TOP 5 Heritage Turkey Breeds in the US

If you have decided that you want to raise turkeys, then the next thing you need to do is to determine whether you want to raise commercial turkeys or heritage turkey breeds. They are different birds. Let’s see in more depth what are the heritage turkey breeds good for and what makes them so special, shell we?

What are Heritage Turkey Breeds?

Heritage Turkey Breeds are all turkey breeds that have common characteristics with the old turkey breeds that are no longer available.

The difference with the commercial (modern/farm) turkey breeds is in their needs, habits and behavior. The heritage turkey breeds temperament is more close to the wild turkeys in terms of their natural behavior.

You can read what is the difference between the heritage turkey breeds and the modern commercial turkeys in the last section of this article.

Heritage Turkey Breeds List

These are the top 5 Heritage turkey breeds in the US, recognized by the American Poultry Association:

1. Royal Palm Turkey

The development of the Royal Palm Turkey took place in Florida in the early 1920s. It was developed primarily for exhibition.

royal palm turkey - heritage turkey breed

However, this was very early development. It would still take a few decades before the Royal Palm Turkey would become an official heritage turkey breed in the eyes of breeding organizations.

it was admitted to he APA in 1977.

Because this turkey was deliberately bred to be small, it has never been a bird that has been used in the commercial meat industry.

Old males weigh 22 lbs, while the old hens around 12 lbs.

2. Slate Turkey

Admitted to the APA back in 1874, little is known about the origin of the Slate Turkey. However, this does seem to be the case for pretty much every single breed of turkey that appeared before the 1900s.

 Heritage Turkey  Breed - Slate
Photo by Jean

Weighing at around 33 lbs for males and 18 for females, this is not going to be the largest turkey around, but there are a lot of people out there that do not have a lot of space on their homestead and, as a result, want a smaller bird that they can raise for meat.

Since the Slate Turkey is smaller than a few other breeds like the Broad Breasted White , it means that you do not need to have a huge amount of space for it.

3. Narragansett

This heritage breed of turkey originates from Rhode Island, the place of origin of the famous Rhode Island Red chicken.

Heritage Turkey  Breed - Narragansett
Narragansett Turkey (photo source)

No-one actually knows when was this turkey developed. This is because during the 1870s, it became an officially recognized breed of turkey. Actually, it was admitted to the APA in 1874. It may even have been developed in the 1600s or 1700s.

The Narragansett turkey was developed from various birds sent over from Europe. These birds were crossed with the wild turkeys in the Narragansett region.

This breed can weigh up to 28 lbs, with hens capping out at the 16 lbs mark.

4. Bronze Turkey

For a long while, the Bronze Turkey was one of the most popular turkey breeds in the United States.

Heritage Turkey  Breeds

The standard Bronze turkey is considered as the ancestor to the Broad Breasted Bronze.

However, it does seem that most people seem to agree that this is an English bird that was brought over to the United States, so this is the story that we are going to go with.

5. Midget White Turkey

The Midget Turkey is one of the newer breeds of turkey developed at some point in the 1960s in Massachusetts by Dr. Robert Smyth.

(Photo by TheKarenD)

Since there are so few of this breed around now, and they have only existed for a couple of decades, there is not that much information out there about the personality of the breed.

What we have discovered does seem to indicate that they are a rather timid bird, and they should be fairly friendly. Perhaps the main issue is they do get scared easily, owing to their small size. So, if you do want to approach one, make sure that you do it nice and carefully.

This is one of the smallest turkeys around with males weighing around 13 lbs (6 kg) and females 8 lbs (3.5 kg).

Heritage Turkey Breeds Vs. Commercial Turkey Breeds

As we already said, the difference between the heritage turkeys and the commercial turkeys is in their needs, habits and temperament.

However, even the look of the heritage turkey breeds is different. They have different body shapes, different bone structure and even their heads are quite different, compared to the modern farm turkeys.

Other thing that we want to point out is that they grow very very slow. Today’s heritage turkeys reach their full weight at around 26 – 28 weeks old. While the commercial turkeys reach their market weight at 14 – 20 weeks.

The commercial hens are slaughtered at around 14–16 weeks and males at around 18–20 weeks of age when they can weigh a whooping 44 lb (20kg).

All of the above differences will have an impact on the way of raising and breeding them. For example the heritage turkeys are more suited for free-range conditions.

However, at the end, only you as a backyard poultry owner can decide what turkey breed is the best for you.

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