By Debbie James

As Christmas fast approaches, Tom Rees’ thoughts are very much on the main attraction of the big day, the traditional festive lunch.

Tom’s family have been rearing turkeys for the Christmas market for decades.

“I have never known a Christmas without turkeys, neither has my father and he will be 70 next year,’’ says Tom.

The family took delivery of 200 six-week-old white turkey poults at Bryn Farm near Cowbridge on September 20 and have since been growing them in the farm’s traditional stone buildings.

Although the birds won’t be slaughtered until mid-December, nearly all have been sold, mostly to repeat customers. Apart from one.

“We always have one of our own turkeys for the Christmas meal,’’ says Tom.

The turkey business only forms a small part of the overall farming business, which includes beef and sheep, but it brings the whole family together at Christmas and is a reason why the younger generation won’t countenance calling a halt to this enterprise.

“We have around 18 people here helping, everyone gets involved,’’ says Tom.

His mother, Jan, and girlfriend, Hannah, weigh the birds and assign them to customers according to the size they have specified.

There is also an opportunity to meet up with customers old and new, family and friends, when the turkeys are collected from the farm on December 23.

The Reeses have been farming Bryn Farm since 1965, under the trading name of D H Rees and Sons. Brothers Edward and Robert farm with Edward’s son, Owen, and Robert’s sons, Tom and David.

Tom, a third-generation farmer, studied agriculture at Harper Adams University and returned home to farm after graduating in 2011. Now aged 31, he is certain he has made the right career choice.

The business produces beef from a suckler herd of 120 Aberdeen Angus x Friesians and Hereford x Friesians, sired to Aberdeen Angus and Hereford bulls.

The herd calves between April and June. Once the calves are weaned, they are reared for their first winter by Edward and Owen in loose housing on their farm nearby, on a diet of maize silage, grass silage and homegrown cereals.

“We aim to grow as much protein as possible,’’ says Tom. “We grow red clover leys and some of these are analysing at 18 per cent protein.’’

The clover also helps to fix nitrogen and this reduces the amount of bagged fertiliser used.

The cattle are at grass for two seasons before they are finished at 26-28 months, aiming for a carcass of 280-330kg. The Aberdeen Angus cattle are sold to Scotbeef while the Herefords supply Celtic Pride.

Up to 60 dairy cross ‘bucket’ calves are bought in every year, sourced from Meadow Quality and direct from farms, to rear and finish; between 20-25 of these are retained as herd replacements.

Lamb is produced from a flock of 500 Mules which are tupped to Suffolk and Texel rams.

The flock is housed for lambing but at what point that happens is weather dependent. When they are at grass, their diet is supplemented with some barley, grass silage and high quality hay; at housing maize silage is introduced into their diet.

“We’ve found that the ewes don’t suffer with twin lamb disease when they are on the maize and it makes them very milky,’’ says Tom.

Ewes lamb in groups from February 16, at two week intervals. Lambs are grass fed and sold to Dunbia at a liveweight target of 40kg; carcasses achieve R3L, R4L and U grades and this year a number achieved E grades.

The business is largely self-sufficient in feed, growing between 30-40 acres of spring and winter barley and 25 acres of maize.

Having a mixed enterprise is a good thing, Tom believes.

“It provides balance in the business.’’