A day in the life of a Kentish goose farmer

Goose farmer (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Goose farmer (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Anthony Fleck on swapping fruit farming for geese and turkeys and how the tradition of eating goose at Christmas is returning

(Photo: Manu Palomeque)

(Photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Name: Anthony Fleck

Job: Geese and turkey producer

Based: Biddenden

Tell us about you

I was a fruit farmer in Sutton Valence for many years, initially producing top fruit, mostly apples and pears. Later I extended into soft fruits, first strawberries and raspberries then a little later I was one of the very first to grow blackberries commercially. All the soft fruit was grown in tunnels and this enabled a substantial reduction in the use of chemicals. Even then we’d have a few free-range geese and turkeys wandering freely in the orchards.

(Photo: Manu Palomeque)

(Photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Where did you train?

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After leaving Sutton Valence School I studied fruit farming at Sittingbourne Farm Institute, which amalgamated to form Hadlow College, where I spent a further year. I was very fortunate to be able to broaden my experience by travelling to farms in different parts of the world including Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.

Tell us about the farm

Today I have 150 geese and 1,500 turkeys. They are all free-range and I aim to give them a happy, natural life. In April or early May I buy the chicks in from our regular suppliers, who are based in Norfolk. The chicks are only hours old so they are housed for the first month or so and are kept warm with heat lamps.At this early stage I check them at least three times a night to make sure they are OK. When the chicks are four or five weeks old and the weather is warmer, they are let out to wander freely.Unlike turkeys, geese are grazing birds – they rarely squabble and generally remain close together – ‘a gaggle of geese’. Even at that young age, they are delightful creatures and will come to call and follow me around. The geese and turkeys are taken in at night to protect them from foxes. Even during the day it’s necessary to be alert because hawks are on the look out for small birds and dogs have been known to chase geese. It is often remarked that geese make wonderful guard animals because they have excellent eyesight and hearing and are quick to respond to intruders. As a result they are increasingly being used as security guards in many parts of the world.

(Photo: Manu Palomeque)

(Photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

A typical working day?

I know everyone must say that it depends on the time of year, but it does! When the chicks are young it is a case of keeping a very close eye on them to ensure they are happy and thriving. Once they are outdoors and wandering freely I have to be on the lookout for predators, especially while the chicks are still young and small. I feed the geese and turkeys in the evening with similar mixes made up of soya, wheat and oats. None of our birds are given additives or antibiotics.

How do you market?

A lot of my business is via repeat orders with about 90 per cent sold direct to the public and it isn’t unusual for clients to place a repeat order a year in advance. I supply a few farm shops and attend some Farmers’ Markets where we cook a goose and a turkey, invite the public to tasting sessions and give them leaflets to take away. I’m coming up to a very busy time because the tradition of eating goose at Christmas is returning. Remember the rhyme Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat? The meat is delicious and the fat makes the very best roast potatoes. I am a member of Produced in Kent and Kent Farmers’ Markets Association and I believe in the principle of working together to produce the healthiest and best food. I am always happy to show customers the farm by arrangement but it is important to pre-book in order to ensure the visit can be accommodated into the working day.

(Photo: Manu Palomeque)

(Photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Your legacy?

We have two daughters and, although they are interested in the farm, they wanted to pursue other careers. One is a social worker and the other a barrister.

Marks out of 10?

I have absolutely no hesitation, none whatsoever, it is 10.

(Photo: Manu Palomeque)

(Photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

(Photo: Manu Palomeque)

(Photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Get in touch

Woolpack Corner Farm, Benenden Road, Biddenden, Ashford TN27 8BU, 01580 291792 or info@kentturkeys.co.uk www.kentturkeys.co.uk