Buying a turkey can be confusing. They are reared in a number of different ways. If buying direct from a farmer, find out how your turkey has been raised. But, if you’re relying on labels, there are four basic systems:
Most turkeys reared in the UK are done so in an intensive system. That means up to 25,000 birds are housed together in one building, with nothing in it except their food and drink. The birds have no stimulation and no way of expressing natural behaviour such as perching and scratching around. Some systems are called ‘pole barns’, which open up the upper part of the barn walls to allow in natural light and air. The Red Tractor scheme operates at this level.
Unless a turkey carries one of the labels below, it will have come from this type of system, even if it’s labelled ‘farm fresh’ or ‘country fresh’ and carries a photo of a happy farmer!
RSPCA Freedom Food
Where a turkey carries this label it will still be from an indoor system – unless it also states free-range and/or organic. But the system is enhanced to improve conditions for the birds. They’ll have more space to move around, natural daylight, straw bales and hanging objects to provide interest and encourage more natural behaviour. The Waitrose ‘Essentials’ range operates at this level.
EU legislation requires that free-range turkeys must have access to the outdoors during the daytime for at least half their life. Outdoor space must provide at least 4 square metres of space per bird. The actual housing may be similar to the indoor systems. Large free-range flocks may result in not all birds actually going outside, as doors can be blocked by other birds.
Organic systems are free-range by default. The Soil Association is the most widely-recognised organic certification system in the UK. They stipulate that no more than 250 birds can be kept in any one house. This can be raised to 1000 birds if the SA approves the management system. Birds cannot be fed additives or routine, in-feed medication. Only slow-growing breeds can be used.