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Angst for turkey owners.

Byline: LIZ SHANKLAND

Sacrificing the first livestock is always difficult for the smallholder and, with Christmas coming, LIZ SHANKLAND is facing up to facts

WELL, the time has come. The turkeys have plumped up as expected and Christmas is just a few days away. Tomorrow I'll be feeding them their last meal and after that they - or at least one of them - will be feeding us.

At least that's the plan. You see, we've reached a kind of milestone in smallholding: we're about to eat our own. I never thought it was going to be easy. One day you're worrying about their health and making sure they're locked in their house at night, safe from the bitter frosts, and the next you're mixing up the sage and onion stuffing and wondering what to do with all that surplus GM-free turkey feed in the shed.

It's a moral dilemma which faces practically every smallholder. Everyone I've spoken to about this had pangs of guilt and hugely mixed emotions when D-Day (D for death, in this case) finally arrived. A few weeks ago, in need of moral support, I logged on to my favourite website, www.acountrylife.com, the one place where smallholders can ask silly questions, share knowledge, moan about life in general and, above all, know that someone, somewhere, will listen to what they have to say and come up with a response which helps. It's a bit like The Samaritans with wellies.

While we're on the subject, by the way, I was a bit disappointed to find out that the NFU's Turkey Hotline (0870 060 3436) wasn't a helpline set up for angst-ridden poultry- keepers like myself. Apparently it's to help customers find a fresh bird from a farm in their area. Next year, maybe.

At least I found some kindred spirits among the surfing smallholders. It seems I wasn't the only one to have gone through the 'should I or shouldn't I?' scenarios. One admitted she'd had to tell a bit of a fib after sending her first heifer off for slaughter.

At dinner time, her young son sat down to a succulent steak and asked, 'Is this Daisy?'. What could she say? She thought quickly and pretended they had swapped the carcass with one from a nearby farm - and the child ate on contentedly.

Interestingly, she added, 'That first steak did feel a bit like cannibalism - a very weird feeling! The second one was no problem though, and we are now thoroughly enjoying our home-grown beef, which tastes nothing like the shop stuff.'

The overwhelming opinion from all the smallholders who responded was that, if you don't have some pangs of guilt when slaughter time arrives, there's something seriously wrong with you. Most took comfort in the knowledge that their animals had been reared in a humane, sensitive, and respectful way, and that they'd been given the best possible lives that time allowed.

Despite all that, I know it'll not be easy making that final trip over to give them their last supper of mixed corn and greens. They've never been pretty birds - not even when they were the five-week-old poults we bought at auction - but I thought their increasing ugliness would help keep emotion at bay. But while they've grown into the ugliest-looking things we've ever reared, I must admit that they have character and intelligence - something that our hens have always lacked.

Still, at the end of the day, the reason we bought the turkeys in the first place was for food. I've always been quite happy to cook meat of unknown provenance and quality bought at the supermarket, of course. And I'm looking forward to cooking the pheasants which are hanging in the shed courtesy of our neighbour Neil.

So there is absolutely no reason why I shouldn't be able to eat a bird that I've reared myself - is there? I'm sure I'll have no second thoughts. Just in case, though, there are some chops in the freezer....Merry Christmas.

You can write to LIZ SHANKLAND c/o The Western Mail, Blue Street, Carmarthen SA31 3LQ
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 20, 2003
Words:682
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