter standards, and monitored by an independent veterinarian.
The turkey or goose is then hung in the chiller for a minimum of 10 days; this allows the bird’s muscles to fully relax, which in turn gives the meat great taste and texture. After 10 days or more the turkey or goose is prepared and packaged ready for sale.
I have been farming all my life and there is nothing more satisfying than rearing poultry to the highest standards possible, and supplying customers who appreciate the care that’s been taken in rearing them, like you.
See Otter Valley, including a video of Ross talking about his turkeys, in our supplier directory.