With roast turkey a key centrepiece of many dining tables across the country on Christmas Day, it's no surprise the festive season is in general the busiest period of the year for turkey producers.
This fact is well and truly ringing true for Spalding turkey breeders Jason and Claire Longbottom, with all their whole bird sales - about 2000 birds - being made during the Christmas period.
The Longbottoms run Freshwater Turkeys, having first started out in the turkey game about a decade ago.
They produce heritage turkeys with commercial white genetics bred into them for growth and to improve productivity.
"Turkeys are the breed and then the variety is either heritage or commercial," Ms Longbottom said.
"The heritage turkeys are like Merino sheep, in that they still have meat through them, and grow out to be strong and heavy, whereas the commercial turkeys are like crossbreds and grow out much quicker."
To produce whole birds, the heritage turkeys are bred with commercial whites in spring and summer, slaughtered in early winter, then frozen until Christmas.
Everyone is so food conscious now, so many people are so much more health conscious which hopefully will drive demand in the future.- CLAIRE LONGBOTTOM
Female commercial white turkeys are also sold as whole birds at Christmas, and are bred in September, followed by a quick but calculated growing period.
"At 10 weeks, a female commercial turkey is about four kilograms, then every week after that they'll put on another kilogram," Ms Longbottom said.
"So it's a bit of a logistics thing over Christmas - you have to work out how many weeks back you need to go, to get birds the right size at the right time. Generally, we have to work back 10-13 weeks to get birds at 4-7kg at Christmas time."
The whole birds make up about 50pc of the total turkey sale revenue for the Longbottoms, who also run a sheep and cropping enterprise.
Through the year, they sell turkey breast and thighs to independent butchers across Australia, as well as Gamze Smokehouse in Wangaratta, Vic, who make 'turkey bacon' from the thighs and also act as a wholesaler to on-sell to other butchers.
Turkey drumsticks, wings, hearts and livers are also sold to dog food companies in SA and Melbourne, with demand having ramped up due to increased dog food sales in the pandemic.
Ms Longbottom said the growing season this year had in general been good, although November rain caused some complications.
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"We had to build more yards when the grower sheds got flooded, but that will stand us in good stead because we've grown again in size this year," she said.
"The turkeys aren't growing as quick (in the yards) as they generally would have but on the whole it has been a good year."
Ms Longbottom was hoping demand for year-round turkey would continue to grow, as consumers became more aware of the product's health benefits.
"We've had people who are very conscious of their fitness say that they want turkey mince, because they like the high protein and low fat content," she said.
"It's not a fatty meat, but the fatty acids it has are really good for you - we eat it all the time.
"Everyone is so food conscious now, so many people are so much more health conscious which hopefully will drive demand in the future."
But no matter how much demand through the year grows, Ms Longbottom thinks the most hectic time will always be the leadup to Christmas.
"The last four weeks leading up are so busy, you're only getting four of five hours of sleep some nights - your head is spinning, and school is finishing for the kids and harvest and shearing is happening too," she said.
"But we always make sure we get to relax on Christmas Day itself, which is a wonderful reward."
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