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Homegrown Turkey: Midget White Breed Is Delightful And Delicious

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: turkeys, processing, incubating, farms,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.A little more than a year ago, we obtained a few purebred Midget White turkey poults for a homegrown turkey project that came to fruition last Thanksgiving Day. We sourced the Midget White turkey poults for our homegrown turkey project from the Sand Hill Preservation Center in Calamus, Iowa and wound up with two adult toms and one hen smack in the middle of winter. Undeterred by the cold, the Midget White hen started to lay eggs in February of 2010 and we collected a batch to incubate and let her set the rest. The upshot of the entire homegrown turkey project is that we wound up with a few extra toms around Thanksgiving – we traded one to a friend for his loner Midget White hen and we processed the other for our own Thanksgiving table. About a month before Thanksgiving, the hens began laying again – our first batch of poults is nearly finished hatching.

Midget White Turkey tom. 

For the most recent Midget White incubation experiment, we collected eggs daily from the hens until we had a clutch of 7 and placed them in our Brinsea Octagon incubator. A couple of days later, I noticed a few more eggs in the nest box and tossed them into the incubator for 12 eggs total. Like clockwork, five of the first seven eggs hatched as expected, 28 days after setting them. Another egg had pipped but the chick died before breaking free. And since then, we’ve hatched another three chicks (one died in the brooder) with two more eggs pipped this morning! Considering that I wasn’t diligent with managing the incubator’s humidity levels, the chance that we will wind up with 9 live poults out of 12 eggs is pretty exciting. It’s a bit of a relief actually because we should now have plenty of breeding stock to carry us beyond the next few years. And with a little luck, we will be able to harvest several turkeys for the table in 2011.

Midget White Turkey Poults 

The Midget White turkey is an American Livestock Breeds Association (ALBC) listed heritage breed that was developed in the 1960s and 1970s using a line of commercialBroad Breasted White turkeys crossed with Royal Palms. Several generations later (with careful selection of small birds with good breast meat characteristics), the Midget White was born. The toms dressed out around 13 pounds and the hens around 8 pounds – just perfect for a family of two or four with plenty of leftovers to share.

Midget White Turkey Eggs in Brinsea Octagon Incubator 

We enjoy raising the Midget White turkeys because they are rare and unusual, and because they are efficient, largely self sufficient and produce delicious and juicy meat. They also look great on pasture accompanying the sheep and devouring grasshoppers. As far as dressing the birds goes, they are almost as easy to process as broiler chickens. You need a larger killing cone or other means of restraint when bleeding them than for broilers, but we found that the Featherman scalder and Featherman Pro plucker were completely up to the task. Evisceration is easier for me than the smaller chickens simply because my hands fit into the larger body cavity more easily.

Cooking the Midget White turkeys requires a little care, but our birds had plenty of subcutaneous fat on their breasts so they turned out juicy and delicious. And since these turkeys haven’t been bred to produce white meat where white meat wasn’t meant to be, their legs and thighs are delightfully dark with a texture and flavor reminiscent of nicely braised pot roast. The Midget White is a perfect homestead turkey that’s capable of providing your family with a sustainable supply of healthful and succulent meat. I expect that they’ll have a presence on our farm for many Thanksgiving Days to come.

Photos Courtesy Karen Keb

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

paula griffin
4/27/2013 4:12:12 PM

All my MW hens have have a black beard. I think it is trait of the broad breasted white genes.

roberta anderson vandyke
12/16/2012 5:40:19 AM

Good Evening! I found you from googling midget whites...I am soooo confused with my midget white turkeys and am looking for advice!! About 4 years ago, the feed store stuck a baby midget white in with the chicks I got and the rest is history! Clara has become a pet and will die of old age around here. She is so friendly, loves to ride on the four wheeler with me to check fences and her favorite person is my dad. When he comes to visit, he just whistles and she comes a running and hollering! She has swiped chicken eggs and raised the chicks as her own for the past 3 summers. So I decided I would get 4 day old midget whites from the feed store and see if she would take them. She sure enough did...she went chick crazy just hearing them churping in the box! Within seconds, she had them all under her and they were HERS! One chick was a very obviously a tom by mid summer, he was gobbling and was developing into quite a fellow. Then the neighbors dog paid a visit. So I kept Clara and took the other 3 up the road to a neighbor who knows alot about all livestock and loves birds...hopeful that they would be safer up at his place. Clara and "Emma" both get along fairly well and both have "fluffed" up like a tom. I KNOW Clara is a female because she has been laying us eggs before we got any other turkeys. I was at the neighbors yesterday and he mentioned that one of the hens had a black type beard just now appearing on the chest. We made plans that after the Denver Stock Show (his Grand-daughter is going to enter them) he would bring the tom back and we would see if he and Clara would "get along!" This morning when I went out, I sat down since I have been traveling for work for the last two weeks, and was going to visit with Clara...she likes to sit in your lap and be pet. Took a good look at "Emma" and low and behold, she has black course hair (not really like a feather as it is quite course) coming out of her chest too! I am so confused because Emma does not have a snoud like Winston (the tom the dog got) did...his hung over the side at a very early age. Her head is red instead of blue. She hasn't ever gobbled that I have heard. In your experience, can a hen have the black beard thing-a-ma-gig on their chest? Or is Emma just a late maturing Emmet? Thanks for any advice you can share with me! Roberta Van Dyke Fort Collins, CO

12/30/2010 8:45:36 PM

Hi Hank! I found some eggs! I'll be getting 8 Bourbon Red eggs and 8 Standard Bronze eggs. I'll try hatching some of our chicken eggs first as a trial run. I'll keep you posted! Happy New Year!

hank will_2
12/17/2010 1:39:28 PM

unclebean, check with Frank Reese Jr. here: for eggs. He's an awesome guy and takes real care with selecting his breeding stock. You might need to give him a call though he's really busy. Otherwise check with the folks at the ALBC -- I know they have a good list of folks with fertile eggs. Good luck! Send pics!

hank will_2
12/17/2010 1:35:52 PM

Very cool, unclebean. Please let me know how it goes. I like that standard bronze too -- I'm secretly hoping that the wild turkey that has been hanging with my MWs gets a little genetic thing going come spring.

12/17/2010 1:35:11 PM

Now if I can just find a good source for fertile eggs!

12/17/2010 1:29:39 PM

Thanks for the reply Hank!

12/17/2010 1:27:52 PM

Bourbon Red and Standard Bronze

hank will_2
12/17/2010 1:25:43 PM

Are you going to try midget white, unclebean or something else? I want to try a batch of bourbon reds next summer.

hank will_2
12/17/2010 10:57:26 AM

Hey UncleBean- I'm not sure what the max number for those turkey eggs would have been. I think I could have fit at least 6 or 7 more without crowding it too much. The Midget White eggs aren't huge but they are larger than a large chicken egg by quite a ways. I'm sure you can fit at least 15 regular turkey eggs -- the company says you can fit 9 - 12 goose eggs and 20 duck eggs, so I suspect 15 - 18 turkey eggs would fit. Sorry I can't be more exact. Thanks, Hank

12/17/2010 10:40:49 AM

Was 12 eggs the max you could fit in the Eco 20? I just got my Eco 20 but I don't have eggs to try in it yet. I would like to know how many to order without exceeding what the Eco 20 will hold.

12/17/2010 10:40:02 AM

Was 12 eggs the max you could fit in the Eco 20? I just got my Eco 20 but I don't have eggs to try in it yet. I would like to know how many to order without exceeding what the Eco 20 will hold.

hank will_2
12/14/2010 2:42:37 PM

Ted, the earliest hatch date would have been Sunday or yesterday -- I checked them Sunday and no pips. I didn't check last night but will tonight. I suspect they are going to be duds, but will wait a couple more days. So far, we've not had a successful hatch from the one hen (2 attempts). She sets attentively and comes off the nest once a day max. Would be interesting to see what would happen if I didn't take the eggs from her initially. I've read and been told that they are great moms but have not had the chance to observe it first hand. More nest boxes next year for more hens and we'll see. I'll keep you informed. Thanks, Hank

hank will_2
12/14/2010 2:37:36 PM

Oh, and I've only brooded the eggs we incubator hatched.

ted lucas
12/14/2010 2:29:04 PM

You stated; "Undeterred by the cold, the Midget White hen started to lay eggs in February of 2010 and we collected a batch to incubate and let her set the rest." but did not say how the hen brooded eggs turned out. Do these hens make good mothers or do you have use a brooder?

hank will_2
12/10/2010 11:22:47 AM

Hey Dave -- Teh Midget White is a really cool breed and ever so tasty. You could raise a few in your backyard in town if you wanted to. We managed to get 9 survivors out of 12 eggs on that batch and I broke a lot of rules -- like leaving one batch of eggs on the hay bales overnight with a low of 40 degrees. I figured there'd be no harm in tossing them in the incubator anyway ... :)

hank will_2
12/10/2010 11:19:45 AM

Hey Paula -- Yes, I have broken that cardinal rule most of my life. I actually brooded those Catalana chicks with a batch of Midget White chicks. The issue is mainly black head in the turkeys,as I recall, and while I don't recommend it, I will say that I have raised turkeys and chickens together for about 20 years. Our birds are brooded indoors in stock tanks (not very dense) on non-medicated high-protein starter (another no-no, I know)and then moved to large (quarter acre or more) outdoor areas once fledged). I love the Midget Whites -- but wish they had some color in them. A young wild turkey has claimed our main chicken run as home and she routinely flies in and out of the turkey run so I am hoping for something interesting to happen. :)

paula maloney
12/10/2010 10:24:48 AM

Picture shows your turkey with a rooster in the background. I have always heard that you don't run turkeys and chickens together because of diseases, did you have any problems or did you keep everyone separate? Midget white looks like a good candidate for my little farm.

nebraska dave
12/2/2010 11:29:47 PM

@Hank, it looks like the midget white would be great for a small homestead. It’s just the right size for the small family dinner. It’s a plus that your Featherman chicken plucker machine would work on this size turkey as well. It sounds like you are well on your way to a flock of turkeys for years to come. You really did have a great hatch from your clutch of eggs. Have a great turkey hatchin’ day in Kansas. Oh, yeah, and I hope you are enjoying your new office.