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Christmas with Crozier’s Turkeys

Words by Annie Studholme

11 December 2017

A desire to produce a premium quality product as close to nature intended remains the hallmark of Ashburton-based Crozier’s Turkeys.

For more than fifty years Crozier’s Turkeys has been synonymous with producing quality 100% free range turkey, catering for those festive traditionalists who rely on turkey as a key ingredient of their Christmas fare.

And while Philip and Judith Crozier no longer run the business, new operators Kyle and Monique Smith, together with daughters Isla (5) and Ruby (3), are committed to retaining the very principles the business was founded on all those years ago.

Having built the business up from nothing, the Croziers approached Kyle and Monique about taking over the reins in a lease-to-own arrangement in 2015.

For Kyle, it was a dream come true. He’d long harboured dreams of being out on his own, running a poultry farm, but until the Croziers came along that seemed a long way off. “It was really a win-win,” he explains. “I was looking for something else and Philip’s free-range philosophy fitted in so well with how I wanted to go; and, Philip and Judith didn’t want to see their years of hard work disappear. They have helped us immensely. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Kyle’s love affair for the large domesticated game bird, which is originally native to North America, developed as a child growing up on a lifestyle block at Leithfield, near Amberley, where his parents ran a flock of non-commercial turkeys keeping friends and neighbours in good supply with lean turkey meat.

After leaving school he initially worked on sheep and cropping farms before landing a position at a nearby turkey breeding unit where he climbed up the ranks to manager of the hatchery, which was followed up by time spent working on another large poultry farm producing turkey, duck, quail and pheasant.

While he enjoyed what he was doing, he and wife, Monique, wanted more for their young family, so when the opportunity with the Croziers arose, they didn’t hesitate to pack up their lives in Rangiora and move south to Ashburton.

Kyle says the opportunity to have control of the whole process from breeding, hatching, growing and producing their own birds right through to doing all the processing themselves was a huge attraction for him. But admittedly he had a lot to learn when it came to the processing side having to complete specialist courses in anti-mortem, post-mortem and food safety to be up with Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI) protocols. “Having always been on the farming side, the processing side has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. Philip’s help initially was invaluable,” he says.

Changes were also afoot for wife Monique who traded in a successful career in beauty therapy and hairdressing for doing all the businesses sales and marketing, all while being a stay-at-home mum to Isla and Ruby.

“It’s a big change from hanging out with the ladies to doing all the office work, but I am really enjoying it. I could sell hair and beauty products that I believed in, so to sell truly free-range turkeys wasn’t too different,” says Monique.

But while it’s incredibly busy, the Smith’s know they have made the right decision for their family. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially coming in with nothing, but we are getting there. In spite of the hard work and long hours, it’s been a great lifestyle change with Monique and the girls able to be more involved. It’s been so good for our family. I get to spend more time with them; that’s probably been the biggest bonus. The girls love collecting the eggs and see the baby poults on hatch days, and Isla also likes going down to the farmer’s market to help Monique on the stall,” says Kyle.

Just weeks away from their second Christmas at the helm, the Smiths are looking forward to a well-earned break after the Christmas rush. Almost 90 per cent of the turkey farmed in New Zealand every year is eaten at Christmas, and they are currently “crazy” busy fulfilling orders up and down the country.

While they will have some fresh turkey available this Christmas, much of what’s been grown on the farm this summer won’t hit dinner plates until next Christmas. It seems kind of crazy, but to maintain its truly free-range reputation Crozier’s Turkeys birds are only produced during the warmer months, explains Kyle.

“It’s very seasonal. Here they live in a paddock and have access to shelter sheds (inside) when they want it; they don’t live in a shed and have access to the outside. For animal welfare reasons, if we tried to produce birds in winter they would end up spending most of their lives locked in a shed, due to the cold and wet weather conditions over the winter months, and that’s not what we’re about. We are definitely aiming to have the best product quality wise.”

Set on 14 hectares at Dromore, each flock enjoys paddocks of more than 1ha each where they are completely free to roam and forage for natural foods such as grubs, bugs and grass seeds in addition to a diet of natural grains, most of which are sourced locally and blended in their on-site mill. Shelter sheds are fitted with roosts so they can sleep as they would in the wild, as well as sheltering from adverse weather.

Because they are not farmed intensively, Kyle says they don’t tend to get the same disease issues as those farmed under intensive practices meaning they don’t need to include unnecessary antibiotics and hormones in their feed. Instead they rely on natural probiotics and essential oils and the harsh Canterbury frosts to control any harmful micro-organisms present in the outdoor environment.

At Crozier’s Turkeys even the breeder hens spend most of their lives outside, which helps with broody management, explains Kyle.

In a bid to bring the hens onto the lay earlier they are put through a false winter using lights. Breeding occurs via artificial insemination weekly during this season. This year the first eggs were collected at the end of July and they are collected right through to February. Eggs have a 28-day incubation period. Once hatched baby turkeys (poults) remain in the brooding sheds under heaters until fully feathered at about four-six weeks of age, before being transferred to the paddocks. Processing starts on the smaller birds at 11 weeks old with the tops up to 18 weeks of age, with it done using organically approved methods of sterilisation by hand to ensure excellent quality control. The growing season typically goes through to April.

Christmas remains Crozier’s Turkeys busiest time with their whole turkey’s available in all good butcheries and specialist stores nationwide including the local Ruralco branches. “We have purposely stayed away from supplying supermarkets. We are a premium product and we want it to stay that way,” says Monique.

In addition, they also sell a wide range of other turkey products from their weekly stall at the Ashburton Farmers’ Market from October including mince, breasts, medallions, crumbed schnitzel, wings and drums, which are slowly becoming more popular as a healthier option, but it’s unlikely it will replace chicken as New Zealand’s number one source of protein any time soon.

“In reality, if turkey was like chicken and was feeding everyone, we wouldn’t be able to produce it like we do. If we needed more land, I would get it so we can produce more, but I’m not prepared to push the limits going to minimum (free-range) standards,” says Kyle.

The Crozier family built their tradition and their reputation over 50 years always believing in farming free range, with farming practices focused on the welfare of the bird, high quality standards, hard work, respect for the environment and their customers, and that’s how we intend to see it continue, he says.