turkey on farm at sunset

Turkey Breeds

Turkey Breeds: Wild - Standard & Heritage - Non-Standard but Heritage - Rare - Commercial

What brought the various turkey breeds to the table?

How does the turkey fit into the taxonomic classification?

What follows is a brief history, description and classification of the various breeds of turkey. We look at the wild ones, the Standard and Heritage turkeys and commercial varieties of the bird.

 

Turkeys have the following Taxonomic Classification:

There are two species of turkey: Agriocharis oscellata from southeast Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize; and, Meleagris gallopavo the North American Wild Turkey and the domestic turkey.

The Meleagris gallopavo is the important commercial bird.

* Kingdom: Animalia

* Phylum: Chordata

* Class: Aves

* Order: Galliformes

* Family: Meleagrididae

* Genus: Meleagris

* Species: Meleagris gallopavo and Agriocharis oscellata

Wild Turkeys:

 

There are six subspecies sometimes referred to as turkey breeds of the Meleagris gallopavo (M.g.)


M. g. sylvestris- Eastern Wild Turkey

 

M. g. gallopavo- South Mexican turkey

 

M. g. osceola- Florida turkey

 

Rio Grande Turkies

M. g. intermedia- Rio Grande turkey (Illustration by Diane Jacky)

M. g. merriami- Merriam's turkey

M. g. mexicana - Gould's turkey

 

If You Raise Turkeys Please Click Here!

We have information about raising turkeys - and we would love to hear about your experience.

 

Standard Turkey Criteria

The American Poultry Association (APA) promotes pure breeding and protects the standard-bred poultry industry. They publish the Standard of Perfection, and they are the group that can admit a variety to "Standard."

These "Standards" are often referred to as turkey "breeds." Many of these breeds have been listed by the APA since the end of the nineteenth century.

Heritage Turkey Criteria

A Heritage turkey must:
  • have resulted from natural mating of both its parents and grandparent.
  • have a long productive outdoor life span
  • .
  • have a slow to moderate growth rate reaching market weight in about 28 weeks.

The following breeds are Standard and Heritage turkeys which were also on Slow Food's "Ark of Taste:"


Narragansett Turkies

Narragansett Turkey - A turkey breed named for its area of origin on Narragansett Bay Rhode Island - admitted to standard in 1874. Hen is 14 lbs. tom 23 lbs.under one year of age. (Illustration by Diane Jacky)

American Bronze - Also called Bronze and "unimproved Bronze" was bred from stock imported to America by colonialists and Eastern Wild Turkeys - admitted to standard in 1874.

The "unimproved" in the name indicates that this type of bird was the foundation stock along with Jesse Throssel's Sheffield Bronze turkeys, which became the Broad Breasted Bronze - see Turkey History. Hen is 16 lbs. tom 25 lbs.under one year of age.

 

Bourbon Red Turkey - Developed in Bourbon county Kentucky in the late 1800s from Buff, Bronze, and White Holland - admitted to standard in 1909. Hen is 14 lbs. tom 23 lbs.under one year of age. (Illustration by Diane Jacky)

The following breeds are Standard and Heritage:

White Holland - Bred in Europe from North American Wild Turkey stock and brought to America - admitted to Standard in 1874. Hen is 16 lbs. tom 25 lbs.under one year of age.

Black - Bred in Europe from North American Wild Turkey stock and brought to America - admitted to Standard in 1874. This turkey breed is also called Spanish Black and Norfolk Black. Hen is 14 lbs. tom 23 lbs.under one year of age.(Illustration by Diane Jacky)


Slate - Named for its color which resulted from a genetic mutation - admitted to standard in 1874. Also called Blue Slate. Hen is 14 lbs. tom 23 lbs.under one year of age.(Illustration by Diane Jacky)

 

Beltsville Small White - Developed by the USDA in Beltsville MD and distributed worldwide from 1941 to 1962 - admitted to standard in 1951. Hen is 10 lbs. tom 17 lbs.under one year of age.

Royal Palm - One of the smallest breeds and very attractive (white with black edging on its feathers) - admitted to Standard in 1977. Hen is 10 lbs. tom 16 lbs.under one year of age. (Illustration by Diane Jacky)

The following breed is non-Standard but is Heritage and is on the "Ark of Taste:"

Jersey Buff - Named for its color and area of origin (New Jersey) - accepted to Standard in 1874, but dropped in 1915 because there were so few birds. They are now almost extinct. Hen is 12 lbs. tom 21 lbs.under one year of age.

The following breed is non-Standard but is Heritage:

White Midget - Developed in the 1960's at the University of Massachusetts to meet expected demand for smaller turkeys. This bird was developed by crossing a Broad Breasted White with a Royal Palm. Hen is 8.2 lbs. tom 13.8 lbs.at 20 weeks..

The following breeds are non-Standard and are not Heritage:

Broad-Breasted Bronze - Introduced from England to Canada in the 1900s, then to the western U.S. and crossed with U.S. stock. This was the commercial turkey of choice before the Broad Breasted White. Although this bird is not a Heritage Turkey, it is studied by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). (Illustration by Diane Jacky)

Broad Breasted White - The only commercially important turkey today. Bred from the White Holland and Broad Breasted Bronze. Commercially today in North America there are only 2 strains of this bird owned by just two companies: Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms of Lewisburg, West Virginia; and Hybrid Turkeys of Ontario, Canada. This bird takes just 12 to 18 weeks to reach 14 to 20 lbs. (Illustration by Diane Jacky)

We wish to thank Diane Jacky for her permission to include her illustrations depicting many of the breeds. If you would like to browse her unique poultry gifts click here.

The Following Turkeys are additional varieties designated Old and Rare by the SPPA (Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities)

Auburn (Light Brown Turkey)

Silver Auburn

Black Wing Bronze (Crimson Dawn)

Blue Bronze

Calico

Chocolate

Lavender

Lilac

Mottled

Silver Narragansett

Grizzled Nebraska

Spotted Nebraska

Regal Red

Blue Palm

Red Palm

Sweet Grass

The following are designated Rare by the SPPA

Apricot

Silver Auburn

Chestnut Blue

Harvest Gold

Nittany

Oregon Gray

 

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