While this question certainly can generate many valid opinions, it is almost too difficult of a question to answer with a breed type. In following the training of years gone by, I would ask several questions to better understand the needs of the customers: What do you want to accomplish with the turkey? What kind of area will the turkeys be raised in? Are you concerned or interested in hatching your own turkeys? How involved do you want to be with your turkeys?
While this can be unpacked in several ways, let me stick with the brief questions I posed above to give some perspective on the question that will hopefully help you determine what breed is “right” for you. The timing of the question could not be more perfect as I just returned from the Livestock Conservancy Convention held in Austin, TX this year. The Livestock Conservancy just published their book, “Introduction to Heritage Breeds” and I referenced it several times in the marketing talk I was giving. A lot of statements in the book were enlightening on discussing what the best turkey breed might be for you and I reference several thoughts from reading the book in the below statements.
If you want a turkey that provides the most meat possible, the Broadbreasted Bronze or Giant Whites are the breeds to get. These turkeys provide, generally speaking, a 23 pound hen and around a 40-45 pound tom turkey. Birds of this size, and specifically these breeds, are artificially inseminated because their size does not allow for them to mate naturally and successfully. Birds of this nature are typically more inclined to being fed rather than foraging for themselves. These breeds are typically what has been featured in the grocery stores during Thanksgiving. While the demand for these breeds is high, because of the large size, they pose a problem for small farms to raise and sustain future flocks as most small farms are not positioned well to artificially inseminate. This practice may be more embraced by larger farms with more resources. When grocery stores and the large farms push these types of breeds, it can reduce the demand for some of the heritage breeds that our country was naturally inhabited by.
According to the Livestock Conservancy, heritage breeds, “are the animals that you’d find on your great-grandparents farms. Heritage is an umbrella term that embraces pure breeds of livestock and poultry with deep histories in the United States. These are animals that were bred over time to develop traits that made them suited to specific local environments. Because these breeds have been developed and selected over time, they tend to have better disease resistance, are well-adapted to their environments, and thrive in pasture-based settings.” Heritage breed turkeys include Chocolate, Midget White, Narragansett, White Holland, Bourbon Red, Royal Palm and Standard Bronze, among others.
While the above breeds may not get as big as the Broadbreasted Bronze or other commercially created breeds, they offer several advantages as they are typically better foragers, which means on the pasture they will thrive. Turkeys that you can put on pasture may offer you a little more freedom from having to hand feed them everything they need. As well, heritage breeds will tend to thrive in the various climates throughout the country better than some of the commercial breeds. One of the fun aspects of the heritage breed turkeys is tracing the history of the breed and finding one that would best fit your particular environment. The historical aspect of the various heritage breeds allows people to enjoy the same or similar breed of turkey that their past generations also raised on the family farm so the connection to history is achieved. Of course, heritage breed turkeys are also able to mate naturally and produce offspring. If you want to create your own flock of turkeys, a heritage breed is what you want to look for. Again, those that understand and appreciate the benefits of raising the heritage breeds also are taking an active role in ensuring the various breeds that our ancestors enjoyed will continue to be enjoyed by future generations as well.
Murray McMurray Hatchery is happy to offer several of the heritage breeds of turkeys if that is the route you choose to follow. For more information on heritage breeds and the work of the Livestock Conservancy, please visit their website at http://www.livestockconservancy.org/.