Peach Croft Farm near Abingdon is busy preparing 9,000 turkeys and geese for Christmas Day tables across the nation. Reporter Erin Lyons went to visit and meet the turkeys in the run up to the big day.

THE first thing that hits me is the almost deafening 'gobble gobble' of the turkeys as they swarm around us as we enter the field.

Wearing bright blue plastic shoe covers to ensure we don't bring in anything that could contaminate the turkeys, an Oxford Mail photographer and I have come to Peach Croft Farm, near Abingdon, to get an inside look at what goes into producing what many view as the key ingredient of Christmas dinner.

I walk with a degree of trepidation towards the sea of black birds, but they part around me harmlessly all the while gobbling happily to themselves.

We are assured by farm owner Bill Homewood that the turkeys are perfectly safe – not even fighting among themselves – due to the amount of open space they have to run around in.

This is all well and good until our photographer crouches to get a shot of Mr Homewood among his prize birds and a particularly brazen turkey hops onto his back.

"I've never seen one do that before," the farmer remarked, and as a lifelong city dweller, who am I to disagree?

Mr Homewood, who is the third generation of his family to run the farm, is ideally placed to know a thing or two about the habits of birds, having come to work at the business immediately after finishing agricultural college almost 40 years ago.

The 59-year-old explains there are six different strains of turkey bred on the farm to get a broad spread of weights to suit every dinner table, from 5kg all the way up to 20kg, as well as a flock of geese for those who want a more traditional festive centrepiece.

He and a work force of about 35 will pluck and box roughly 7,000 turkeys and 2,000 geese throughout December, with the entire process kept entirely in-house.

The father-of-three added: "Because we still hand pluck it means we can hang the birds to mature for about 10 to 14 days and refrigerate them, which stops water being added into the process.

"This really improves the taste of the meat."

Though many will be stocked by local butchers, the birds will travel as far north as Cheshire and as far south as Jersey in the Channel Islands, with some even being sold at Harrods in London.

Mr Homewood said: "The only thing we don't have control over is how people cook the turkey, so it's entirely possible for someone to ruin it at home.

"We do provide a cooking guide though, which is what I stick to when I cook our turkey at home and that hasn't let me down yet."

Those living locally who have ordered a turkey or goose will descend on the Oxfordshire farm in the coming days and then it will be time for Mr Homewood and his staff to enjoy a well-earned festive break.

The farmer admitted his favourite part was walking home on Christmas Eve, saying: "Knowing that the job is done and we've produced a quality product is a really good feeling."