Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fatter . .
It’s like a scene from a Hovis tv commercial.
An elderly farmer leads a flock of geese down a scenic, stone-clad village high street like in days long gone by.
This vista has delighted residents and villagers for decades- even if it makes for an unusual traffic hazard shortly after 8am.
Every day, Gerald Botterill leads his flock from Town End Farm House in Middle Street, Croxton Kerrial, to the paddock where they graze.
The Botterill family have farmed in the village for more than 70 years, with the business run by Gerald, his wife Ann, their son Richard and his wife Jo.
Initially, they focussed on arable and sheep farming but around 25 years ago, they decided free-range birds might be better, and started building up from a flock of 20 geese.
Today, they have 1,500 geese, 3,000 turkeys, 1,000 ducks, 2,000 chickens and 400 breeding ewes. The birds are all free range and are nearly all produced for Christmas.
After leading a flock of 500 geese to the paddock, Gerald, who is 79, told the Journal: “I have been a farmer all my life. I have never wanted to do anything else. We try and do everything as we always should do.
“The birds are all grown to maturity. Most animals nowadays are grown quickly and harvested. With ours being grown to maturity, they eat a bit better. They do not cook dry, especially the turkeys, as they have a little extra fat under the skin. This is far better than them being rapidly reared.
“I have been doing this for 25 years, taking them out every day after they are ten days old. It takes three days to train them. If there’s any traffic coming, they seem to know and they stop dead.
“The villagers don’t mind the geese blocking the road. After they are slaughtered for Christmas, they tell us ‘Oh I do miss the geese’. It’s a feature of the village. It has been for years and years’”
The turkeys are kept in another field and barn round the back of the farm.
They are bronzed turkeys, so named as on fine days, the sun can give a bronzed appearence on the feathers.
Among the hundreds waddling about are the stags - male turkeys who like to strut their stuff, sticking their chests out. They are very inquisitive.
The turkeys are also kept until they are fully mature, aged 22 to 24 weeks, before killing.
Son Robert says this means the turkeys also have that extra fat, which effectively makes for a self-basting bird that keeps its flavour.
Last year, the farm gained national media attention claiming geese really are getting fatter, something that has again happened in 2017.
Robert explained: “For us weatherwise, it’s been a really good year. We have had enough rain to keep the grass growing. It’s been nice and warm. Plenty of grass growth has helped bulk them up and improve the finish of them. We are definately looking at a good year for the quality of the birds.”
But with customers feeling turkeys are too big, leading to turkey sandwiches or curries for days, they increasingly demand a smaller bird.
It led the farm to start offering ducks last year. With a 3kg to 4kg duck proving popular with smaller families, the duck flock has grown to 1,000.
Chickens are also increasingly popular, with buyers also liking the male cockerel chicken rather than a hen as it too is tasty and not too big.
Consumer demand for smaller birds has led to many shoppers seeking turkey crowns, which the farm can supply, but prefers not to.
Robert said: “We end up throwing the legs away. It’s a bit disheartening just to chop it up and leave the best bits. I think the legs are the best bit with more flavour than the breast.”
For smaller groups, he suggests a duck or cockerel as you get the benefits of a whole bird with tasty flavour, but with little waste.
The birds are sold in butchers and farm shops around the Grantham area, with many also sent to London, where a chain of traditional butchers called The Ginger Pig sells them at its outlets. The chain sells the birds with the farm’s name on, so the buyers know where they came from.
No birds are sold to the major supermarkets, none are exported, though a few customers will drive up to the farm and buy a couple of birds ready packed in boxes before driving off to holiday homes in France.
Increasingly, orders are taken online, with people able to click and collect when the birds are ready. But buyers will have to be quick. Typically, more than three-quarters are snapped up by the end of November.