In Praise of Heritage Turkeys - NABLOPOMO

Ridley Bonze turkeys - just like the old-fashioned turkeys your grandmother used to cook
Ridley Bonze turkeys - just like the old-fashioned turkeys your grandmother used to cook

Every day another order or two or three comes in for one of our Ridley Bronze turkeys. As we get closer to Christmas, the frequency goes up - which is lovely. [Thank you, if you are one of those people now on the list to receive a heritage bird in a couple of weeks.] Quite often people aren't too familiar with the heritage birds, what makes them special, or quite what to expect. So here's a quick tutorial...

We raise Ridley Bronze turkeys, a Canadian variety of bronze turkey that very nearly disappeared altogether a few years ago. Thanks to the efforts of a handful of breeders (Margaret Thomson of Windrush Farm on Saltspring Island being one of the most active), the number of breeding hens has crept back from the brink (at one point it was estimated that fewer than a hundred breeding hens were left!), though the breed is still considered to be under threat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nd4tVVsxfHQ

Unlike the broad breasted turkeys (both bronze and white varieties), the Ridley Bronze birds are able to mate naturally. In our flock, we are selecting for good mothering ability and hardiness as well as great taste. These birds are personable, intelligent, and gentle and seem to do well foraging for food in addition to the basic diet of organic feed, hay, softened alfalfa cubes, and a mix of fruits and vegetables, as available.

They do grow more slowly than their commercially bred cousins - it can take 30-40 weeks to get the birds to a decent size, which is why we do not produce many Thanksgiving birds. Those we do have available at that time of year are the late hatch birds from the previous year. These are grown out and then processed late the following spring or early the next summer after they have had a chance to lay some eggs and raise a clutch of poults. These birds are then processed and frozen and are made available for Thanksgiving. Even with the extra growing time, the largest of my birds don't come close to the size reached by commercial broad-breasted whites. Christmas birds are hatched and raised in the same year and as long as we can get an appropriate processing date,we are able to provide fresh birds (not frozen) to local customers.

Young turkeys on the move...
Young turkeys on the move...

The distribution of dark meat is more even and there is less breast meat, proportionally, than in the broad-breasted birds. The Ridley Bronze turkeys have longer, leaner legs (they do a lot of running around during the time they spend here on the farm) and they are quite delicious.

Preparing them is a bit different - they cook quite evenly because of the way the meat is distributed. If you are looking for recipes, you'll have the best luck using old cookbooks or recipes your grandmother used.

If you are curious about methods of cooking, here are a couple of links to recipes that feature heritage birds.

Bucks County Courier Times

Prairie Heritage Farm

It's not too late to place your order for one of our heritage turkeys. Just click on the For Sale tab and follow the link to our nifty online order form. I'm afraid we can't ship birds, so we can only help you out if you live on southern Vancouver Island (or if you are prepared to travel to our place to pick up your bird...)

What's happening down on the farm? Visit the Dark Creek Farm blog.  

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