Heritage Turkey Breeds: Which One is Right for You?


Tags: poultry, turkey,

It’s the time of year when people are thinking “turkey.” So, this is a good time to compare six heritage breeds of turkeys that we raise. We have been raising heritage turkeys for quite a few years now. It started with a pair of Midget Whites; our most recent addition is the Standard Bronze. At any time, we have approximately 100 turkeys on the farm.

We raise Midget White, Beltsville Small White, White Holland, Royal Palm, Bourbon Red and Standard Bronze turkeys. We originally planned to raise a small flock of turkeys for meat, but we liked them so much that one breed was not enough. The more we researched, the more we wanted to help preserve some of the rare breeds. Here’s a brief history of the breeds that we raise, listed by size small to large.

Midget White

In the 1960s, J. R. Smyth Jr., who holds a doctorate in poultry genetics and served on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., developed the Midget White as a small meat turkey. Unfortunately, they never really caught on and the flock was dispersed. (Read A History of the Midget White Turkey.) The Midget White and the Beltsville Small White were the only 2 breeds specifically bred for the modern poultry market; the others are much older breeds and were developed on a more local or geographic level. The Midget White was never accepted into the American Poultry Association (APA).

Mature toms (males) weigh 16 to 20 pound; hens, 8 to 12 pounds. The Midgets are easily the favorite at our table because they taste great, and we rank them No. 1. This breed also received the most votes at the second annual “Timeless Turkey” taste test of nine heritage breeds at Ayrshire Farm.

Midge Whites lay a surprisingly large egg for a small hen, which can cause prolapse problems with young hens on the first laying cycle. They tend to be early layers but go broody quickly, are good sitters and do well raising poults (babies). They have a calm nature. The hens can be fence-jumpers because of their light weight. For more information on Midget Whites, read Why the Midget White Turkey is the Perfect Homestead Turkey.

Midget white turkey tom

Linda Swihart
8/6/2011 7:58:22 AM

James -- look into WWOOF-USA (or other country WWOOF organizations, but if you're in the US there is prossibly a WWOOF host near you. I have a WWOOF host farm in Indiana, and it is a joy to meet new retirees or people about to make a change to the kind of thing you describe. See

James Lemmonds
7/8/2011 11:06:06 PM

Just retired fro the military and love turkeys. I have 5.5 acres and want to have a small farm raise heritage turkeys and organic chicken eggs and meat. Incandescent use all the info pushed. I would even be willing to come work a day two on a form for free just to see what you do. Maybe I could give good input. But I am new at this so be gentle. Thanks

Kate Grimsley_3
11/19/2009 7:21:06 AM

When deciding on a heritage turkey breed, don't limit yourself to the mere six choices presented in this article. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) lists 13 diverse breeds of turkey, any one of which making a fine backyard flock or Thanksgiving centerpiece. Check out albc-usa.org for the listing and descriptions of some wonderful turkeys. Can't remember if the article addresses this, but to be considered a "heritage breed" a breed of turkey must have the ability to naturally mate (the heavy breasts of the popular turkeys today make natural mating impossible), are long-lived, and mature at a slower rate than those commercial breeds. Every turkey listed by the ALBC, except for the Broad Breasted Bronze, are considered heritage. Good luck on your quest for turkeys!

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