Fears over bird flu and the cost of living crisis could impact sales of free-range turkeys, farmers have warned, as more people turn to supermarkets to buy turkeys. frozen birds this Christmas.
After months of worrying about their flocks, which since last month have had to be housed indoors, destroying livelihoods across the country, turkey farmers are facing significant pressure this holiday season.
Farmers said they were ‘living on a knife edge’ for fear their birds would be infected and culled. Now those who have survived until December with their herds intact face additional hurdles if they have not already found buyers.
It comes after the British Poultry Council warned of a ‘big, big shortage’ of free-range British turkeys this year.
Richard Griffiths, its chief executive, told MPs on the environment, food and rural affairs select committee last week: ‘The usual amount of free range birds for Christmas is around 1.2 at 1.3m. We have seen approximately 600,000 of these free-ranging birds directly affected. »
Meanwhile, sales of frozen turkeys reportedly increased and doubled in October.
Paul White, a turkey farmer near Colne in Lancashire, said such reports have deterred people from looking to buy from smaller turkey producers. His business, Paul’s Turkeys, had “lots of turkeys left over” because people bought frozen turkeys to make sure they wouldn’t go without.
“The ‘shortage’ coverage only impacted us more,” he wrote on Facebook. “The public is spooked and frozen turkey sales have increased dramatically because people want to make sure they have a turkey in their freezer for Christmas. The fact that he was brought up by British people, or his well-being, matters less.
He added: “That means people like us still have plenty of turkeys. The main impact of the free range shortage is on supermarkets and large suppliers, and people just want to make sure they have a bird in their freezer. We are really starting to worry. There is no shortage here. »
Paul Kelly, of KellyBronze in Danbury, Essex, who plucked and hung all of his 34,000 birds, said sales of premium turkeys, which cost between £80 and £130 depending on size, are more likely to be affected by the cost of living crisis.
His Christmas had been ‘business as usual’, but small farms that raise turkeys without knowing who they are going to sell to could face difficulties. “Bird flu is not the problem,” he said. “It’s the economic environment that is the problem. Budgets are tight this Christmas.
A turkey farm in south east England said people were still buying turkeys but it was clear customers were ‘nervous’. “Is it because of the bird flu or the credit crunch? I don’t know,” they said.
Mike Lambert of Starveall Turkeys in Buckinghamshire said it was a ‘critical time’ for the poultry industry, with bird flu posing a huge risk to the future of free-range farming. A friend had to cull his herd of 12,000 head, he added. “It is devastating farms across the country, especially in Norfolk.”
James Chamings, who runs Pale Farm in Exeter, which has 600 turkeys, said it had been a ‘pretty worrying’ year but had increased sales by attracting business from butchers whose usual suppliers had been hit.
Waitrose said turkey pre-orders were up 7% from last year. Meanwhile, demand for other festive birds, such as ducks, pheasants and partridges, increased by 23%.
NFU Poultry Board Chairman James Mottershead said: “The UK poultry sector has had an unprecedented year with record levels of bird flu. Turkey farmers are doing everything they can to protect the health and welfare of their birds during this difficult time, especially as Christmas approaches.
“While bird flu persists, vigilance is essential and maintaining strict biosecurity measures is vital for all bird keepers, whether they are professional poultry keepers or keep a small number of hens in their backyard.