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Turkeys Going Extinct

April 1, 2014
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis sounds like a bad April Fool’s joke doesn’t it?! What would Thanksgiving or Christmas be without turkey! After all – turkey isn’t just for holidays – turkey subs and ground turkey are good any time!

One of the things in our crowdsourcing project is fencing and housing for turkeys, specifically rare breed turkeys. Turkeys are familiar to many, with most often the broad breasted bronze, broad breasted white or wild turkey getting into images.

That leaves breeds like our Midget White hurting.The commercial birds are popular for what they do – grow at a fast rate, with all white breast meat abundant and reasonable cost. That’s what consumers want. Recently I saw whole turkeys at the grocery store for 88cents per pound.

No doubt about it, we can’t compete with that. High volume, discount for volume feed and a better processing deal means a great deal for turkey sandwiches. But think with me here just a minute.

Those turkeys are raised on an efficient scale, with equipment spread over tens of thousands of birds rather than hundreds. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing – it just is. I recently verified with my friend Lara that the average turkey barn handles 15,000-20,000 turkeys. No, those turkeys are not extinct. They’re not in danger of it any time soon. But keep that figure in mind for a few minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur Midget White turkeys,there’s less than 1,000 left in the world. Ditto the buff turkey, chocolate turkey and Beltsville Small. These breeds are critically endangered. A step up, if you can call it that, is the Narragansett and White Holland – fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in just 7 breeding flocks in the USA. The Bourbon Red, Black Spanish  and Royal Palm are still at watch status with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, but still not numerous at about 5,000 breeding females. These rare breeds could fit in ONE good sized commercial barn. That’s all of them. When they’re gone there are no more of them.

Does it matter? It does if you believe in food choices! Remember the horror stories of thousands of birds dying in those barns in power outages? Our birds have been outside in heat and in freezing weather, with shelter if they want it. They are adapted for outside, and excel in that situation.

Heritage turkeys are different in many ways, from the management to the seeking food out beyond a feeder. When multiple breeds can fit within the space of two conventional barns and that’s all there is forever, it’s seen as somehow less important than the fish that has shut down water for many in California…why is one a protect at all costs and the other not recognized by many? Because they’re just food?

And if they’re that rare why eat them? That’s a great question actually! Basic biology says that in a group of births, statistically there will be about half male, half female. However, not all the males are needed for breeding. The excess turkeys can be used for food, offsetting the costs of keeping them and acting as food choices in action.

While many wait until November to think about turkey, we’re thinking about it now.In order to get the turkeys raised we have to plan now for getting them here, fenced and growing.

There are other breeds that can provide turkey sandwiches and holiday meals. We think the other turkey breeds are important too. We think conservation of those breeds – including growing for food –  is needed to insure demand which encourages people to raise them.

We hope you do too, and will support us in the quest to keep their numbers up. Extinct is forever, and we may need them again!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2014 12:01 AM

    Nowadays people are raising turkeys commercially. So this will keep them safe from being extinct. But turkeys in the wild are really going to extinct.

    • April 2, 2014 10:03 AM

      Commercial turkeys are not the rare breeds though – and turkeys in the wild are rebounding. The numbers of heritage breeds, yes, is dwindling. Without a ‘job’ and support they will cease.With low numbers a storm, theft, predator can do a considerable amount of damage.

  2. April 2, 2014 12:10 AM

    Great post – thanks! I have a small breeding flock of Ridley Bronze turkeys and it’s hard, sometimes, trying to explain why it’s important to keep them around. They aren’t huge, they don’t have the breast meat of the commercial birds, and they take their own sweet time to get to market size, but I totally agree with you that if we lose the genetics in these hardy, heritage breeds we are going down a dangerous road indeed.

    • April 2, 2014 10:07 AM

      Thanks for stopping by! The genetics of rare breeds as a whole are important, I think. It’s easy to think a turkey is a turkey – there’s many chickens so who cares about rare ones – never mind the rare breeds today’s animals are…! What if things shift and today’s animals are not in their ideal, productive environment? People say it won’t happen but it IS happening in hogs…consumer demand is again changing the kind of pig needed.

  3. May 12, 2015 9:42 AM

    Turkeys are becoming endangered by habitat loss and now conservation sources saved them from becoming endangered in the 1930s

    • May 15, 2015 10:33 PM

      I don’t think you read the post. Am not talking about wild turkeys but domestic ones. The habitat is the small farm. Thanks for stopping by.

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