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Cash Crops for Small Farms: Heritage Turkeys

Updated on June 11, 2010

The modern commercial turkey is a freak of nature, so huge breasted that it is not even able to mate naturally, but must be artificially inseminated. Most are raised in confinement for the entirety of their short, miserable lives.

In recent years, there has been a growing market for heritage turkeys due to the superior flavor of the meat and the old fashioned charm of the birds. Many heritage breeds, such as the Standard Bronze and the Bourbon Red, might as well be a Thanksgiving card come to life.

Heritage turkey breeds are also typically hardier and more independent than modern commercial breeds, making them an especially good choice for small farmers, and they are generally raised under more humane conditions.

A Bourbon Red tom. Photo by galateadia.
A Bourbon Red tom. Photo by galateadia.

Heritage Turkey Breeds

Heritage turkeys are most commonly defined as naturally-mating, long-lived, slow-growing breeds of turkey. The following are a few of the best-known heritage turkey breeds:

Bourbon Red - A handsome bird that cleans well due to white pinfeathers, and is well known for its delicious flavor and excellent foraging abilities.

Beltsville Small White - A relatively small breed that dresses to about 8-15 pounds, perfect for home refrigerators and ovens.

Narragansett - A handsome medium-sized bird noted for its excellent flavor, exceptional foraging ability, and good mothering skills.

Royal Palm - Though this small, striking black and white bird is most commonly used as an exhibition breed, its excellent foraging skills can make it valuable for home meat production as well.

Standard Bronze - The most popular turkey breed for much of American history, the Standard Bronze is a large, handsome, and hardy bird. The larger Broad Breasted Bronze, which can not mate naturally, is not considered to be a heritage breed, but is also popular for specialty turkey production due to its traditional coloring.

For a more complete list of heritage turkey breeds, visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Making More Money With Heritage Turkeys

In the United States, turkey is primarily a seasonal market, so it’s important to have other income streams. Turkeys combine well with most livestock and crops, though young turkey poults are prone to catching a disease called blackhead (histomoniasis) even from seemingly healthy chickens.

You can increase your annual income from turkeys with these tips:

  • Organic and/or pastured turkey will fetch a higher price – up to $7 or 8 per pound in many areas.
  • If you are an experienced breeder, you can expect a good secondary income from high quality breeding pairs and poults.
  • Tail feathers can be used to make seasonal wreaths and other crafts for sale.

Legal Issues

Exact laws vary by state, but in many areas it is possible for small scale turkey producers to raise and slaughter their own birds without federal inspection.

For more information, check the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association bulletins Legal Issue for Small Scale Poultry Producers and Laws By State.


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    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 6 years ago from United States

      We love our Royal Palms! They're fun, sociable, beautiful, easy to keep, and also make good watch "dogs" - alerting us to all cars entering the yard, and other unusual activities.

    • astonerattnet profile image

      astonerattnet 7 years ago from South Central PA

      Yes, I have also found that turkeys are easy to raise, and there is a surprisingly good market for them.

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      Turkeys are easy to raise. I have never sold them but we do raise our own. Great hub!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I never knew there are varieties. Thank you for your informative hub.