Heritage breed turkeys in many cases are considered endangered; however seem to be making a remarkable comeback as more and more small time farmers are going back to these wonderful breeds. While their meat is considered more favorable and richer than the industrialized commercial breeds, they lost favor in the market as they take longer to mature. A commercial turkey, normally the broad breasted white, is fast to mature with more meat on them usually reaching market weight at 14 to 18 weeks of age where heritage breeds reach slaughter weight at around 28 weeks. This means for commercial producers it costs less to raise the more in favor Broad breasted white turkeys and therefore is more profitable for them to raise.
Since a broad breasted turkey reaches an earlier maturity weight quicker they fail to have the time to build up fat layers like the heritage breeds, the reason for difference in flavoring of the meat. There are several breeds that are considered heritage breeds such as the Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Chocolate, Slate, Buff, Narragansett, Auburn, Black and Standard Bronze turkey. These all retain the similar qualities more like the wild turkey with a fairly long life span and ability to reproduce being more suited for free ranging.
To be considered a heritage breed they must be able to naturally reproduce, have a slow to moderate growth rate and have a long and productive lifespan. When the broad breasted white and broad breasted bronze turkeys were developed they were done so in order to achieve large breasts and shorter legs than typical turkeys. This rendered them with the inability to naturally reproduce having to be artificially inseminated. Being the choice for commercial operations they also typically have a much shorter lifespan being butchered before 4 months of age.
While heritage turkey breeds are smaller than commercial breeds, they are still well suited for the family farm. They are extremely beautiful birds and are also considered a healthier meat due to them being pasture raised. Heritage breeds of turkey have a higher level of omega 3 fatty acids which help reduce the risk of heart diseases.
It is important to try to preserve these wonderful heritage breeds that are working on making a comeback. Heritage Turkey breeds were one of the only animals domesticated in America and has wonderful genetic traits that were developed specifically for our area. They are hardy and disease resistant, have not lost the ability to breed naturally, or fly or lost their intelligence for that matter. Some of these wonderful breeds were on the verge of becoming completely extinct however huge efforts have been proving successful of the return of interest and conserving these breeds.