Experience: I’m a turkey whisperer
I’ve performed in front of hundreds of turkeys. I sing Welsh folk songs and ones my dad would have loved to hear, like the Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun
I got my first guitar when I was 12, and it’s been a slow process of self-tuition since then. I also play piano and violin, but I only play the guitar to the turkeys on the Rhug Estate farm in Corwen, north Wales, where I work.
It began as an experiment. Rhug is an organic farm, and the main principle is to create as little stress as possible for the animals. But the farm is on the side of a main road, so some get spooked by loud noises: the traffic, machinery or sounds from the car park. We started playing the radio to them overnight. We’d put on Classic FM when we were shutting up at 7pm and leave it on until we returned in the morning.
The turkeys in particular responded really well. So we started playing the radio all day, every day. Then my boss, Lord Newborough, thought, “What if the music was much more up close and personal?” He knew I played guitar and suggested I had a go. I think my facial expression may have shown I was a bit flabbergasted by the request. I thought he was joking.
But we tried it. And from the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded round. I got the impression they enjoyed listening to me play. They started pecking on the guitar and plucking the strings. That’s the result of organic farming: you get inquisitive animals, rather than ones that are scared.
I don’t know how to describe the noise they make. People often say “gobble”. They did a lot of that – they were almost like a choir, gobbling away in response to my music. After seeing how much they enjoyed it, we did it again – and kept on going.
I’ve now performed in front of hundreds of turkeys. If you put hundreds of humans in front of me, I’d never be able to perform (my guitar abilities are fairly limited). I sing Welsh folk songs and ones my dad would have loved to hear, like the Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun – that’s the one I like playing most. I play pop songs, too, like Kylie Minogue, but with a folk twist.
I’ve been described as a turkey whisperer. It’s like a horse whisperer, but not as glamorous. I don’t have a magic touch – anyone who played to them would get the same reaction, to be honest.
The turkeys arrive here as day-old chicks at the beginning of June; more than 1,000 of them are delivered. They’re kept in a controlled environment for the first couple of weeks, but as they develop into larger birds, we slowly introduce them to a free-range way of life. From the first light of day to nightfall, they’re out grazing in the fields. We’re a 6,500-acre farm, so they’ve more land than they need.
They’re not chicks for long. You’ll go home on a Friday evening and come back on a Monday, and you’ll think, “Bleeding heck, where did these come from?” All of a sudden, they’re huge. We’ve got Norfolk Bronze and Hockenhull Blacks. Are turkeys ugly? I wouldn’t want to say. They’re not exactly cute and probably won’t win any beauty contests.
Turkeys are the noisiest of the bunch on the farm, but they’re also intelligent and curious. We hang up CDs for them, or put pumpkins in the fields at Halloween, which they love – anything new, they’ll check it out.
I’m an animal lover and it’s important to me that the turkeys are happy. But I’m not a vegetarian. Getting so close to the birds doesn’t make me think I have to give up meat. Farming is a mega industry, but here the focus is on quality of life. Having worked with them, it’s impossible to imagine turkeys in cages.
I will be eating turkey at Christmas, and it will be a Rhug Estate one. Millions of turkeys end up on the Christmas table all across the UK, but at least I’ll know where mine came from and that it had a good life.
In January, when all the turkeys are gone, I won’t be sad. It’s a short wait till June when the new chicks arrive. It’ll be quieter when they’re not here, but on such a big farm, there’s always something to fill the silence.