I got into poultry through the kitchen. I wanted to serve my family the freshest, the cleanest and the most nutritious foods on the planet. And I especially wanted to showcase these foods on Thanksgiving. I’m guessing your family and your farm customers share this ideal.
But If you grow the giant turkey breeds - Nicholas Large White, Broad Breasted Bronze, even the heritage Bronze - you are going to harvest them when they are only about one third their genetic adult size. Baby animals grow their skeletons ahead of muscle mass, so a baby turkey is going to be boney, and a lot of the feed he ate was used to grow those bones, not meat.
This means that the meat to bone ratio will not be good. Big bones make the carving a challenge, and the portion sizes awkward, And you have to cook the stuffing separately to avoid overcooking the big bird. And then there’s all those bones going in the garbage.
Meanwhile, you could have grown a small breed turkey to about the same dressed weight, in the same time, with the same or less feed, and harvested more meat on a tidier bone structure. The genetically 'small' turkey will carve more neatly and there will be less waste.
But not all small turkeys are the same. Some are very slow growing, or lack a broad breast, or are inbreeding depressed and weak. What to choose?
By their reputation on the internet, Beltsville Small Whites would be the logical choice. But after 60 to 80 generations of inbreeding, these birds are not what they used to be. (And the same thing applies to most of the heritage chicken breeds.) Inbreeding affects the utility traits of a breed long before the superficial traits (plumage, skin colour, etc). So inbred birds grow more slowly, lay fewer eggs, have poor hatchability, less efficient digestion... etc. The surviving Beltsvilles are seriously inbred.
Hendrix Genetics - a livestock breeding company in Ontario - has done a brilliant job of ‘recreating’ the BSWs by repeating the original crosses. Some of the original foundation breeds had gone extinct since the 1940's, so they had to substitute others to maximize the heterosis in the new breed. They named this turkey Mini Classic.
Since 2020 I have been hatching Minis from eggs flown in from Hendrix. I can ship them in the same ways that I ship chicks (see our shipping page), or you can pick them up at the farm. Raising a few turkeys each year is one of the simplest and most rewarding of farm projects.
If you are one of the many people who has never considered any livestock bigger than chickens I urge you to give Minis a try. Turkey poults (that’s what you call the babies) are a little delicate in the first week or two, but once they get the hang of eating and drinking they are very easy to take care of. You can make that first week easy by putting a chick or two in with them. We’ve got a blog for turkey virgins here (click on it if you are interested).
Compared to chickens they are calmer and quieter, less likely to go walkabout, they don’t scratch plants up while foraging, and they are fabulous bug catchers!
But the real reason to grow your own turkeys is the amazing taste that the forage diet gives to the meat, coupled with the juiciness and succulence of a bird that cooked quickly because it was less boney than the baby giants you are used to.
And beyond your own Thanksgiving -
If you are looking for a short term money maker for your farm, turkeys are an excellent choice. Especially this year, because the supply of ‘table size’ turkeys at thanksgiving this year is going to be short, due to the Avian Flu outbreak in the Fraser Valley ( where most of BC’s turkey barns are located) last December.
There is much less competition selling direct-to-buyer turkey than meat birds, and since Minis are more feed efficient than chickens grown to roaster sizes they are cheaper per pound to grow. You can set a price that gives you a good profit. Most of our customers who sell turkey have increased their orders every year.
Something to think about.