Heritage turkey

Heritage turkey

An heritage turkey, sometimes called an heirloom turkey, is a variety of domestic turkey which retains historic characteristics that are no longer present in the majority of turkeys raised for consumption since the mid-20th century. Heritage turkeys are physically capable of being raised in a manner that more closely matches the natural behavior and life cycle of wild turkeys. Unlike turkeys bred for industrial agriculture, heritage turkeys can reproduce without human intervention, have a relatively long lifespan, and have a much slower growth rate. Chefs, farmers, and food critics have also contended that heritage turkey meat tastes better.

Ten different turkey breeds are classified as heritage turkeys, including the Beltsville Small White, Black, Bourbon Red, Buff, Narragansett, Royal Palm, Slate, Standard Bronze, White Holland, and White Midget. Despite increasing interest in heritage turkeys, they are still in the minority, and most heritage breeds are endangered in some respect.


For most of history, turkeys were primarily raised on small family farms for meat and as a form of pest control (turkeys are prodigious eaters of insects). But with the advent of factory farming of poultry, turkeys began to be selectively bred for increasingly larger size, focusing especially on the production of breast meat. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing in to the 1950s, broad-breasted fowl began to replace all other types of turkey in commercial production. The favorite breed at the time was the Broad Breasted Bronze, which was developed from the Standard Bronze. In the 1960s, producers began to heavily favor turkeys that did not show the dark pin feathers in their carcass, and thus the Broad Breasted White grew to dominate the industry, a trend which continues to this day. [Ekarius (2007) pp. 220-221]

To meet perceived consumer demand and increase producers' profit margins, the goal in turkey farming became the production of the maximum amount of breast meat at the lowest possible cost. As a result of selection for this single trait, 70% of the weight of mass market turkeys is in their breast. [Severson (2007)] Consequently, the birds are so heavy that they are completely incapable of reproducing without artificial insemination, and they reach such extreme weights so quickly their overall development fails to keep pace with their rapidly accruing muscle mass, resulting in severe immune system, cardiac, respiratory and leg problems. [Ekarius (2007) pp. 220-221]

For over 35 years, the overwhelming majority of the 280 million turkeys produced in North America each year have been the product of a few genetic strains of Broad Breasted White. The breeding stock for these birds are owned by just three multinational corporations: Hybrid Turkeys of Ontario, Canada, British United Turkeys of America in Lewisburg, West Virginia, and Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms in Sonoma, California. [Burros (2001)]

Along with the adoption of the Broad Breasted White by industrial producers, other turkey varieties faded in numbers. Other than exhibition birds and those on a scant few small farms, other turkeys virtually disappeared. By the end of the 20th century, all but the Broad Breasted White were in danger of extinction. Around this time, conservation organization began to recognize the plight of heritage turkeys; the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) considered heritage turkeys to the most critically endangered of all domestic animals circa 1997. A census conducted by the Conservancy found less than 1,500 total breeding birds (out of all heritage varieties) were left in the country. With some breeds, such as the Narragansett, having less than a dozen individuals left, many considered most heritage turkeys to be beyond hope. [Ekarius (2007) p. 220]

The ALBC, Slow Food USA, the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPAA), and a few hundred key poultry enthusiasts launched a major effort to restore breeding populations of heritage turkeys in the late 20th century. One man in particular, Frank Reese Jr., has been credited by sources such as ABC News and "The New York Times" as being instrumental in preserving heritage breeds, [ Gibson (2007)] [Severson (2007)] but small farmers all across the country were also important; strains of heritage turkey kept in genetic isolation for years by family farms preserved heritage breeds for the future. [Mapes (2007)] Primary motivations for the endeavor included a passion for historic breeds, and maintaining genetic diversity among domestic animals which humans depend upon. [Severson (2007)] Consumer and restaurant interest was also motivated by a support of local and sustainable foods. [Mapes (2007)]

In a 2003 census by the ALBC, heritage turkey populations had increased by more than 200 percent. By 2006, the count of heritage turkeys in the U.S. was up to 8,800 breeding birds. [Mapes (2007)] Though all but the Bourbon Red and Royal Palm were still considered critically endangered, the birds have rebounded significantly. [Ekarius (2007) p. 220]


While the moniker of heritage turkey is not a government-regulated label like organic foods, it does have a precise definition. The most notable heritage turkeys today come from specific breeds, such as the Bourbon Red, but any fowl, regardless of breed, can be defined as a heritage turkey if it meets the aforementioned criteria. Only a few of these are recognized by the American Poultry Association through inclusion in the "Standard of Perfection". Along with the surge in popularity (and thus, marketability) of heritage turkeys, numerous farmers have passed off birds which do not meet the basic definition of true heritage birds in an effort to cash in on the phenomenon. To be a true heritage turkey, birds must meet three specific criteria.

;Naturally matingThe first criterion is that heritage turkeys are able to mate naturally with no intervention from humans, and with expected fertility rates of 70-80%. Hens can lay fertile eggs, and brood their clutches to hatching. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, birds must be the result of natural reproduction in order to truly be called heritage turkeys. [Definition of a Heritage Turkey, albc-usa.org]

;Long productive lifespanExcept for a few flocks of toms kept for semen production, commercial turkeys generally never live past the point at which they reach market weight. But true heritage turkeys are capable of a full, productive lifespan just like wild turkeys. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years. They are also more well-suited for outdoor and/or free range conditions. [Definition of a Heritage Turkey, albc-usa.org]

;Slow growth rateAll heritage turkeys have a relatively slow to moderate rate of growth. Turkeys raised in industrial agricultural are slaughtered at 14 to 18 weeks of age, while 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. [Definition of a Heritage Turkey, albc-usa.org]

As food

Heritage turkeys have been praised by chefs alike as being richer in flavor than industrial birds. [Mapes (2007)] Heritage turkeys are closer in taste to wild turkeys, but are several pounds larger. Part of this stated increase in flavor is due to a difference in the maturity between industrial turkeys and heritage ones — if birds are slaughtered at less than four months old, they fail to ever accrue fat layers. [Burros (2001)] Due to their rarity and the length of time involved in their growth, heritage turkeys are also far more expensive than their more common brethren. While turkeys from factory farms may be given away along with other purchases, heritage turkeys can cost in upwards of $200 (USD), [Burros (2001)] though prices have fallen in some areas as they become more ubiquitous. [Mapes (2007)] In addition to a difference in culinary attributes, heritage turkeys are considered to be a healthier food; as a result of the diet of pasture-raised turkeys, heritage meat contains far higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease. [Burros (2001)]

ee also

* Sustainable agriculture
* Pastured poultry




Further reading


External links

* [http://heritageturkeyfoundation.org/ Heritage Turkey Foundation]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем решить контрольную работу

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Turkey Tayac — was a Piscataway Indian leader and herbal doctor, born Philip Sheridan Proctor, in 1895 in Charles County, Maryland. Tayac was the last person to have knowledge of the Piscataway language. Two leading Algonquian linguists, Ives Goddard,… …   Wikipedia

  • TURKEY — TURKEY, modern republic in Asia Minor and S.E. Europe (see ottoman empire for previous period). In the peace treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923), Turkey established complete sovereignty in Anatolia, the southeastern part of Thrace, and some… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • turkey — /terr kee/, n., pl. turkeys, (esp. collectively) turkey. 1. a large, gallinaceous bird of the family Meleagrididae, esp. Meleagris gallopavo, of America, that typically has green, reddish brown, and yellowish brown plumage of a metallic luster… …   Universalium

  • Turkey — /terr kee/, n. a republic in W Asia and SE Europe. 63,528,225; 296,184 sq. mi. (767,120 sq. km). (286,928 sq. mi. (743,145 sq. km) in Asia; 9257 sq. mi. (23,975 sq. km) in Europe). Cap.: Ankara. Cf. Ottoman Empire. * * * Turkey Introduction… …   Universalium

  • Turkey dance — The turkey dance or Nu ka oshun[1] is one of the most important traditional dances among Caddo people.[2] Women dance the turkey dance, while men drum and sing the songs, which describe events in Caddo history …   Wikipedia

  • Domestic turkey — Main article: Turkey (bird) Domesticated turkey A Broad Breasted Bronze tom displaying Conservation status …   Wikipedia

  • Bronze (turkey) — The Bronze is a breed of domestic turkey. The name refers to its plumage, which bears an iridescent bronze like sheen. The Bronze has been the most popular turkey throughout most of American history. [albc usa.org] Later in its history, the breed …   Wikipedia

  • Black (turkey) — Black Spanish redirects here. For the grape, see Black Spanish (grape). A Black Spanish tom at the National Colonial Farm The Black, sometimes referred to as the Black Spanish or the Norfolk Black, is a breed of domestic turkey. The Black was… …   Wikipedia

  • Royal Palm (turkey) — The Royal Palm is a breed of domestic turkey. One of the only turkeys not primarily selected for meat production, the Royal Palm is best known as an ornamental bird with a unique appearance. Primarily kept as an exhibition bird, or on small farms …   Wikipedia

  • Midget White (turkey) — A Midget White tom The Midget White is a breed of domestic turkey named for its white plumage and small stature. The breed is the smallest standard variety of turkey, and with toms at roughly 13 lbs and hens 8 10 lbs, it weighs only slightly more …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”