A Heritage turkey is one of a variety of domestic turkeys which retain historic characteristics that are no longer present in the majority of turkey raised for consumption since the middle 20th century. Heritage turkeys can be distinguished from domestic turkeys because they are biologically capable of living in a manner that more nearly resemble their wild counterparts.
Heritage turkeys have a long life span, with some living up to 15 years, and grow at a slower rate than industrial turkeys. Unlike industrial turkeys, heritage turkeys can reproduce without artificial insemination.
There are more than ten different turkey breeds, including the Auburn, Buff, Black, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Royal Palm, Slate, Standard Bronze, Pied, Harvey speckled and Midget White.
Some prominent chefs, farmers, and food critics have argued that heritage turkey meat tastes better and is healthier than conventional turkeys.
Domestic turkeys, including heritage turkey breeds, come from the wild turkey, Meleagris gallopava, which is native only to the American continent. Spanish explorers brought some that had been tamed by indigenous Americans to Europe, Asia, and North America.
It was called “Turkey” because it reached European tables via shipping routes that passed through the country. During a time when fine dining still included eating ostriches, emus, and bustards, turkeys quickly became favourite meat due to its taste and the amount of meat on each bird.
When the first English settlers arrived in North America, they found the same birds running wild, and they were amazed to discover that these birds tasted really good because of their natural diet of nuts, beechnuts, and other native fruits.
One of the reasons Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national symbol was because he thought it was a beautiful, genuine American bird that tasted delicious and had tremendous economic value for the colonists at the time.
Are heritage turkeys better?
This is a very subjective question and it depends on the reason you are looking for a turkey! Heritage turkeys taste better than standard domestic turkeys as they mature slower. However, heritage turkeys normally dress out slightly smaller than a commercial turkey.
Because heritage turkeys often live in a way that is closer to their wild counterparts, lots of food professionals believe they are healthy for you than standard domestic turkeys, including having higher antioxidants and lower cholesterol levels.
If you are looking to raise turkeys, then we believe that heritage turkeys are much better to raise than a domestic turkey. They can mate without needing any human interference, often get broody and are great at raising their young themselves. Plus if you raise them for meat, the taste is amazing!
Do heritage turkeys taste good?
Heritage turkeys taste great! They are slightly more ‘gamey’ than traditional turkeys and have a more complex flavour.
Heritage turkeys also have a larger amount of darker meat. We love heritage turkeys and would absolutely recommend them to anyone who hasn’t tried one yet.
However, If you want a more chicken like, milder, flavour then standard domesticated, commercial turkeys would be a good choice for you.
How much is a heritage turkey?
A standard, domesticated, commercial turkey costs around $1-2 per pound. A heritage turkey will cost you between $4 and $8 per pound.
The price will vary depending on where you buy your heritage turkey from. We would recommend finding a farm or homestead locally to you where you can buy a turkey directly from. This will reduce the price and also guarantee you a fresh bird that has been cared for throughout their life.
You may find cheaper prices online but you will need to check with the seller about how fresh the turkey is, and also that it is definitely a heritage turkey.
Are heritage turkeys worth the money?
Yes! Heritage turkeys are worth every penny and more. You will not regret buying one, whether you are buying one that has already been prepped ready to eat or if you are buying a turkey to raise for eggs or meat.
Heritage turkeys are great, especially if you are new to raising turkeys. There are many benefits to raising heritage turkeys such as:
– Heritage turkeys are healthier for you than standard commercially raised turkeys.
– Heritage turkeys are less likely to suffer from diseases that affect commercial turkeys.
– Heritage turkeys grow faster than standard turkeys so they are ready for market earlier.
– Heritage turkeys are naturally more nutritious.
– Heritage turkeys are easier to care for than standard turkeys.
– Heritage turkeys produce eggs and meat that tastes incredible.
– Heritage turkeys are a lot of fun to watch grow up.
Can I eat my heritage turkey after it’s been killed?
Absolutely yes! Heritage turkeys are great for meat and taste fantastic.
How many eggs will a heritage turkey lay?
A heritage turkey will lay anywhere from 60 to 150 eggs a year. depending on the breed. Some breeds are prolific layers, such as Narragansett turkeys whilst some lay a lot less.
All heritage turkeys have rich, fantastic tasting eggs which can be eaten or incubated to raise more turkeys.
How old should heritage turkeys be before butchering?
Heritage turkeys grow and mature much slower than standard commercial birds. We recommend that heritage turkeys are slaughtered between 7-18 months.
They taste fantastic at any point during these ages. The younger birds (7-12 months) have a lighter tasting meat whilst still being more gamey and complex than standard commercial turkeys. The older birds have a much more complex, deep, dark gamey taste.
How long do heritage turkeys live?
Heritage turkeys live for a long life span. Some breeds can live up to 15 years. On average a heritage turkey lives for between 6-10 years whilst being in captivity. In the wild these birds have a much shorter life span of 2-3 years.
How big do heritage turkeys get?
A heritage turkey can grow up to 20kg. An average heritage turkey, depending on the breed, can weigh between 7-18kg. Male heritage turkeys are much heavier than females.
If you leave them to grow past their first Christmas and have them the following year, the taste is fantastic and they will be much bigger.
Are heritage turkeys endangered?
No, heritage turkeys are not endangered. However some species of heritage turkeys have very low numbers and need more breeders creating a larger population. There was a period of time when the number of breeders was very low and the number of heritage turkeys became very low.
However, due to the modern resurgence and demand for higher quality meat, heritage turkey numbers are increasing. We are keen on ensuring that the great mix of heritage breeds is maintained as we believe all the different heritage turkeys have great characteristics!
How do you keep heritage turkeys from flying away?
There are a variety of different options to keep your heritage turkeys from flying away:
– Fully Enclosed Pen. This needs to have lots of room (20 sq ft per bird) and be fully enclosed around the sides and across the top.
– Clipping their wings. If you clip your turkeys wings you can keep them in a pen with fences of at least 7 ft high.
– Electric fences
– If you let them free range, they will return for food and water once they are old enough to know it comes regularly.
Can heritage turkeys mate naturally?
Yes, heritage turkeys can mate naturally. It is a fantastic ritual to watch and only happens during the spring and summer seasons.
Do heritage turkeys have white meat?
Yes, but they have a lot less white meat than a traditional turkey. Heritage turkeys have mainly a more complex, game type flavour. They taste fantastic and we would recommend trying one if you haven’t already!