Heritage Turkey

Part 1

Hi guys! I’m stoked to share about heritage turkeys! I believe these birds deserve a chance! In most circles, turkeys have a name for being one of the dumbest birds on the farm. I’m happy to share experiences that say the opposite!

Heritage turkeys differ from the meat or ‘broadbreasted’ varieties. Broad breasted turkeys are the result of human intervention! These birds were designed for quick meat production. The results was a weakened and compromised creature.

Heritage varieties are one step away from wild turkeys. They are hardy birds with strong immune systems, excellent foragers and fly well.

I love these birds. Large, almost shy and yet inquisitive, there are 8 pure breeds and 4 pure-but-not-recognized breeds.

Heritage turkeys vary from the meat variety in three ways.

  1. Heritage turkeys mature slower and have denser (but not necessary larger) bones, hardier bodies in every way.
  1. Heritage turkeys can mate without any help! Many people are unaware that meat variety cannot reproduce on their own. The males are too large and females must be artificially inseminated. If left without help, the fast-growing meat breeds would die out.

  1. Heritage turkeys also have mothering (and fathering) instincts. Heritage birds should make good mothers (not all of course) but in a flock there will be more than one. They lay, set and care for their young.

The various heritage turkey breeds are known for different things: some are better egg producers than others, better mothers, grow larger faster. Just like any other kind of poultry in that way. What do you want? Strictly meat birds? Eggs only? Natural reproduction and good mothering skills? Breeds and purposes can be found online at  https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/conservation-priority-list#Turkeys

The productive lifespan of a male is 3-5 years, while the females will lay for 5-7.

Eggs: females produce large eggs that are 2/3 yolk and 1/3 whites. Mild in flavor, many who are allergic to chicken eggs prefer turkey eggs over the strong taste and firmer texture of duck eggs. For this reason, turkey eggs are often sold at higher costs. However, hens aren’t heavy producers. On a high protein diet, they will lay every other or every third day.

Birds raised for meat will take 24-32 weeks until butchering time. Be aware: due to the bird’s decline over the years, when butchering time rolls around, breeds tend to be smaller than the given weight. Young birds will continue to fill out until 1 yr of age. And if going natural (without extra lighting) our birds will be approx 22 weeks of age at Christmas! If you want to hit thanksgiving, birds need to be setting and hatching out earlier than May.

I’d like to address the idea flying about in regard to turkeys: many people know them to be ‘dumb’ birds. This is true…of the broadbreasted variety! I’ve discovered the opposite with heritage turkeys. They are intelligent, excellent foragers and more than able to care for themselves. With their ability to fly, they roost in high places, removing the danger from ground predators. And they are too large for owls or hawks to get at.

Turkeys are sensitive. They learn by example and this is more extreme than with ducks or chickens! They need something to bond to. Without the example of a mother, turkeys are more susceptible than chickens or ducks. Ex. Wild poult following a dog around, bonding to humans, etc

I loved turkeys, so well in fact, we bought adult birds last fall: Ridley Bronze, Narragansetts and cross breeds.

These birds have been so easy to care for. Our winters hit -10 to -15C. No worries! With food, water and an open-ended shelter, our birds were happy! Wandering through the snow in the day, roosting in their lean-to at night, laying on the ground in spring, hatching out 18 of 21 eggs…they are great birds to have!

I’m thrilled to walk you through how to care for these birds because I think they deserve a chance. Heritage turkeys are rare; some are on the endangered list. Let’s step over the myth about their being dumb birds and let’s bring them back!

Thanks for joining me and be sure to follow up for the videos that form part 2 of our heritage turkey series!