All domesticated turkeys descend from wild turkeys indigenous to North and South America. They are the quintessential American poultry.

Heritage turkeys are defined by the historic, range-based production system in which they are raised. Turkeys must meet all of the following criteria to qualify as heritage birds:

1. Natural Mating: A heritage turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating, with expected fertility rates of 70 to 80 percent. This means that turkeys marketed as “hertage” must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.

2. Long Productive Outdoor Lifespan: Breeding hens are com- monly productive for 5 to 7 years and breeding toms for 3 to 5 years. A heritage turkey must also have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.

3. Slow Growth Rate: Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. This growth rate is identical to that of the commercial varieties during the first half of the 20th century.

The American Poultry Association (APA) lists eight varieties of turkeys in its Standard of Perfection. They are Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White and Royal Palm. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy also recognizes other naturally mating color varieties that have not been accepted into the APA Standard, such as the Jersey Buff, White Midget, and others.—Adapted from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

Up Next

The Heritage Grain Train

Wheat and grain have always been sacred and life sustaining.