Turkey Farming in Co. Wexford :
For the season that’s in it, we turned the spotlight on our Simple food Pledge holder Michael Walsh from Broadfield farm. Following a degree in Land Management Michael now works on the family farm in Ferns, Co. Wexford. Having spotted the flaws of commercial farming early on, Michael has adopted a chemical-free approach to his poultry and market garden business.
We asked Michael a few questions about herding turkeys and managing a pasture-reared flock:
YLFN: Hi Michael, did you always want to be a farmer?
Michael: Yes, along with a hurler of course. I still have dreams of being a rally driver some day! I grew up on a farm and have always worked on or around a farm. I enjoy the lifestyle. To make a living from something you love is not something everyone gets a chance to do, so I feel lucky.
YLFN: Farming can be an all encompassing way of life. How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
Michael: It has been difficult for the past 2 years as I have a full time job, although I do plan to farm full time in the future. I also play hurling for Ferns and last summer I began swimming on the beach each morning. All these things really help me to switch off for a period. I also like running and cycling, If I ever have a problem on my mind I find a run will usually sort it out. I’m trying to do more yoga as well.
YLFN: Can you tell us a little about your flock of poultry?
Michael: We run a commercial beef herd on our farm but we dedicate 8 acres to our chickens, hens and turkeys, where they roam freely. We run our cattle through to keep grass down but the grass only uses inputs from our poultry. This is our first year moving our laying hens in a portable egg mobile and having our chickens in the movable chicken tractors. We are really excited to see how our grass will react next year in response to this years inputs from the poultry.
YLFN: You also grow vegetables and operate a box scheme. Is that also a chemical free endeavour?
Michael: Yes. Our market garden has gone to a no dig approach in which we layer our beds with about 6inches of compost and plant into them. This helps suppress weeds and allows us to spend more time planning and less time weeding. That, combined with crop rotation, means we don’t need to use any chemicals.
YLFN: Why did you decide to adopt a more sustainable approach to farming?
Michael: Once you start using chemical fertiliser and spray, it is very hard to get off that treadmill. By having the poultry we can now use them to rotate around our farm and naturally grow grass to feed our cattle and produce grass-fed beef. We then have a byproduct of eggs, chickens and turkeys. My aim is to move our beef herd into the same category of chemical free, sustainable farming.
I’m very interested in in regenerative agriculture – using natural practices and methods to build top soil and grow more grass without degrading the land. In America there are increasing numbers of smallholders making a living from small farms (which is widely seen as impossible in this country). Holistic management is a tool I plan to incorporate into my decison making on the farm next year.
YLFN: Christmas is fast approaching and we all have festive food on our minds. Tell us a bit about your turkeys.
Michael: We buy our turkeys at the beginning of July as day old chicks. They need a lot of care and attention in the first 4 weeks and a very particular environment in order to thrive. The reason we take them on so early is to give them plenty of time to gain enough weight for Christmas. They are out every day from 5 weeks old and this means they are burning off more muscle and fat than they would if they were housed all the time.
Turkeys are a very enjoyable enterprise. They’re fun to work with and actually have great personalities. Our turkeys have daily access to the outdoors. We herd them outside in the morning and shut the doors (weather permitting) as they can be lazy and decide to stay in the shed. They spend they day around the above mentioned 8 acres foraging on pasture and fertilising our ground. We keep the laying hens and chickens away from the turkeys as there can be a risk of disease. Their shed is opened up again in the evening and they always head back themselves at the end of the day.
YLFN: I see from your photo you have both white and black birds- What’s the difference?
Michael: The black birds are actually called bronze turkeys and we keep both bronze and white turkeys. The bronze is a more traditional breed than the white turkey and is is slower to mature. The meat is slightly darker and is more flavoursome than the white.
YLFN: So what’s the procedure for ordering one of your turkeys for Christmas?
Michael: We sell through our facebook page, instagram page (just send me a private message) or from our website. We will be delivering 23rd and 24th, December, 2018. We cover all of county Wexford, into Wicklow and also down to Waterford city.
Thanks so much Michael for an interesting insight into your farming life. We look forward to hearing more about your plans for holistic farm management. Visit Michael’s Simple Food Pledge profile page for more info and contact details.