Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bourbon Red Turkeys Join Our Mini Farm

About a month ago I came across an ad on the Pennswoods website.  I won't tell you WHY I was browsing the livestock category.  It's just kind of an addiction for me.  (Actually, I'm on the lookout for a weed-eating goat that I can tether out - a friend talked about how much they enjoyed theirs and how it really helped cut down on their weed clearing chores.  But I don't want it until spring [unless and awesome deal comes along!])

In my browsing, I saw that a man down in Altoona, PA had bourbon red turkeys for sale.  These are a really interesting heritage breed of turkeys.  It just happened that I was going to be driving by that way and I couldn't resist.  I made the call.  Needless to say, after some terrible mishaps, I have five red bourbon turkeys.  The first two are almost definitely jennies and the other three are a bit young to tell quite yet.

When I called about the turkeys, I asked the elderly gentleman on the line if I could get a jake and hens.  He chuckled and told me, "I can't tell the difference between them, (his very young turkeys) but you're welcome to try."  I researched around and couldn't really find any information that let me know how to tell the difference.  One person wrote that you would be able to tell by their "attitude."  Jakes would have a more aggressive attitude  It was pretty tough to detect attitude in a bunch of skittering, running away, panicked baby turkeys!  So, if I find I have all jennies, or all jakes, I'm going to call the nice man who sold them and try to work out trades with some of his other buyers.  Cross your fingers!  

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has a wonderful page about Bourbon Red turkeys with links that you can find here.

But a few notes about bourbon reds:
  • Originally named "Bourbon Butternuts"
  • They're named for Bourbon County in Kentucky, but actually started in Pennsylvania from dark buff-colored Tuscarora  turkeys.
  • Dark red plumage with white flight and tail feathers. 
  • Recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909.
  • Young toms are about 23 pounds, young hens are about 14 pounds.
  • Bourbons were an important commercial variety in the 1930s and 40s but not able to compete with the broad breasted varieties.  Their ability to breed naturally, hardiness, and superior flavor has increased interest in the birds. 

My turkeys will spend the winter in a chicken wire surrounded stall of the barn.  Its a touch warmer, and hopefully, safer for them.  I was told that they shouldn't be put in with chickens because there are diseases that chickens can pass on to turkeys.  Bourbon Reds are known to be great grazers, so in the spring, they'll be moved outside to their own turkey house and paddock.   

They're very interesting to watch.  There are a lot of natural wild turkeys in our area and the bourbon reds move and act exactly the same way (I'm not sure what I expected to be different!).  They seem to be much more flighty than the chickens.  I hoping that over time they'll calm down a bit.  

They are beautiful birds.  This Thanksgiving the Bourbon Reds are safe.  They're much too small to make much of a feast.  Next year, I hope to be able to sell these pasture-raised, heritage-breed, (and I'll hope to report) great tasting Thanksgiving turkeys!  


  1. Sharon! What gorgeous birds! I'm excited to see how they do for you!

  2. How fun and they are beautiful! I have heard they are very good eating.