What are Heritage turkeys? According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, turkeys must meet all of the following criteria to qualify as a Heritage turkey:
• Naturally mating: the Heritage Turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating, with expected fertility rates of 70-80%.
• Long productive lifespan: the Heritage Turkey must have a long productive lifespan. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years.
• Slow growth rate: the Heritage Turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth.
Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in 26 – 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. This growth rate is identical to that of the commercial varieties of the first half of the 20th century.
Founded in 1977, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is the pioneer organization in the U.S. working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. The ALBC is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect over 150 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. Included are asses, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys.
Bio: Marjorie Bender joined the staff in January 1999 and serves as Research and Technical Program Director. She has a M.Ed. in Agricultural Science from the University of California-Davis, has been involved in sustainable agriculture since 1991, and has over 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Marjorie’s responsibilities include coordinating the poultry census, promoting rare breeds into appropriate habitats, and working closely with other staff on timely conservation activities. She has led ALBC’s heritage turkey conservation effort. For more information about the work that ALBC does, visit www.albc-usa.org.