talking turkey the Kelly Bronze way

Tucked between Essex villages of Danbury and Bicknacre is the long-established business rearing turkeys for over 1.8 million Christmas tables. YANA asked Paul Kelly why he loves rearing Kelly Bronze birds, how he and his team cope with current challenges, and how to choose a turkey to share with loved ones. 

King Henry VIII put turkey on the English table in the 1500s. Spanish conquistadors brought turkey to Europe from the Americas, and it replaced peacock on Henry’s royal court menu and goose in peasants’ Christmas dinner. 

“By the mid-1700s, 2.5 million turkeys were walked through harvested grain fields from Norfolk and Suffolk to London markets in December. 

“We hatch 1.8 million Kelly Bronze turkey hatchlings that are distributed to farmers throughout the country that in turn feed about 15 million people in the UK around Christmas.

“We rear 36,000 Kelly Bronze ourselves, to be dry plucked and hung to sell online and through our shop. They hatch late May – the cheaper end of the market hatches theirs in August and September. For five weeks, they live in a warm house. By early July, they’re released to grow wild in woods we have fenced off against foxes.

“Turkeys are amazingly inquisitive. Go in with them and they run towards you. If I leave the car door open, they jump in! They really are great fun.

“This is the most challenging year I’ve ever had. Last January, I thought things were back to normal after Covid and Brexit. How wrong could I be? The invasion of Ukraine came, wheat prices went crazy, feed prices went through the roof, energy costs have gone mad, and we have had the worst case of bird flu in history sweeping the country.

“We love what we do, but it’s stressful. My father, now 92 and still working, started the business. My wife and sons are in it. Two daughters are there to help whenever we need. And we have an incredibly good team who have been with us for years. We are one big, supportive family.

“I wouldn’t like to work with cheaper turkeys, where people are under huge pressure to reduce cost and get more liveweight on farms and put 6,000 birds an hour through a factory and drive down price. I’d hate that.

“I once counted 32 types of turkey on sale in Tesco: lattice breast joint, barn reared, organic, bronze, black and so on, and loads of crowns. There’s more sold as crowns than whole birds. But when you buy a 3hg crown, you pay for the kg turkey, anyway. 

“Whatever turkey you choose, buy the whole bird. Think of it this way: you get the crown, and the rest – the dark meat, my favourite, plus the carcass and bones for a great stock – is free. 

“Free-range bronze turkeys will typically be three-to-six weeks older than the standard. Maturity has the biggest single impact on flavour. My other tip: cook your turkey properly, don’t cremate it!” 

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