Vines Cross turkey business is a real family affair

9th November

Established over 65 years ago, the Sheffield family farm has produced turkeys for the seasonal market since 1950.

The farm was originally brought by Jim’s father and mother, Jack and Rita Sheffield (hence J&R Sheffield). The farm was originally run as a mixed farm and then, following the end of the Second World War with food being more widely available and families having more money in their pocket, Jack and Rita started to produce turkeys for the festive table.

Nestled in the Weald countryside, it is a true family business run by Jim Sheffield alongside his son, daughter Lucy and grandson Jack.  While farming has changed a lot since the early days, traditional farming methods with well-established, high welfare standards remain the priority for all the stock at Foords Farm in Vines Cross.

Brought to the farm as day old poults at the end of May each year, the turkeys are kept indoors in large barns under heat lamps until around 12 weeks when they are then allowed full access to large roaming spaces or are part of the free-range flock. All the turkeys are treated to windfall apples and during October they enjoy pumpkins.

The free range turkey spends their days foraging stinging nettles, acorns and bracken.  Some enjoy dust bathing, just as nature intended and always under the careful eye of their two alpaca guardians Joey and Polar. 

Lucy Sheffield with one of the turkeys

Foxes are a daily issue when it comes to poultry farming and two alpacas became part of the Sheffield family farm to help deter them. Joey and Polar now take lead in protecting the flock keeping a watchful eye over them.

J&R Sheffield turkeys are slow grown over six months which allows for full maturity, establishing a good layer of fat for each bird and leading to a happy and contented flock – all of which contribute to a traditional and delicious Christmas centre piece. There are 12 different breeds – from the very large (around 25kg size for catering) to the smaller breeds which produce a bird that is perfect for a small family gathering.

As Christmas approaches it’s all hands to the deck at the farm where you will find leading from the front ‘boss’ Jim Sheffield plucking turkeys alongside agency staff who are brought in to help with plucking. At Foords Farm there’s a true ‘farm to fork’ approach and all the preparations to get the turkeys ready for customers are done on the farm.

Turkey farming is hard work. At its peak, 16 tonnes of grain on average each week is consumed by the turkeys which are constantly checked to make sure they have access to the right amount of food as well as fresh water and straw. There are also CDs dangling from the ceiling for the turkeys to play with, straw bales to roost on and cut pumpkins and apples to peck at.

Once prepared, the turkeys can be collected direct from the farm or from local butchers such as Pomfrets in Heathfield, Leppards in Mayfield & Horam Butchers.

Each turkey collected from the farmgate is presented in greaseproof paper and packed in a special box with a pop up timer and with or without giblets depending on what the customer wants.

Lucy Sheffield explains: “We try to make collecting your turkey from us a real experience with our collection room decorated with trees, Christmas music played and mulled wine being offered. This year we’ve introduced our own bespoke boxes that we are excited about.”

For information about ordering your turkey go to the J & R Sheffield website