Kilrea turkey farmer Jonathan savours success over the festive season

Multi-award winning turkey farmer Jonathan Buchanan has been enjoying a short break on his farm near Kilrea after supplying hundreds of his hand reared birds for Christmas dinner tables.

Saturday, 1st January 2022, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 9:07 am

It’ll be a short break for Jonathan and wife Lois however before he’s back making arrangements for next Christmas, getting ready for local food markets at which he sells popular ranges of bacon and beef and also running his well-stocked farm shop.

“Christmas was busier than ever due to the growing popularity of our turkeys which have won UK Great Taste Awards,” says Jonathan.

“It was a bit more complex this year due to the need to maintain the highest level health systems to ensure we keep the farm secure from Covid-19 and avian flu, which we have done. These rigorous safety measures are likely to continue in the year ahead,” he adds.

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Jonathan is a first-generation farmer who has been rearing free-range turkeys since 1990. He runs the small holding and farm shop with wife Lois. They have three young children.

The entrepreneurial husband and wife team sell the farm’s turkeys and other meats, especially dry cured and smoked bacon which have also won Great Taste Awards at markets and shows around Northern Ireland, including the successful Inns on Belfast’s Saintfield Road, and also supplies the Neighbourfood food delivery venture at Portview Centre on the city’s Newtownards Road.

He already has orders for next Christmas for his prized birds which are fed a unique and natural diet.

What makes his turkeys so popular? “Our turkeys are all slow-growing breeds that were saved from almost extinction by the Kelly family from Essex,” Jonathan explains.

“All of our bronze turkeys are real bronze turkeys in that they have bronze parents unlike some of the supermarket bronze turkeys which are really just black feathered turkeys.

“We work with at least eight different strains of turkeys which are all hatched on the first week of June, giving us the oldest flock of turkeys in Ireland for Christmas. This leaves us with a turkey that is mature, having good fat cover and fat marbling through the meat,” he adds.

The turkeys, he continues, are processed by hand on the farm which keeps stress to a minimum.

“Everything we do with the turkeys is like turning the clock back by 100 to 150 years or more. The birds are dry plucked by us by hand and then they are hung in our on-farm cold store to allow them to dry-age just as you would do with good beef,” he says.

The turkeys are also free to roam around the farm.

Jonathan grew up on the family farm and was always interested in rearing turkeys. While he’s passionate about farming and his premium turkeys he soon realised that rearing the birds was a seasonal business for Easter and especially Christmas and that he would have to develop other aspects of farming for a decent income.

Winning Great Taste Awards for the turkeys also encouraged Jonathan to explore other products, particularly bacon and ham.

He has since developed an impressive reputation for highly innovative flavoured pork sausages, other meats including some smoked products especially a dry-cured bacon that’s cured over traditional Irish peat which he harvests from a bog near Bellaghy.

He created unique lamb burgers, which he named ‘Yo Yo Burgers’, as well as mutton steaks.

“The YoYo Burger is based on the traditional name for a female lamb, known as a Yo, in Derry and other parts of Northern Ireland.

“It’s a versatile, convenient and tasty way for consumers to enjoy lamb, especially in season,” he says.

“Creating new products and different flavours is the way we endeavour to stay ahead in what is an intensely competitive industry,” Jonathan explains.

“Our bacon is cured without any additives or preservatives and has also attracted a Great Taste Award,” he adds.

“The bacon is smoked slowly for a short time over the embers of a turf fire for a distinctive flavour. It’s a process over which I have complete control. The bacon comes from a local supplier and is fully traceable.

“We take great care in the whole process to ensure a superb, wholesome and safe product.”

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