Turkeys are one of the largest poultry birds common on farms and homesteads. However, their egg-laying rates are generally average to low. In light of these two factors, it is not surprising that many people focus on just breeding turkeys for meat.
While most turkey breeds are perfect for meat, you’ll get a different result from one breed to another. But to ensure that you only get top quality, we compiled a list of the nine best turkey breeds for meat.
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1. Beltsville Small White Turkey
Beltsville Small Whites are a turkey breed of American origin. They were developed in the USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland in the mid-1930s. As you can tell, Beltsville Small Whites get their name from their place of origin. The “white” in their name comes from their all-white plumage.
A demand for meaty small- to medium-sized turkeys devoid of dark pinfeathers triggered the creation of the Beltsville Whites.
Following the crossing of various turkey breeds, including White Holland, Narragansett, Bronze, and White Austrian, the Beltsville Small White breed came to be. Besides these turkey breeds, Beltsville Whites also have some wild turkey genes.
Beltsville Small Whites are primarily a meat breed, and they are one of the best turkey breeds for meat. But besides giving you meat, you can get a decent amount of eggs from them. On average, Beltsville Small Whites lay around 150 to 180 eggs per season.
Besides meat and eggs, Beltsville Small Whites also come in handy for ornamental purposes. In fact, today, many Beltsville White breeders are exhibition breeders.
As we hinted before, one of the aims of creating Beltsville Whites was to get a small- to medium-sized breed. Accordingly, Beltsville Whites are small- to medium-sized. While the hens weigh around 10 pounds, the toms weigh an average of 17 pounds.
Besides being very productive, Beltsville Small Whites are good reproducers. They mate naturally, so even if you are a small-scale farmer, you should have little or no issues breeding them.
2. Black Spanish Turkey
The Black Spanish turkey breed goes by many names, including the Norfolk Black and Black Turkey. While their name implies it, Black Spanish turkeys are not necessarily of Spanish origin. Instead, people consider them to be of general European origin.
Still, there is a good reason why they go by the name Black Spanish turkey. One of these reasons is that they were popular in Spain. Another possibility is that the breed originated from the Aztec turkeys Spanish explorers brought from Mexico.
Black Spanish turkeys are primarily meat birds. Their meat’s superior flavor is captivating. Unsurprisingly, many people look forward to eating Black Spanish turkey meat.
You could also get some eggs from Black Spanish turkeys. But with an egg production rate of around 40 to 80 per year, you might only get enough eggs for your family.
Black Spanish turkeys are medium- to large-sized. While the hens weigh around 14 pounds, the toms are about 23 pounds heavy.
As their name implies, Black Spanish turkeys have a shiny, metallic black plumage with a greenish sheen. Beneath their black plumage, their skin is typically white.
Black Spanish turkeys are hardy and typically docile. But you may find some aggressive ones.
3. Bourbon Red Turkey
Bourbon Reds are a large American turkey breed with roots in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. This breed got its name from its red-colored plumage and its origin in Bourbon county, Kentucky.
Bourbon Reds came to exist towards the end of the 19th century. Their ancestry includes breeds like Buff, White Holland, and Standard Bronze turkeys.
The Bourbon Red breed is a meat breed, and people keep Bourbon Reds primarily for meat production. In fact, the selective breeding process that created them optimized for meat production and utility traits. Unsurprisingly, Bourbon Reds have the best-tasting meat of all heritage turkey breeds.
Besides being a meat breed, you can also get some eggs from Bourbon Reds. Generally, Bourbon Red hens will produce about 90 to 120 eggs per year. But this number can be higher, especially in domesticated Bourbon Reds, where 160 to 180 eggs per year is possible.
Besides meat and egg production, you may also raise Bourbon Reds for ornamental purposes.
Bourbon Reds have a uniquely patterned plumage. Their feathers have a dark base color, but their plumage is generally brownish to dark red. Bourbon Reds have white flight feathers and white tail feathers. However, their tail feathers sport a soft red band.
Overall, Bourbon Reds have a sophisticated color pattern. This makes them beautiful and suitable for exhibitions.
As we said before, Bourbon Reds are large-sized birds. While the average Bourbon Red hen weighs about 18 pounds, the toms weigh around 33 pounds.
Bourbon Reds forage actively. Put them in a pasture production system, and they’ll thrive. Bourbon Reds are generally docile, but you may find some aggressive ones.
4. Broad-Breasted White Turkey
Broad-Breasted Whites are an American turkey breed most commonly used commercially for meat. In fact, many Americans know of this breed. As their name hints, adult Broad-Breasted Whites are primarily white, but their poults (young turkeys) start out yellow.
Broad-Breasted Whites are the product of crossbreeding Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys and White Hollands. At one point, Broad-Breasted Bronzes dominated the turkey meat market.
However, when breeders realized that Broad-Breasted Whites gave cleaner carcasses, they started favoring Broad-Breasted Whites.
As you can already tell, Broad-Breasted Whites are excellent for meat production. They have a lot of muscle, but their breast bones are short. This makes them perfect for breast meat production. But on the flip side, their high muscle density and short breast bones leave them unable to fly.
Broad-Breasted Whites are large-sized turkeys. While the hens weigh around 37.5 pounds, the toms weigh as much as 44 pounds. Their weight is good for meat production. However, it can be unhealthy for the turkey.
Due to their weight, Broad-Breasted Whites are prone to various diseases. They are especially at a high risk of heart disease, joint damage, and respiratory problems. Unsurprisingly, they generally do not live long. But on the bright side, most of their eggs hatch successfully.
Their high hatching rate is good for the preservation of the breed. However, it also means you can rarely get Broad-Breasted White eggs for culinary purposes.
Another issue with Broad-Breasted Whites is that they cannot mate naturally. They reproduce through artificial insemination.
5. Bronze Turkey
Bronze turkeys are of American origin. They came from eastern wild turkeys and the domestic turkeys of the European colonists (most likely from the English).
Bronze turkeys get their name from the iridescent bronze-like sheen of their plumage. Interestingly, while this breed had been in existence since the later part of the 1700s, it never got the name “Bronze” officially until the 1830s.
Bronze turkeys are medium- to large-sized. The toms weigh around 25 pounds on average, while the hens weigh about 16 pounds.
Bronze turkeys are hardy; they thrive in almost all climates. They generally live long and mate naturally. However, they grow slowly. This slow growth is why people did not use them commercially until the 21st century.
Bronze turkeys come in two varieties: Standard Bronze and Broad-Breasted Bronze.
The Broad-Breasted Bronze turkey variety is the bigger one. However, the Standard Bronze has the shinier and lighter plumage. Also, Broad-Breasted Bronze turkeys have the faster growth rate of the two varieties.
Both varieties of Bronze turkeys are primarily raised for meat. But then, Bronze turkey hens lay around 75 to 155 eggs per year. So, you may also keep them for eggs.
Besides eggs and meat, you can also keep Bronze turkeys for ornamental purposes. The iridescent bronze-like sheen of their plumage is appealing to the eyes. So, why not.
6. Midget White Turkey
Midget White turkeys are like a mini version of the Broad-Breasted Whites. They are an American turkey breed created to satisfy the demand for a small-sized variant of the Broad-Breasted Whites.
Midget Whites are currently the smallest standard turkey breed. They came to be from crossbreeding Royal Palm turkeys with Broad-Breasted Whites. So, the similarity between Broad-Breasted Whites and Midget Whites is understandable.
Like the Broad-Breasted Whites, Midget Whites have primarily white plumage and a broad breast. Also, their poults typically start out yellow.
Like their predecessors, Midget Whites are primarily meat birds. But you could also get some eggs from them. On average, they produce 60 to 80 spotted cream to medium brown eggs per year, and their eggs are pretty tasty.
As we hinted earlier, Midget Whites are pretty small. In fact, they are only slightly heavier than some of the largest chickens. On average, the hens weigh between 8 and 10 pounds. The toms, on the other hand, weigh around 12 pounds.
Midget Whites are pretty hardy. They are also decent flyers. So, be cautious, or they might fly away.
Midget Whites are also very friendly; they interact with humans and pets with little hesitation. You may even keep them as pets.
7. Royal Palm Turkey
Royal Palm turkeys are British turkeys. The current indications suggest that they have an ancestry of European turkey breeds.
Unlike the other turkey breeds we have seen in this article, Royal Palm turkeys are not meat birds. They are actually ornamental birds. But even at that, you can breed them for meat.
Besides meat, you may also keep Royal Palm turkeys for eggs. On average, you can get around 100 to 155 eggs yearly. You may also keep Royal Palm turkeys for insect control. This is all thanks to their excellence in foraging.
The use of Royal Palm turkeys primarily as ornamental birds is not too surprising when you consider the creativity in their appearance. While their plumage is primarily white, Royal Palm turkeys have other colorful body parts. All of that color combines so well that you must agree that these birds are stunning.
The edgings of the feathers of Royal Palm turkeys have a black metallic coloration, which contrasts sharply with the primarily white plumage. The saddles and beards of these birds are also black. However, their throat, wattles, and head are red.
Royal Palm turkeys weigh around 10 to 22 pounds on average. The toms weigh between 16 and 22 pounds, while the hens weigh an average of 10 to 12 pounds.
Royal Palm turkeys are good at flying. They are typically non-aggressive, and the hens have good maternal instincts.
8. Slate Turkey
The Slate turkey breed goes by many other names, including Lavender turkey and Blue Slate turkey. While some might call them Blue Slate, these birds actually have slate-gray plumage. They could come in any shade of gray between white and pure black. However, only the ash-gray varieties qualify for showing.
The actual origin and ancestry of Slate turkeys are unknown. However, there are suggestions that this breed is a cross between eastern wild turkeys and Black Norfolks.
Slate turkeys are primarily kept for meat. Unsurprisingly, their meat has an excellent flavor. They are medium- to large-sized, weighing an average of 14 pounds for the hens and 23 pounds for the toms. So, you’d get fair-sized carcasses from them.
While Slate turkeys are primarily slate-gray, sometimes they can be a light blue with or without some black specks.
In general, Slate turkeys are hardy and docile. However, you may come across a few aggressive ones.
9. White Holland Turkey
White Holland turkeys are an old American turkey breed. They are the product of a cross between native birds and white European turkeys brought to North America.
The White Holland breed is part of the ancestry of some popular turkey breeds. For one, it is the base for the Beltsville Small White breed. It is also one of the parent breeds of the Broad-Breasted White.
Unsurprisingly, people sometimes confuse White Hollands for Broad-Breasted Whites. However, the Broad-Breasted Whites are bigger.
White Holland turkeys are primarily meat birds. But then you may see them at exhibitions too. Their ornamental purpose comes naturally since they have beautiful snow-white plumage.
The average White Holland hen weighs around 20 pounds. Then the average White Holland tom weighs about 36 pounds.
White Holland turkeys are pretty hardy. They are typically docile. But then, some of them can be aggressive.