Belfast Telegraph

Co Antrim brothers talk turkey about growth of their family trade

By Rachel Martin

Fifteen years ago, Co Antrim farmer Lena Galloway reared 20 turkeys a year for friends and family. Today her sons Thomas and John raise 4,000 turkeys every Christmas with an additional 700 for the Easter market.

The Galloway family bought their Randalstown farm in 1958 and sold a small number of turkeys at the Belfast Co-op every year. When the Co-op closed, numbers dwindled to around 10 turkeys for doorstep customers until the brothers got involved in the late Nineties.

The pair use six different breeds of turkey - including Bronze, Norfolk Black and traditional White Barn - to allow for different sizes. The turkeys are reared at the Galloway home in well-ventilated barns with outside access and are fed a ration based on locally grown cereals and vegetable protein.

John Galloway said that the business had grown solely by word of mouth. "I've never had to go out to sell turkeys; the turkeys sell themselves."

His brother Thomas added: "Our turkeys are well filled-out and this gives us a really nice product in the shops. We don't have to advertise - one butcher tells another and next thing we've another one wanting our turkeys."

And John said the family started to use branded boxes last year with the family's name and home town clearly labelled.

"We do it because we want people to ask for a local turkey - in this area that's going to be a Galloway turkey," he said. "I think that it's important because the general public often don't know where their turkeys come from. They go into a butcher's shop and think that someone from up the road has produced it, but - and especially with turkey fillets - that's often not the case."

John added: "The biggest problem you hear is that turkey is dry, but that's because fast-grown turkeys are killed before they are finished. If the turkey's not finished properly, it's going to be stringy and tough.

"Some of the different sauces cover it, but we try to produce a good turkey to start with. Our turkeys are given the chance to mature, there's a small amount of marbled fat through it and that's where the moisture comes from."

George McCartney, from McCartney's of Moira, one of the butcher's shops supplied by Galloway Turkeys, said he had been working with the Galloway family for so long that he couldn't remember how he found out about them.

"I love to talk to the suppliers I work with," he said. "I can come around and have a look at how they're looking and see how they are kept. I look for quality and turkeys that are well looked after so it's important to get a good local supplier."

The brothers are about to begin their peak season. "We start plucking the turkeys on November 28 as we've only a short window to get them all ready," Thomas said.

"In fact, we have four days to get four thousand turkeys ready!"

In 2006, the family received EU funding to help renovate their traditional farm buildings into a new dry plucking processing unit. This has enabled them to increase production to become the largest dry plucking processor in Northern Ireland.

Stages of the production line are connected via a rail that Thomas installed around the ceiling of the shed - allowing the turkeys to swing along the production line on hooks with minimal human contact.

The family also keep commercial beef cattle on their 90 acre farm.

Belfast Telegraph