Farmers to slaughter turkeys early so they’re smaller for ‘rule of 6’ Christmas

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Turkeys are being put on diets and could be sent to slaughter early in preparation for slimmed-down Christmas dinners.

Family gatherings look set to be limited this year as the ‘rule of six’ bans larger gatherings.

British food producers are reportedly bracing for demand for smaller birds this year.

Farmers are said to already be preparing for this year’s diminished festivities, as big family get-togethers look set to be banned under coronavirus laws.

According to the Sunday Times, farmers are considering sending birds to the slaughter early, to produce smaller turkeys for family Christmas dinner tables.

Boris Johnson offered no hope of the mounting restrictions easing as the festive months approach – this morning warning Brits of a “bumpy Christmas” ahead.

Farmers are said to be anticipating less appetite for bigger birds as families plan for strict gatherings of fewer than six people this year.

They would ordinarily sell around nine million turkeys each Christmas.

But it is already too late in the season to breed smaller birds.

According to the newspaper, the birds hatched in the spring have already spent the summer being fattened up to meet Christmas demand.

Nick Davis, who runs Usk Vale Poultry in south Wales, says he has reduced his order of 70,000 turkeys from a hatchery by 20% due to the rule of six.

Fearing little demand for big birds, he said he is considering putting the poultry on a diet or slaughtering them earlier than usual: “We have to decide what size people want and you can’t even tell me today what size that might be.

“We can play around with rations a bit, and we can slaughter them a week or 10 days earlier, so we can reduce the size to a certain extent.”

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, suggested turkeys should be slaughtered earlier this year – then frozen.

But butchers who sell free-range turkeys say freezing the higher-quality birds are not an option for discerning customers.

Posh butchers’ chain The Ginger Pig, planned to sell turkeys reared to “full maturity”.

Its slow-grown blackfeathered bronze birds can retail at up to £16.50 a kilo.

Ginger Pig operations director Lynsey Coughlan told the newspaper she was already seeing a shift in customer demand for smaller but more expensive poultry such as duck, at £45, and goose, for £18 a kg.

She guessed families anticipating catering smaller Christmas feasts this year were wanting to take advantage and “indulge” after a stressful year.

As producers worry about a slump in demand amid coronavirus pandemic struggles including outbreaks at plants and factories, the British Poultry Council is encouraging the public to “take what’s available, even if it’s a slightly larger bird” to help local farmers.