What is a Bourbon Red Heritage Turkey?

The Bourbon Red turkey is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky where it was first bred,  plus the colour of their reddish plumage. The breed standard indicates that mature Bourbon Red tom males weigh 15 kilograms (33 lbs), and mature hen females weigh 8.2 kilograms.

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The breed standard indicates that the Bourbon Red should weigh between 10.4 and 14.6 kilograms (23 and 33 pounds) at 28 weeks old. These standards were published with the expectation of the potential of the bourbon red and when the breed was in its prime.

Today, the Bourbon Red standard is rarely achieved by breeders and growers. However, some breeders and growers are trying to restore the standard. Bourbon Reds have not been refined enough because they haven’t been selectively bred with enough rigour for a long time.

However, mature turkeys in a breeding flock will often exhibit an intense fluctuation of 30% from these published weights during their relentless, extensive, and highly instinctive breeding seasons with their lowest weights typically occurring in July.

The bird’s plumage is a dark base color, which has white primary feathers in the tail characterized by an orange band and white flight feathers; both the tail feathers and wings have chestnut coverts. The standard allows for up to 30 percent red feathers in the tail of a bird before it is disqualified.

Historically, the breed has alternately been known as Kentucky Reds and Bourbon Butters. The turkey originated in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, and was created by crossbreeding Buff, Standard Bronze, and White Holland turkeys. It was first recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909.

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Bourbon Red turkeys were selectively bred for utility traits as a meatbird, and were an important variety in the poultry industry throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. After the commercial adoption of the Broad Breasted White, the decline of the Bourbon Heritage turkey began. Populations of the Bourbon Red turkey began to recover in the 21st century, and it remains one of the most popular heritage turkeys in the United States.

Despite its relative popularity, it is still listed by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy as “watch”, meaning that there are fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the U S. It is also included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a catalog listing heritage American foods in danger of extinction

When do Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys lay eggs?

Bourbon Red hens start laying eggs when they’re about 6 and 8 months old. A hen might lay a few more eggs in the fall before the winter season starts but will stop laying as the days get shorter and the cold weather kicks in.

What time of year do Bourbon Red Heritage turkeys start laying eggs?

Bourbon Red turkeys can be expected to start laying eggs from March/April until late May or early June. This may vary depending on the weather during the season and also which area of the country they are in. They are prolific layers and can lay up to 160 eggs a year.

Can Bourbon Red turkeys breed naturally?

Yes. Like many other heritage turkeys, the Bourbon Red turkeys are also naturally very good breeders They will lay eggs easily and produce fertile eggs if you keep good ratios of hens and toads in your flock. One mature and healthy tom is usually enough for breeding around or even up to eight to ten hens. Bourbon Red Turkeys get broody naturally and make great mothers.

How long does it take for a Bourbon Red turkey egg to hatch?

The average incubation period for a Bourbon Red Turkey egg is 28 days. If you are hatching multiple eggs the sound of one poult hatching out can encourage others to start pipping. As with all heritage turkeys,  If your eggs go over the 28 day stage, don’t be tempted to help with the hatching process – the poults will be much healthier and stronger by hatching themselves. We look forward to hearing about your Bourbon Red Turkey poults.

Why did my Bourbon Red turkey stop laying eggs?

Bourbon Red turkeys will stop laying once their nests are full. You will need to remove the eggs regularly to ensure that they continue to lay. You can eat the Bourbons eggs or hatch them into poults. If their nest isn’t full, ensure that they have a comfortable, dry, nesting area. Also make sure that it is the right season, Bourbon Red turkeys only lay during spring and early summer.

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If all the above has been checked and the turkeys are still not laying, it may be worth checking that they are healthy and well. We have a few articles on turkey illnesses that may help.

How long will a Bourbon Red turkey live for? 

According to online articles, Bourbon Red turkeys can live up to 15 years, however, this is extremely rare. The average lifespan of a domesticated heritage Bourbon Red Turkey is around 10 years. As Bourbon Reds age the female turkeys will lay less and less eggs.

Obviously in the wild, turkeys have a much shorter average lifespan of 3-5 years.

Are there any special requirements I need to know before buying a Bourbon Red Heritage turkey?

There are no specific requirements to buy a Bourbon Red Heritage bird. Just like all turkeys, they grow to a reasonably large size so need a reasonable space to thrive. We recommend a minimum of 20 square feet per bird. You will need a secure area with at least 8 foot fences, or a completely enclosed cover, if you want to keep them penned. If you want to free-range Bourbon Red turkeys then you will need to put them back to bed each night as they will not put themselves home like chickens do.

Obviously, if you want to hatch eggs then you need to purchase a male bird as well as female turkeys!

How do Bourbon Red turkeys mate?

During the mating season, turkeys mate between February and June.

The male turkeys dance to attract the female turkeys and interested female turkeys lay low for the male turkeys to hop up on them. It’s an impressive spectacle and we have some videos on our site of the overall process!

During the process, the Bourbon Red male turkey presses his cloaca against the female’s cloaca and transfers sperm into her cloaca where it moves to the female’s oviduct and then to the ovum where it fertilizes the yolk.

Bourbon Red Heritage turkeys mate during the day and then the females go about their ways looking for a place to nest.

What do Bourbon Red turkeys eat?

About 10% of a wild turkey’s diet consists mainly of insects, including stinkbugs, grasshoppers, ground beetles, snails, slugs and worms, as well as spiders and other invertebrate creatures.

The rest of their diet consists mostly of seeds, grasses, fruits, nuts, berries and grains.

If you are keeping your Bourbon Red turkeys penned then feed them a variety of food, ranging from high quality turkey food, nettles, nuts and seeds.

Do Bourbon Red turkeys eat insects?

Yes, Bourbon Red turkeys will eat insects, including grasshoppers, beetles, snails, slugs and worms. They will also eat spiders and other insects.

Are Bourbon Red turkeys good mothers?

Yes, Bourbon Red turkeys are excellent mothers. They love to take care of their young. They will even help feed their babies by regurgitating food into their mouths.

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They will raise their young extremely well.


Can I keep my Bourbon Red turkey in the house?

We don’t recommend keeping your Bourbon Red Turkeys inside. That is not where they naturally live. They will thrive outside where they have space to range.

Are Bourbon Red turkeys broody?

Bourbon Red turkeys will get broody naturally during the laying season. Assuming they have a comfortable nest area and you leave their eggs in the nest, female Bourbon Red turkeys will get broody and lay on the eggs.

They will do this for a period of 28 days until the eggs hatch naturally.

Are Bourbon Red turkeys endangered?

Bourbon Red Heritage turkeys became threatened as the commercial broad-breasted turkey became the popular turkey to farm. Populations began to recover in the early 21st century, and today it is one of the most popular heritage turkey breeds in the U.S.

Despite its relatively high popularity among heritage breeds, it is still listed by the American Livestocks Breed Conservancy as a watch breed.

The Bourbon Red turkey is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky where it was first bred,  plus the colour of their reddish plumage. The breed standard indicates that mature Bourbon Red tom males weigh 15 kilograms (33 lbs), and mature hen females weigh 8.2 kilograms.

A picture containing outdoor, bird, ground, gallinaceous bird

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The breed standard indicates that the Bourbon Red should weigh between 10.4 and 14.6 kilograms (23 and 33 pounds) at 28 weeks old. These standards were published with the expectation of the potential of the bourbon red and when the breed was in its prime.

Today, the Bourbon Red standard is rarely achieved by breeders and growers. However, some breeders and growers are trying to restore the standard. Bourbon Reds have not been refined enough because they haven’t been selectively bred with enough rigour for a long time.

However, mature turkeys in a breeding flock will often exhibit an intense fluctuation of 30% from these published weights during their relentless, extensive, and highly instinctive breeding seasons with their lowest weights typically occurring in July.

The bird’s plumage is a dark base color, which has white primary feathers in the tail characterized by an orange band and white flight feathers; both the tail feathers and wings have chestnut coverts. The standard allows for up to 30 percent red feathers in the tail of a bird before it is disqualified.

Historically, the breed has alternately been known as Kentucky Reds and Bourbon Butters. The turkey originated in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, and was created by crossbreeding Buff, Standard Bronze, and White Holland turkeys. It was first recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909.

A group of chickens

Description automatically generated with low confidence

Bourbon Red turkeys were selectively bred for utility traits as a meatbird, and were an important variety in the poultry industry throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. After the commercial adoption of the Broad Breasted White, the decline of the Bourbon Heritage turkey began. Populations of the Bourbon Red turkey began to recover in the 21st century, and it remains one of the most popular heritage turkeys in the United States. Despite its relative popularity, it is still listed by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy as “watch”, meaning that there are fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the U S. It is also included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a catalog listing heritage American foods in danger of extinction