If things go to plan for turkey breeder Dennis Harding, native rare breed turkey could soon be part of the nutritional plan for players in Premiership rugby team Harlequins!

Dennis Harding's first foray into poultry breeding was on his farm near Weybridge was with Brahma chickens, but he explains he just 'couldn't find a market for the cockerels.'

Wanting 'something different', Dennis did more research and found Brenda and Ian Waterman of Heritage Turkeys. He says 'I talked to Brenda and Ian about the work they are doing to conserve and promote rare breed turkeys, which seemed ideal for me. I chose the Buff because it is the breed closest to extinction.'

Dennis started with one male and two female birds and first time round, hatched 36 poults. This has now grown to 120 and Dennis is exploring the commercial possibilities for Buff turkey meat.

One direction Dennis is not heading in is the traditional Christmas market as he feels that the single-breasted Buff will never compete with fast-growing, double-breasted commercial birds. Instead, he has his eye on more niche markets.

He approached his friend Paul Cunningham, who runs Peter J Dale butcher's shop opposite Hampton Court Palace. They specialise in free-range and rare breeds, and sausages! Paul says 'We need to get people out of the habit of thinking that turkey is just for Christmas and using turkey mince makes the meat more accessible...Turkey is nutritionally good a nd there is definitely potential for this turkey meat - we got a very positive reaction at a tasting.'

The nutritional benefits of turkey are also key to Dennis's second potential outlet. In his 'day job' he is kit manager for Harlequine rugby club. Performance chef Omar Maziane has joined the club to build menus to fit training and coaching schedules. He currently has eight or so of Dennis's turkeys in his freezer, with a view ti using teh meat on the players' pre-match day Friday menus.

While exploring commercial potential, Dennis isn't losing sight of the conservation aspect of what he does. He is working closely with Brenda and Ian Waterman to get the breeding stock just right to create a flock with the right breed characteristics.

'Having the Buffs here on the farm means I can give something back - and I enjoy getting up in the morning.'

You can find out more about Buff turkeys on our website, and on the Heritage Turkeys website.