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Turkeys a feather in farm's cap

PUBLISHED: 16:41 02 December 2009 | UPDATED: 11:39 12 August 2010

PROUD: Phil Baxter with trophies won by his turkeys, a festive favourite with shoppers.

PROUD: Phil Baxter with trophies won by his turkeys, a festive favourite with shoppers.

A FARM breeding turkeys for Christmas dinners has won an unprecedented five trophies in a national competition. Cottage Farm of Cudham

A FARM breeding turkeys for Christmas dinners has won an unprecedented five trophies in a national competition.

Cottage Farm of Cudham, which attracts thousands of customers from across north Kent, swept the board at the UK's top turkey competition at Copdock, in Essex.

The Times was given a look behind the scenes with the farm's proud owner, Phil Baxter. Started in 1978 with just three turkeys, the farm and butchery now employ 40 staff from Dartford, Gravesend and south-east London.

Each year, the farm sells more than 2,000 of the award-winning white and bronze birds through its exclusive butchery at Polhill Garden Centre, Badger's Mount. Regular customers include presenter Gloria Hunniford, from Sevenoaks, and former world boxing champ Nigel "the Dark Destroyer" Benn.

Punching above their weight in the flavour stakes, the turkeys are allowed to grow naturally over six months, compared to as little as six weeks for supermarket varieties.

The heaviest stag birds, weighing in at a whopping 70lb, are served up for annual banquets at clubs such as Darent Valley Golf Club, Darenth, and the London Golf Club, near Brands Hatch. Every June, Mr Baxter and wife Karen collect day-old poults (chicks) from Farmgate Hatchery in Essex, which are then kept in brooding houses in warm conditions until their feathers grow.

Mr Baxter said: "You don't get good birds at the end if you don't look after them properly from the start.

"We make decisions based on the quality of the meat and how it tastes, not cost."

The turkeys are fed grain and have free rein to roam on grassland or roost in spacious pole barns. Terms like "growth promoters" are dirty words in Mr Baxter's company and antibiotics are only given if the animals need them. At the farm's shop in nearby Polhill Garden Centre, trophies and rosettes are proudly on show on the counter as an annual trade in bacon, game and wild boar sausages turns to whole turkeys and crowns.

Butchery manager Andy Spencer says that in the week up to Christmas about 1,200 turkeys will be bought by people from across Kent and the South-east. Birds are hung for up to 10 days to make them tender.

Mr Baxter said: "People are more concerned than ever before about where their meat comes from and how it was produced. I'm very proud of my staff for their incredible skill and dedication." Out of 11 categories, Cottage Farm was judged best for a brace of white turkeys, brace of bronze turkeys, hen over 11kg, oven-ready turkey over 11kg and "best in show," judged by the chairman of British Poultry Council, Ted Wright.

To order, call 01959 533711. The farm regularly has visits from students at schools and colleges. To book, call 01959 532506.

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