Heritage turkey breeds offer several advantages over their commercial counterparts, including better flavor and more pleasant personalities.
Are you an avid turkey farmer or want to know more about where your Thanksgiving bird comes from? These 14 heritage turkey breeds are among the best to know.
If you’re only familiar with large-breasted Broad Breasted Whites, get ready to be surprised by these heritage turkey breeds!
1. Blue Slate
The Blue Slate is among heritage turkey breeds developed in the early 1900s. It’s a large bird, with males weighing around 30 pounds and females around 20 pounds. The Blue Slate is known for its bluish-gray plumage, where it gets its name.
This breed is also known for being a good forager and excellent mother. This breed is slightly different from other heritage turkey breeds and might be the right choice for you.
They are excellent mothers and are great foragers, so they’ll thrive on just about any diet. They’re also very gentle birds, so that they can do well with children, people with allergies, or other sensitivities.
2. Bourbon Red
Bourbon Red turkeys are one of the most popular heritage turkey breeds. They were developed in the 1800s in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Bourbon Reds are known for their large size, averaging 30 pounds.
They have red feathers with white tips and black skin. Bourbon Reds are suitable for both meat and eggs.
For their meat, they should be cooked at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Their eggs will produce around 60% more than a commercial White Rock egg.
Bourbon Reds can be found in three colors – light red, dark red, and Buff (light brown). Buff is the rarest coloration and has only been reported once. The average lifespan of a Bourbon Red is five years.
The Bourbon Red turkey has a small head and comb with three characteristic dark stripes on its neck. The Bourbon Red may be smaller than other breeds, but they are one of the hardiest turkeys.
3. Midget White Turkey
The Midget White turkey is a heritage turkey breed developed in the early 1900s. This tiny bird is all white and typically weighs between 4 and 6 pounds. The Midget White is known for being a good forager and excellent mother.
If you’re looking for a heritage turkey breed on the smaller side, the Midget White may be a good option. It takes around 14 weeks to raise this turkey from hatchling to slaughter weight. In comparison, it takes about 16 weeks for commercial breeds.
4. Slate Turkey
This breed is one of the best heritage turkey breeds developed in the early 1800s in the northeastern United States. Slate turkeys are named for their bluish-gray plumage, resulting from a genetic mutation.
These turkeys are large birds, with hens weighing around 10 pounds and tom turkeys weighing up to 24 pounds.
The Slate turkey is a good choice for those looking for a large bird with unique coloring. Slate Turkey also has a milder flavor than other heritage turkey breeds.
5. Standard Bronze Turkey
The Standard Bronze is one of the most common types of heritage turkey breeds and was developed in the early 1900s. It’s a good all-purpose bird that is excellent for meat and eggs.
Standard Bronze turkeys have dark feathers with a greenish-bronze sheen, typically weighing between 15 and 20 pounds. If you’re looking for a widely available heritage breed, the Standard Bronze is a good option.
6. Jersey Buff Turkeys
One of the most popular heritage turkey breeds is the Jersey Buff. They were developed in New Jersey in the early 1900s and are known for being excellent foragers.
Jersey Buff turkeys are also giant heritage breeds, with hens weighing around 18 pounds and males reaching up to 30 pounds. These birds need a lot of space, so plan on about six square feet per bird in your coop or pen.
7. Royal Palm Turkeys
Royal Palm turkeys are one of the heritage turkey breeds developed in the 1940s. They are known for their striking appearance, white feathers, black neck, and head.
Royal Palm turkeys are also relatively small, weighing around 10 pounds. These birds are good foragers and do well in warm climates. Royal Palm turkeys might be the right choice if you’re looking for a unique turkey breed.
8. Beltsville Small White Turkey
The Beltsville Small White turkey was developed in the 1930s at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) poultry research station in Beltsville, Maryland. It is a small, fast-growing bird that is good for meat and eggs.
The Beltsville Small White is the most popular heritage turkey breed in the United States. It’s easy to care for and can be raised by anyone with basic farming knowledge.
9. Chocolate Turkey
One of the unique heritage turkey breeds is the Chocolate turkey. As you might expect, this bird gets its name from its feathers, which are dark brown, almost black. Chocolate turkeys are thought to have originated from a cross between a wild turkey and a Bourbon Red.
These turkeys are excellent foragers and do well in free-range conditions. If you’re looking for a truly unique Thanksgiving turkey, the Chocolate variety is one to consider!
10. Auburn Turkey
With its beautiful auburn feathers, the Auburn turkey is one of the unique heritage turkey breeds. It’s also rarest, with only a few hundred Auburn turkeys. Though they were once common in New England, they nearly went extinct in the early 20th century.
Thanks to the efforts of dedicated breeders, however, this incredible bird is making a comeback. If you’re lucky enough to find an Auburn turkey for your Thanksgiving feast, you’ll be in for a treat!
11. White Holland Turkey
The White Holland turkey is a heritage breed developed in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. It’s a popular choice for backyard flocks because it’s calm and docile and known for being a good layer of brown eggs.
The White Holland is an all-white bird with a large body and long tail feathers. They’re excellent at adapting to different environments and climates, which makes them ideal for farmers raising turkeys in diverse conditions.
12. Buff Turkey
The Buff turkey is an American breed developed in the early 1900s. It’s a large bird, with males typically weighing around 30 pounds.
The Buff is an excellent all-purpose turkey well-suited for meat and eggs. The breed is also known for being calm and docile, making it a good choice for families with small children. But as its name suggests, this turkey has feathers primarily light Buff or white.
13. Narragansett Turkey
The Narragansett turkey is among the heritage turkey breeds popular in the early 1900s. This bird was named from the Native American tribe and was once New England’s most common turkey breed.
The Narragansett is a medium-sized bird with dark feathers and a copper-colored breast. These turkeys are known for being good foragers and excellent mothers. The Narragansett is a great choice if you’re looking for a heritage breed well-suited to life on a small farm.
14. Broad-Breasted Whites
The most significant concern with the breed is their tendency to go broody (think about nesting). As a result, it’s difficult for people to raise them commercially because they can’t produce eggs or meat.
They also have a high feed conversion rate. These breeds require more food than other breeds of turkey to grow as large and healthy as quickly as possible.
While heritage turkey breeds may not be as popular as they once were, many people still appreciate their unique qualities. This list of heritage turkey breeds might help you find your new favorite Turkey!