Heritage Livestock: Turkeys

My next post via TLC regarding heritage breeds. This time, it’s turkeys! Those tasty birds who commonly grace our dinner tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It’s a bit shocking to me that there is one breed on the critical list, three listed as threatened, another five on the watch list, and then no further breeds are listed besides a side note:
 “Varieties that are distinct but not APA recognized include ChocolateJersey BuffMidget WhiteLavender, and a host of other distinct color varieties. Does not include broad-breasted varieties, because they are not endangered.”
This means that virtually all breeds of turkeys besides the common Broad Breasted White are in danger of extinction in some way. What this tells me is that more homesteaders need to consider raising heritage breed turkeys!

Raising turkeys provides a large source of meat, and if you raise heritage breeds vs BBWs (broad breasted whites), you’ll have a more flavorful, though slower growing bird (can take up to 6mos to reach market weight). Turkeys are quite stupid, chicks will often die of dehydration if they aren’t forced to drink, and they can get themselves flipped on their backs and perish. Heritage breed turkeys will often go broody over their own eggs though, and letting a hen raise chicks the natural way allows for a higher survival rate. Turkeys provide meat, eggs, fertilizer, and pest control. It can be quite profitable to raise turkeys for Thanksgiving consumption. They will commonly roost in trees if their wings aren’t clipped, and the toms can be quite loud. I would like to raise a couple birds for Thanksgiving next year, hopefully.

Critical
  • Beltsville Small White – developed for meat in Maryland (USA), lays large pale cream to medium brown spotted eggs, can be docile or aggressive, market weight between 10-17 lbs
Threatened
  • Black – originated in Europe, descended from Mexico, high meat production, lays large pale cream to medium brown spotted eggs, temper varies by breeding, market weight between 14-23 lbs
  • Royal Palm – developed in USA, striking plumage, small sized birds, lays large pale cream to medium brown spotted eggs, temper varies by breeding, market weight between 10-16 lbs
  • White Holland – large, white feathered variety developed in USA, lays large pale cream eggs, temper varies by breeding, market weight between 16-25 lbs, originally a commercial bird
watch
  • Bourbon Red – developed in Kentucky (USA), dark red plumage, large pale cream to brown spotted eggs, temper varies with breeding, market weight between 14-23 lbs
  • Bronze – most popular turkey for most of American history, developed in USA, metallic sheen to feathers, lays large brown spotted/pale cream eggs, can be docile or aggressive, market weight between 16-25 lbs
  • Narragansett – developed in Rhode Island (USA), foundation of New England turkey industry, large eggs, market weight between 14-23 lbs
  • Slate – unclear origin, named for the ashy blue coloration, temper varies, lays large eggs, market weight between 14-23 lbs

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