Gobble This: 8 Amazing Heritage Turkey Breeds

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists 8 Heritage Turkeys โ€“ naturally delicious heirloom breeds that once teetered on the edge of extinction.

Black Turkey

(images via: GRIT and Community Chickens)

Black Turkeys are also known as “Black Spanish” turkeys, as the breed can be traced back to native birds brought back to Spain by 16th century explorers. European emigrants to the New World subsequently took their prized turkeys with them and the breed was eventually recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874.

(image via: ABCs Of Animal World)

Black Turkeys are renowned for their calm and placid disposition along with robust fertility – today’s factory-farmed turkeys have lost the ability to mate and reproduce on their own. This heritage breed’s shiny black feathers display a beautiful green iridescence under sunny skies. More prosaically, Black Turkeys are famed for their sublime flavor when cooked, and their meat is so naturally juicy the birds are virtually self-basting.

Bronze Turkey

Bronze Turkeys are spectacularly beautiful birds whose feathers appear almost metallic; shades of coppery hue highlighted by accents of blue and green. This particular heritage turkey breed emerged in the 18th century when American colonists crossed domestic turkeys from Europe with native wild turkeys. In the early 20th century, so-called Standard Bronze Turkeys were intensively bred for size, becoming the Broad Breasted Bronze Turkey which is one of the mainstays of the modern large-scale turkey farming industry.

Narragansett Turkey

(images via: BackYard Chickens and Guttenberg Organic Farms)

The Narragansett Turkey is another, lesser-known cross between domestic and wild turkeys developed by colonial American farmers. Named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, this turkey made up the backbone of the early turkey industry in Connecticut and Rhode Island before being displaced by the Bronze Turkey the early 20th century. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, “The Narragansett was not used for commercial production for decades until the early 21st century, when renewed interest in the biological fitness, survivability, and superior flavor captured consumer interest and created a growing market niche.”

(image via: Turksnmor Poultry Farm)

Narragansett Turkeys were favored for a number of characteristics that may seem strange to those who think all domestic turkeys are white and live on factory farms. These black, gray, tan, and white feathered birds are known to be fast runners and competent fliers who prefer to roost in trees at night if possible. They also have keen eyesight that allowed them to forage for crickets, grasshoppers and other ground insects, and thus allowed farmers to save substantially on supplemental feed costs.