White Mountains Ranch  
Preserving Rare and Heritage Livestock

Sweetgrass Turkeys                                                                               

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There are primarily two types of Turkeys; the Broad Breasted, which is the widely raised commercial variety, and the Heritage turkey.

A heritage turkey is one of a variety of strains of domestic turkey which retains historic characteristics that are no longer present in the majority of turkeys raised for consumption since the mid-20th century. Heritage turkeys can be differentiated from other domestic turkeys in that they are biologically capable of being raised in a manner that more closely matches the natural behavior and life cycle of wild turkeys. Heritage turkeys have a relatively long lifespan and a much slower growth rate than turkeys bred for industrial agriculture, and unlike industrially-bred turkeys, can reproduce without artificial insemination. Some prominent chefs, farmers, and food critics have also contended that heritage turkey meat tastes better and is more healthy. Despite increasing interest in heritage turkeys, they are still a tiny minority, perhaps 25,000 raised annually compared to more than 200,000,000 industrial turkeys, and most heritage breeds are endangered in some respect.

For most of history, turkeys were primarily raised on small family farms for meat and as a form of pest control. But with the advent of factory farming of poultry, turkeys began to be selectively bred for increasingly larger size, focusing especially on the production of breast meat. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing in to the 1950s, broad-breasted fowl began to replace all other types of turkey in commercial production. The favorite breed at the time was the Broad Breasted Bronze, which was developed from the Standard Bronze. In the 1960s producers began to heavily favor turkeys that did not show the dark pin feathers in their carcass, and thus the Broad Breasted White grew to dominate the industry, a trend which continues to this day.

To meet perceived consumer demand and increase producers' profit margins, the goal in turkey farming became the production of the maximum amount of breast meat at the lowest possible cost, hence the name Broad Breasted. As a result of selection for this single trait, 70% of the weight of mass market turkeys is in their breast. Consequently, the birds are so heavy that they are completely incapable of reproducing without artificial insemination, and they reach such extreme weights so quickly their overall development fails to keep pace with their rapidly accruing muscle mass, resulting in severe immune system, cardiac, respiratory and leg problems.

For over 35 years, the overwhelming majority of the 280 million turkeys produced in North America each year have been the product of a few genetic strains of Broad Breasted White. The breeding stock for these birds are owned largely by three multinational corporations: Hybrid Turkeys of Ontario, Canada, British United Turkeys of America in Lewisburg, West Virginia, and Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms in Sonoma, California.

With the adoption of the Broad Breasted White by industrial producers, other turkey varieties faded in numbers. Other than exhibition birds and those on a scant few small farms, other turkeys virtually disappeared. By the end of the 20th century, all but the Broad Breasted White were in danger of extinction. Around this time, conservation organizations began to recognize the plight of heritage turkeys; the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) considered heritage turkeys to the most critically endangered of all domestic animals circa 1997. A census conducted by the Conservancy found less than 1,500 total breeding birds (out of all heritage varieties) were left in the country. Some breeds, such as the Narragansett, had less than a dozen individuals left, and many considered most heritage turkeys to be beyond hope.

The ALBC, Slow Food USA, the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPAA), and a few hundred key poultry enthusiasts launched a major effort to restore breeding populations of heritage turkeys in the late 20th century. One man in particular, Frank Reese Jr., has been credited by sources such as ABC News and The New York Times as being instrumental in preserving heritage breeds, but small farmers all across the country were also important; strains of heritage turkey kept in genetic isolation for years by family farms preserved heritage breeds for the future. Primary motivations for the endeavor included a passion for historic breeds and maintaining genetic diversity among domestic animals which humans depend upon. Consumer and restaurant interest was also motivated by a support of local and sustainable foods.

In a 2003 census by the ALBC, heritage turkey populations had increased by more than 200 percent. By 2006, the count of heritage turkeys in the U.S. was up to 8,800 breeding birds. Though all but the Bourbon Red and Royal Palm are still considered critically endangered, the birds have rebounded significantly.


Here at White Mountains Ranch we are working on conserving a Heritage Turkey breed called the "Sweetgrass". The Sweetgrass strain itself first appeared in 1996 in a flock of Heritage Bronze Turkeys in Big Timber, MT, at Sweetgrass Farms. Most people are now calling this color/pattern by this name. The Sweetgrass genotype is (b1b1cgcg) Black winged bronze based with Oregon Gray (aka Palm genes). They breed 100% true to color/pattern.

In Belgium, this color pattern has existed for hundreds of years and it is known as the Yellow-shouldered Ronquière. It has also been called a "calico", albeit incorrectly. A clear example of one of these turkeys appears in an old painting, by the Flemish master Joachim Beuckelaars, from 1566!
 
These birds have a heavily marked royal palm pattern but in various shades of brown to chestnut. The tail is brown, with a darker brown band, and has a lighter edging.

One of the larger Heritage turkey breeds, the mature weights of these birds is 32 lbs. for toms and 16 lbs. for the hens, though our proccesed weights are usually 15 pounds, and 10 pounds, respectively. This makes for a great table bird, but they are still able to reproduce naturally and are very hardy and free from the health problems of the commercial breeds.


These are our purebred heritage Sweetgrass Turkeys.
 Our turkeys are not sexable until adults. All babies are straight run. By adding these items to your cart, and purchasing, you are placing a deposit to be added to our waitlist. 

We are currently in process to become NPIP Certified. We ship eggs, juveniles and adults. 

WE DO NOT SHIP JUST HATCHED CHICKS~ those are local pick up only. Our shipped chicks are 2 - 3 weeks old. We have found they fare shipping much better at this older age.

Please read this about our shipping eggs. EGG PRICE INCLUDES SHIPPING.

The cost of each turkey is listed below. When you checkout you will only be paying for the cost of the turkeys you choose. The required Avian Shipping Box is an additional $20, and shipping is an additional $70. As soon as we receive your order we will contact you with your invoice and let you know your spot on the waitlist and your approximate ship date. The balance will be due before the items ship.




SOLD OUT FOR 2014! 

NOW ACCEPTING WAITING LIST ORDERS FOR SPRING 2015