Cash Crops for Small Farms: Heritage Turkeys
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.
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.
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.
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.