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Jude is a fourth-generation turkey farmer, although initially, she didn’t expect to be running the family business. She now describes herself as a ‘happy farmer’ surrounded by an amazing team of people.
For Jude the secret to being a successful turkey farmer is to prioritise the health and welfare of the birds, she comments “It’s really all about good stockmanship, everything else comes from there.”
She continues “Good animal welfare just makes sense to me. Having a higher welfare bird makes you feel good. And it’s not just for those of us who look after them, I think that when customers know more about how the animals were cared for and the life they have had, this ‘feel good’ factor impacts on them too.”
Based in beautiful countryside near Oundle, Jude raised 9,000 free-range turkeys raised under the RSPCA Assured label to the RSPCA’s strict higher welfare standards. She finds the scheme works for her as she can operate to a scale that enables her to remain profitable while also implementing welfare standards that allow birds to exhibit their natural behaviours and live a better life.
RSPCA Assured turkeys are always given plenty of space so they can move around freely whether they are kept free-range or indoors. More space allows the turkeys to move around properly, exercise, stretch and spread their wings. Turkeys are also very inquisitive animals so RSPCA standards require them to have environmental enrichment to provide interest.
Jude believes that you can always tell a higher welfare bird. “For me, it’s about observing the natural behaviours of our turkeys. You get the feeling that they are as close as they can be in a farming environment to how they would be in the wild - they are active, watching you, responding and engaging with the world and each other.”
Her higher-welfare turkeys are curious and they love to explore and find things to climb on. In the wild, perching means safety for turkeys, so they naturally have a desire to perch up high.
While her free-range birds have plenty of enrichment - which is a requirement of RSPCA Assured - such as hay bales and wooden perches, they often surprise Jude with their adventurous nature. She finds them in a variety of new places going up as high as they can and even into the rafters of their barn!
And a turkey isn’t just for Christmas. While most UK consumers think about having a festive turkey on the table, it is a very versatile meat and can be a cost-effective option for those on a budget despite paying a little more for a higher welfare bird.
Jude explains that in Europe people eat more turkey all year round. As well as being a high protein, healthier meat, turkeys also grow to a larger size, so there is lots of meat to use if people cook creatively. Turkey is incredibly versatile and lends itself to a wide range of recipes including curries, salads, meatballs, burgers, pasta sauces, pies and soups. Jude hopes that this trend could happen in the UK as people look for ways to make their food go further.
This in turn could have a positive impact on higher welfare farming.
Jude adds: The choices people make when they shop for their turkey really does have an impact on the lives of animals. If more people choose higher welfare birds, like the ones I raise here, shops will stock more in the future, making high welfare farming more sustainable.”
“For me, that’s where RSPCA Assured is so important as the labelling is visible on packaging and it helps customers to make choices and understand where their food is coming from. We need people to keep asking questions about what they are eating and whether the animal has had a good life.
“When I shop personally I am looking for those logos. I want the schemes to be properly audited and assessed like RSPCA Assured and I want the claims to be genuine. I want to know that standards have been checked and looked at.”
“Caring about what you are eating is also about taking care of yourself and what you are putting into your body. If consumers keep asking questions about higher welfare and how animals are cared for then the pressure will mount. The perfect example for me is free-range eggs. People don’t want hens to be in cages any more. They know there are alternatives and farmers like me who are RSPCA Assured are offering consumers that alternative.”
Jude is part of a growing number of female farmers and says she was lucky enough to take over from her father who she thinks was ahead of his time with his environmental concerns and progressive ideas. She shares his concern for the environment and has recently managed to source all her soya animal feed from sustainable sources which is something she is especially pleased about.
Her advice for women getting into farming would be the same for any young person. She says that it is important to “Build your own relationships, be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Trust your own instincts and judgement. If something doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it.
“Being a woman in farming these days can also mean a lot of different things. There are many different career paths to choose from and it’s not just about sitting on a tractor. I would say to people considering farming as a career, take a look at all the options available, play to your strengths and you’ll find a role that you really enjoy.”
“For me, it has been important to develop things in a way that suits me and my ethics and having turkeys raised here to higher welfare standards just feels like the right thing to do.”