MANHATTAN, Kan. – The first stage of research on heritage-breed turkeys at Kansas State University is complete, a K-State animal scientist said.
This phase was to determine the production costs of the older turkey breeds, compared to production costs of turkeys the industry is producing today.
Twice as much. “The exact numbers aren’t available yet, but it looks like the production costs of heritage-breeds are about twice as much as the costs of the commercial breeds of today,” said Scott Beyer, poultry specialist for K-State Research and Extension.
Frank Reese Jr. of Lindsborg, Kan., donated the America bronze turkeys used in the K-State experiment. He has been raising the turkeys for more than 40 years at the Good Shepard Turkey Ranch Inc.
Modifications were made to existing facilities at K-State to accommodate the turkeys during the nine-month study. The turkeys were allowed to move around both inside and outside in long pens.
Heritage-breed turkeys are “slow food” because they take longer to mature before they are processed.
According to Mother Nature. Beyer said the turkeys are raised the way some people feel Mother Nature intended and are allowed to mature, which is different from how the industry typically produces turkeys today.
The production cost figures used for comparison in the study were the book values of the broad-breasted white meat turkeys the industry produces for sale in most retail grocery stores.
Commercial turkeys are grown and processed now in four to five months maximum, Beyer said.
They are raised for their meat and do not naturally reproduce. Commercial turkey eggs are artificially inseminated.
“Heritage-breed turkeys take about nine months to go from eggs to processing,” Beyer said. “They consume almost twice as much feed as the industry turkeys of today.”
Allowed to reproduce. The study’s American bronze turkeys and all other heritage breeds are allowed to reproduce naturally. This is another factor that influences the amount of time it takes to raise the birds – especially for the American bronze turkeys, which are not naturally fertile.
It’s not often that we get a chance to work with older birds with such quirks. The turkeys are old enough to fly and gobble,” Beyer said.
“The proportion of red to white meat is greater with these breeds. The degree of fat is higher. All of this and the maturity of the birds may contribute to the flavor of the meat.”
More study. Beyer plans to continue to study the heritage-breed turkeys. One of the things he wants to learn is what gives the heritage breeds their flavor.
He hopes to also study other heritage breeds, such as Royal Palm and Black Spanish turkeys.
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