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Innovative farmer dies

PUBLISHED: 12:21 06 December 2010

A PIONEERING turkey farmer, Ray Le Grys, who has died aged 88 at his home in north Suffolk after a long illness, launched an innovative range of birds in the 1950s.

And the family business, which was later indirectly acquired by its Norfolk rival, Bernard Matthews, helped to make turkey affordable for consumers more than half a century ago.

Raymond George Charles Le Grys, who died three days before Bernard Matthews, started breeding turkeys more or less by accident in 1947.

He had started the turkey enterprise with his younger brother, John, who died last year aged 83. They were both born in Halesworth, where their father, F G Le Grys kept a shop, and went to Heveningham School. After the war, the brothers bought a 25-acre smallholding, The Laurels, Ubbeston. A neighbour kept a few turkeys and Ray Le Grys started breeding turkeys more than three years before Mr Matthews made his famous 50 shilling investment by buying 20 turkey eggs and second-hand incubator at a sale at Acle market.

Mr Le Grys enjoyed considerable success and with his brother, John, who headed the processing and marketing, the business rapidly outgrew the original site. It moved to Holton, near Halesworth, on part of a second world war airfield.

At the time, keeping turkeys was a major headache because of a disease, blackhead. However, Norwich-based May & Baker (now Bayer) developed a highly-effective drug to control the disease.

In the early 1960s, it was the Le Grys brothers who launched commercially smaller birds weighing between 8-13lb as “Turkey Petite”. Their larger birds were branded “Turkey Supreme”.

In 1971, Le Grys was bought by the Armour Corporation, then of Chicago, Illinois. Then in January 1976, Matthews was able to acquire the USA-owned Armour Le Grys for about £725,000 for the processing factory, hatchery and rearing sheds.

The enlarged company grew even more rapidly and it helped when, in the early 1980s, the Great Witchingham factory was damaged by fire and production was switched to Holton.

Mr Le Grys leaves nephews Barry and Nigel.

A funeral service will be held on Monday, at St Margaret’s Church, Reydon at 2pm.

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