Heritage Turkeys – These Breeds Are a Tasty Alternative

Of the 200,000,000 turkeys that are raised annually, only about 25,000 are heritage breeds. The reason for this is economics. The modern hybrid variety (Broad Breasted Bronze or Giant White) grows much more quickly. It is ready for market at 14 to 16 weeks compared to 25 to 30 weeks for a heritage breed. That means less time and money is spent on getting the hybrid birds ready for market. Hybrids are also larger, and were bred to have more white meat than its wild or heritage cousins. That means less time and money is spent on raising it and it caters to the majority of Americans who prefer white meat to dark meat. All that is to say we don't eat heritage turkeys because they're rare, they grow more slowly, and their meat is more evenly split between dark meat and white meat. But, for those of us who come down on the "dark meat is better" side of the scale, and for those of us interested in pasture raised birds, heritage breeds have a lot of potential benefits. One of those comes in the very definition of heritage breeds. They are able to breed on their own, in contrast to the hybrid varieties that have gotten so large they can only survive though artificial insemination. Other heritage breed pluses are that many chefs say they are more flavorful thanks to the fat that comes with growing more slowly, and the meat is higher in CLAs. If you think you might like to eat one of these tasty birds, or raise them for your customers, here are some varieties to consider: Bourbon

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2 thoughts on “Heritage Turkeys – These Breeds Are a Tasty Alternative

  1. In our area, central British Columbia, there are a few people who raise Small White (Beltsville) turkeys for some of the same reasons the breed was developed. They are smaller turkeys for smaller families. They reproduce naturally and raise young quite easily.

  2. My kids have raised Bourbon Reds the last 10 years, a small breeding flock. Good demand from our market customers; even with higher price reflective of longer life and more labor involved with these breeds. First six weeks with poults is quite demanding, after that much easier. Until the teenager stage when don’t want to be with parents, fixate on cars (hoods & roofs), refuse to go to bed, etc. Having a predator-proof coop is paramount, as well as protection during the day if free ranging. We use a Great Pyrenees. Worth preserving these breeds if you have time and interest.

    Do we laugh or cry dept:
    Upon moving to this area, we were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with a couple of families who turned out, over after-dinner conversation, to be white separatists. They were surprised we ate dark meat from turkey. Admitting no one in their family liked it so they threw the dark all away each year. Made me wonder how they played piano…

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