What’s for Dinner?
Ben Franklin actually proposed this bird as our national symbol! Considering our debt situation he might have been right.
- Provides meat, eggs.
- Especially quiet, though the males do gobble its nothing like the volume of a rooster.
- Meat is high protein with with a good feed conversion ratio.
- Can raise a lot of meat in a descent space.
- Ready fliers in the breed we will discuss.
- Extremely low reproductive rate.
- Wastes can be a problem.
- Can be free ranged. But they are just a comfortable roosting in your neighbors tree as in your purpose built roosting shed.
- Raising poults is tricky and they have to be trained to eat and drink, but less of a problem once feathered out. Turkeys will brood a clutch of eggs however.
- Cost of poults these days approach the $10 per bird range.
Turkey hold a unique position as a food item. Though enjoyed all year round it has been an American tradition since the Pilgrims to have turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Nary a ham has ever graced a Norman Rockwell painting. ‘Nuf said.
Lets reduce the scope of the discussion. The typical butterball turkey that may have graced your table in November or December can neither reproduce or feed themselves out in the wild. They are a development of modern agrarian science. The craft has so advanced that reproduction is done by artificial insemination. And these commercial turkeys are endangered. Millions are produced every year but only two firms hold the trade secrets to their genetic lines, one of which is British! How about that for tradition? No old butterball won’t do.
So what are we talking about here? In the trade, `heritage` turkeys. One of several breed of turkeys that except for plumage Miles Standish would recognize. There are bronze, Royal Palm, Narragansett, Midget White to consider but a few. All can reproduce naturally to continue the flock. All have feeding requirements similar to chickens just more of it. A heritage turkey will not be as broad breasted as a butterball but the taste will be far superior. Fact the midget white was named best tasting turkey in a blind taste test by a group of well known chefs.
So if they taste so good why don’t more people raise turkeys? Cost for one. Whereas you could have eggs or meat from a chicken at say 16-18 weeks, a turkey will take 8-9 months to reach a consumable size. So if you want to raise your own turkey for Thanksgiving you would have to placed your order for poults in February! You then have to manage their care over the period and if you wish to free range them you run the chance of some flying the coop — for good. Considering that by the time Tday rolls around one can have $50 invested in one bird; that is a sizeable loss. There is also the issue of turkeys not being compatible with chickens. Chickens are carriers of a disease called Blackhead which is deadly to turkeys. So you can not have mixed housing of the two.
Why even consider them? Well for one, there is the pride in having a bird on the table raised on the homestead. To do so is a mark of a superb poultry manager. Their feed ratios are pretty good so that is in their favor. A turkey could be feed solely on seeds and table scraps diet that would impair the growth of your average chicken. Turkeys don’t crow constantly. Their gooble is more muted and is only invoked in males during the mating season lasting a month or so in the spring and fall. Turkeys are also pretty good at free ranging for part of their meal. They are also pretty darn smart as far as birds go. When I was a child a home flock would follow my grandfather out to the garden whenever he had the hoe in his hand. They knew grubs were to be unearthed. Otherwise they paid him no heed. As a meat bird no other bird provides the amount of meat in a single swing of the axe.
As a survival partner chickens are most likely the better choice. But there is one breed one might consider — Midget White. Even though the MW was developed in the early 60’s to meet a particular market segment that never developed they have all the attributes of a heritage turkey and are classed as such. Fact the MW nearly died out if it was not for luck. The thing is the MW is only a couple of pounds more than a White Orpington with a little taller stature that makes them look bigger. They can be housed in any setup that a Orpington could be housed in. So if you are more into the meat need than eggs a group of midget whites would be a good substitute for chickens and they winter better according to reports. If you wish to find out more, here is an interesting read.
If you want to strike for something different, up for a little challenge and have a homegrown turkey gracing your table its worth the try.