Heritage Turkeys






All domesticated turkeys descend from wild turkeys indigenous to North and South America. They are the quintessential American poultry. For centuries people have raised turkeys for food and for the joy of having them. Many different varieties have been developed to fit different purposes. Turkeys were selected for productivity and for specific color patterns to show off the bird’s beauty. The American Poultry Association lists eight varieties of turkeys in its Standard of Perfection.




Beginning in the mid-1920s and extending into the 1950s turkeys were selected for larger size and greater breast width, which resulted in the development of the Broad Breasted Bronze. In the 1950s, poultry processors began to seek broad breasted turkeys with less visible pinfeathers, as the dark pinfeathers, which remained in the dressed bird, were considered unattractive. By the 1960s the Large or Broad Breasted White had been developed, and soon surpassed the Broad Breasted Bronze in the marketplace.

Today’s commercial turkey is selected to efficiently produce meat at the lowest possible cost. It is an excellent converter of feed to breast meat, but the result of this improvement is a loss of the bird’s ability to successfully mate and produce fertile eggs without intervention. Both the Broad Breasted White and the Broad Breasted Bronze turkey require artificial insemination to produce fertile eggs.

Interestingly, the turkey known as the Broad Breasted Bronze in the early 1930s through the late 1950s is nearly identical to today’s Heritage Bronze turkey – both being naturally mating, productive, long-lived, and requiring 26-28 weeks to reach market weight. This early Broad Breasted Bronze is very different from the modern turkey of the same name. The Broad Breasted turkey of today has traits that fit modern, genetically controlled, intensively managed, efficiency-driven farming. While superb at their job, modern Broad Breasted Bronze and Broad Breasted White turkeys are not Heritage Turkeys. Only naturally mating turkeys meeting all of the below criteria are Heritage Turkeys.




1. Naturally mating: the Heritage Turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating, with expected fertility rates of 70-80%. This means that turkeys marketed as “heritage” must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.
2. Long productive outdoor lifespan: the Heritage Turkey must have a long productive lifespan. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years. The Heritage Turkey must also have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.

3. Slow growth rate: the Heritage Turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth. Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. This growth rate is identical to that of the commercial varieties of the first half of the 20th century.


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Turkey Breeds

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Heritage Breeds




Admitted into the American Poultry Association (A.P.A.) in 1874 the Bronze is the biggest American turkey. Coming from Rhode Island, early settlers developed this family sized bird; with a magnificent glow and a loud gobble. This beautiful bird has the standard weight of 20-36 lbs.

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Admitted to A.P.A. in 1874 this bird has beautiful white plumage and a beard that is deep black; the beak is pink to horn colored; and the throat and wattles are pinkish-white. Shanks and toes are pinkish-white. Eye color standard calls for brown eyes. The standard weight for the White turkey is 18-33 lbs.




Admitted to the A.P.A. in 1874 the Black Turkey is a descendent of the Mexican Turkeys taken to Spain then to England and brought to America for colonist to start their flocks. The standard weight for the Black turkey is 18-33 lbs.


Since it was admitted into the American Poultry Association (A.P.A.) in 1909 the elegant chestnut plumage with wings and tail of white originated in Bourbon County Kentucky. The standard weight of the Bourbon Red is 18-33 lbs.





The Narragansett was admitted to the A.P.A. in 1874. A beautiful silver bird edged in black with a golden tail, originated form Narragansett Bay. Settlers carefully blended the attributes of the Norfolk Black and the wild turkey of Rhode Island. The standard weight is 18-33 lbs.


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