If you love Thanksgiving, you are probably a fan of turkey. The meat of certain turkey breeds is considered superior to others, and you will be surprised how much people are willing to pay for the rare meat per pound. Of course, I am talking about heritage turkey breeds.
Unlike the broad-breasted breeds that are commercially bred and raised, heritage breeds not only grow and develop slower but their meat is also sought after for its more robust flavor.
Although the broad-breasted varieties come into the market under various brand names, turkey lovers are willing to spend up to $10 per pound or more at their local farmstand on heritage turkey breeds. These farmers justify the higher prices with the better welfare enjoyed by the animal, the need for biodiversity, and most importantly, the taste and flavor of the meat.
Why Are Heritage Turkeys So Expensive?
Although some heritage breeds are at high risk of becoming extinct, people are still after them for their dinner tables. In several cases, there are measures in place to revive their numbers.
Anyway, whether you pick one or not, heritage turkeys are treasured not only because they are descendants of the flavorful wild turkeys first domesticated in both the Americas and Mexico, but also because they stand out on three basic qualities: their ability to mate naturally, extended maturity rates, and their longevity. Let’s see more details about these characteristics.
They Mate Naturally
Unlike commercial, broad-breasted breeds, which have undergone selective breeding and can no longer mate naturally but require insemination, heritage turkeys can mate naturally, and they have natural fertility rates around 70 to 80 percent.
The Livestock Conservancy states that for a bird to be named a heritage breed, it needs to be able to engage in natural reproduction.
Extended Maturity Periods
Unlike other turkeys that have gone through selective breeding to be quick and efficient meat producers ready for harvest in weeks, heritage turkeys maintain a slow, moderate growth rate, often taking more than twice the time the production breeds take to mature. It could be anywhere above 28 weeks.
With such ample time to grow and be active, the turkey develops healthy internal organs, tissues, and bones, all contributing to the quality of the meat.
They Live Longer
The cultivated turkey breeds are processed as soon as they attain a given weight because of the cost of raising them. Since heritage breeds are slow growers, they will, therefore, take longer to mature and will need more feed.
Since they are not bred to hit maturity at a younger age, heritage breeds will have a life cycle similar to that of wild turkeys. Besides, they are tougher and can survive more varied weather conditions outdoors.
Now that we know why heritage breeds stand out, which are the most expensive turkey breeds?
5 Expensive Turkey Breeds
1. Jersey Buff Turkey
Initially bred in New Jersey, the Jersey Buff Turkey is a beautiful buff-colored bird with feathers having a mix of black, brown, and white.
When fully mature, the toms often weigh out at 21 pounds, while the hens weigh out at 12 pounds. However, for an average 16-pound Jersey Buff Turkey, you will have to part with about $349.99.
The Jersey Buff is not only rare and endangered, but its quality meat is also really high in demand. Therefore, if you come across one, you will have to make it worth your while.
2. KellyBronze Turkey
Also described as the pinnacle of turkey meat by some celebrity chefs, the KellyBronze often sells at $13 or more per pound, meaning that a fully grown bird can go for over $300.
This turkey breed is prized for its moist and delicate meat with a gamey aroma marbled with fat, similar to how it can be with high-end beef. The KellyBronze turkey’s meat is naturally juicy and cooks in half the time compared to regular turkey.
The KellyBronze is expensive because it is one of the rarest turkey species in the UK, often reared on small family farms. They develop the best meat if they are left to forage for themselves, so they are often left to freely roam the outdoors. They are also fed on locally grown cereals fresh from the farm, all aimed at producing a very healthy, mature, and pricey turkey.
3. Narragansett Turkey
Chefs praise the Narragansett turkey meat as one of the best tasting meats because of its rich flavor and texture. They are also famed for their beautiful plumage, ranging from light brown to black hues. However, since they have small bodies, they have a high feed intake to weight gain ratio, which greatly affects and challenges farmers in helping them gain weight for the market standards.
The toms often reach about 24 pounds, while the hens can reach 12 pounds. For such a 16-pound bird, you will have to part with $250 just to enjoy the taste.
The Narragansett turkeys are very expensive because they require more feeds to raise until they attain the market weight, not to mention the fact that their meat is high in demand, with many chefs praising it.
4. Black Spanish Turkey
Also known as the Norfolk Turkeys, Black Spanish Turkeys are primarily bred for their high-quality meat. At maturity, the males weigh up to 24 pounds while the females weigh out at around 14 pounds. Having an average weight bird with 16 pounds will cost you something close to $230.
Although they were once a popular breed in the US, the numbers have greatly dwindled over time and are now a rare breed whose market demand keeps going up, necessitating the price ranges. Unfortunately, they are also hard to care for, and they often need more attention for robust growth.
5. Bourbon Red Heritage Turkey
The Bourbon Red Turkey is not only famed for its beauty but also reared for its high-quality meat. This breed is among the most beautiful turkey breeds, boasting feathers with dark red hues and white tail feathers highlighted by white and red bands.
They weigh an average of 16 pounds at maximum maturity, but a 12-pound turkey will cost you about $200. Why? Because they are slow-growing birds who often need more attention with high-quality feeds such as exclusive access to pasture and non-GMO feeds, not to mention their welfare. Generally, it costs a farmer more to raise this flavorful breed, and you will have to make it worth the while to taste it.
Other Expensive Turkey Breeds
The list above is only a small list of expensive turkey breeds that might find their way into your dinner table. However, there are other expensive turkey breeds like the Royal Palm, Blue Slate, Beltsville Small White, Standard Bronze, White Midget, White Holland, and a few more.
Whether it is for Thanksgiving or any other feasting occasion, try not to let costs deter you from tasting the ultimate flavor of turkey meat. Which other way than to sample any of the turkeys on this list? So have fun and enjoy your turkey.