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Heritage Turkeys

Updated on October 20, 2011
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

Free-Range Heritage Turkeys for Thanksgiving

It is not too early to "engage your turkey" for thanksgiving dinner. That is an expression my mother and the ladies of her time used back in the days before frozen poultry was available in the supermarket. It meant mother had spoken to Ed, the butcher down at the B&W Grocery store weeks ahead of time to order her fresh a 20 pound turkey to be picked up on Tuesday before the big day.

As more and more people become concerned about where their food is coming from and what is fed to the poultry we eat they are looking for free range organically fed turkeys for Thanksgiving Dinner.

My neighbor is an organic meat farmer. He raises natural free-ranging cattle, hogs, chickens and the newest addition to his farm, heritage turkeys. These free ranging big birds have been amusing to watch from my office window. I have enjoyed photographing them as well. They are very attractive, and not so shy as the wild turkeys that disappear into thin air the moment I reach for a camera. But the heritage turkeys are more closely related and look much more like their wild cousins that the industrial bird we see in the grocery stores.

What is a heritage turkey? The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy defines them as turkeys that meet three criteria: naturally mating – did you know that the ordinary supermarket varieties of turkeys cannot stand to mate unassisted? The heritage turkeys must have a long productive lifespan, and a slow growth rate, taking 26-28 weeks to reach market weight.

Breeds accepted by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy include Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm, Jersey Buff, White Midget, and some others. These all meet the three-point criteria.

Where to Buy a Heritage Turkey

The free-range heritage turkeys are said to be tastier than the fast growing supermarket bird. The meat of the heritage is moister and they are free of additives such as antibiotics, animal by-products, hormones, and preservatives that are fed to industrial turkeys.

Because it takes much longer to raise heritage turkeys to market size you will pay considerably more to have one as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table. For example to order a 9-11 pound heritage turkey online from Mary’s Turkeys will cost you $91.00. To save money, leave a smaller footprint on the environment and to insure freshness try to find a local supplier.  To find local growers contact your county cooperative extension office, the local farmers markets or visit the LocalHarvest website [ ]and search for farmers in your area. For more information visit The Heritage Turkey Foundation online.

These Heritage Turkeys Look More Like Their Wild Cousins than the Industrial Turkey


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    • Paulette305 profile image


      9 years ago

      Very interesting information. I never even knew that Heritage Turkeys existed. They sound tasty and I believe that if our supermarkets were filled with food of this quality there would be less cases of cancer and other diseases.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 years ago from California Gold Country

      Much prettier than the white turkeys you usually see at the meat farms.

      We have wild ones here in the hills too. They are not really native to this area, but a couple of generations back some ranchers here had them brought out from the east so they could hunt them. They are seen fairly often here.

      Nice to see people taking the trouble to raise them free-range in a more natural state.

      Those are beautiful photos.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Darn, $91.00? That would feed my household for two weeks. Glad to know they can be found locally. Pretty birds; good info.


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