Grit Blogs > Red Pine Mountain

Reclaiming The Past

A Red Pine Mountain LogoFall has finally arrived and soon the holidays will be here.  It's the time of the year for family and feasts and perhaps no bird more symbolizes the holiday than turkeys.  But do you know much about turkeys?  Is your turkey coming from the freezer of your local chain grocery store?  Do you know there are differences in turkeys?  I didn't.  I thought a turkey was just a turkey until . . .

Last winter, when I placed my order for chicks, on the spur of the moment, I also ordered turkey poults. I thought it might be fun to provide the main course for holiday dinners for us and a few of our friends. I chose Narragansett turkeys solely based on the picture on the website because they reminded me of the turkeys pictured on my Grandmother’s china from decades ago.  To me, a turkey was a turkey, all destined to end up in the freezer.

Five turkey poults arrived and from the first day, they captured my heart. Unlike the baby chicks, who scattered when I fed them and huddled together, the turkeys approached me and looked at me with inquisitive eyes. Where the chicks were frenetic, the turkeys were calm.

Day old turkey poult 

They grew quickly and in a matter of weeks, we allowed them into their outdoor run. They were fine there until one day, Mountain Man said “Hey, your turkeys are on top of the fence.” He, who had only raised meat birds, was surprised by my Narragansett’s ability to fly.

Turkeys flying over fence 

And from that day on, there was no containing them. They free ranged on our farm eating insects and plucking down weeds but they never went far.  When I was outside, they followed me as if I were their leader. If I stopped to take a break, they did too.

Turkey taking a nap 

I was captivated by these turkeys and I wanted to learn more.

I started doing web searches for Narragansett turkeys and from the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, I learned that Narragansett’s are a heritage breed of turkey and they are now a threatened breed. Narragansetts arrived with the colonists in the 1600s and quickly became an integral part of New England farms. They were easy keepers, required little feed, ate insects and were able to reproduce easily making them an ideal accompaniment to the family farm.

But with the advent of factory farming, they fell out of favor and were replaced by birds whose sole purpose in life was to become food as quickly as possible. Turkeys no longer free ranged farms but instead were raised in captivity. They no longer could reproduce naturally and required human intervention.  Narragansett turkeys started to fade into oblivion.  Recently, with the advent of the localvore movement and homesteading, there been a resurrgence of interest in this heritage breed.

I wondered about other breeds of animals that populated homesteads long ago and I discovered a long list of animals that have fallen out of favor as maximizing food production for masses has become the norm.

And just as Mountain Man is laboring on restoring the old barn, I am going to attempt to restore the animals of the past to our farm. Next spring will find more heritage breeds arriving. Heritage breeds of pigs, sheep and goats once so common on Vermont farms, will be joining us. 

For those of you who are adding chickens, turkeys or other farm animals to your homestead next year, I urge you to consider heritage breeds. No matter where you live, there are heritage breeds suited to your environment. Let’s repopulate our homesteads with the animals who played an important part in our history.

Mountain Man, Mountain Woman, the turkeys and other assorted animals can always be found at

oz girl
10/17/2010 9:04:01 AM

So interesting. All the comments were quite interesting too. I've been reading about heritage seeds and animals over the past year, and I know I have a list somewhere around my computer desk... where did I put it?? Anyways, it has a list of the heritage chicken varieties I want to get next spring. Maybe when I place my order I too will add a few Narragansetts, as they sound fascinating! Goodness knows our chicken coop has a "Vacancy" sign ... only 5 guineas in a 10x12 coop! And on that note, I'm off to continue painting the exterior, before work today and before our weather forbades me to do anymore outdoors painting!! Hope you and Mountain Man are having a glorious autumn weekend in Vermont. :)

mountain woman
10/9/2010 8:47:55 AM

Cindy, I had never heard that Benjamin Franklin quote and I love it. When I started blogging about the turkeys, most people thought they were dumb and mean but I think they are learning as am I that there is more to them than meets the eye. I've actually taught them to dance with me to the radio and I'm going to be filming it for my blog. They've learned to squawk and move in time to the music and when I do my barn chores, we are always dancing around. Okay, I spend my days doing crazy things but that's a different story. We have tons of wild turkeys here and they are quite magnificent. I can imagine how much you enjoyed seeing them in the field. If you want to see another beautiful wild turkey that is fast becoming extinct, do a search for Ocellated turkeys. Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks so much for visiting me. I hope you have a good weekend too. It must be beautiful there.

mountain woman
10/9/2010 8:36:06 AM

Nebraska Dave, How true it is that the smallest of things can set us on a new direction. I can think of many experiences and the first one I'd list is reading about Eharmony in a newspaper and then giving it a try. All of my life now flowed from that decision. I never thought I'd care for the turkeys because I'm not a big fan of birds except those in the wild at the bird feeders but they have captured my heart and you know because you read my blog, I'm kind of goofy about them. Even Mountain Man admits now there is more to my relationship with the turkeys than the fact that I'm feeding them. It's been interesting for sure to research more about the way farms were conducted in the past. As we've let the chickens, guineas and turkeys free range our farm, we've discovered just how beneficial they can be depositing their fertilizer and chopping down weeds and I'm always happy when I see them out enjoying themselves. I've learned so much and there's much more to learn but that's the beauty of life. Thanks Dave for visiting me.

nebraska dave
10/9/2010 8:23:21 AM

@I can definitely see why you would fall in love the cute little buggers. The turkeys that most commonly end up on our Thanksgiving table do come from turkey farms that raise them for the table. They have so altered the original turkey by selective breeding that it can’t fly because its large breast makes it too heavy. It’s an admirable thing to not only have heritage plants but heritage animals on your farm. It’s something I never thought too much about. It’s quite amazing that you chose the heritage breed with unknown knowledge of what you had chosen. Some of the most interesting things in life happen by accident. There are no small choices in life. Even the smallest of decisions can set us on a course that can be quite surprising when looking back some years later. Good luck with your ever increasing farm population. Have a great autumn heritage day.

cindy murphy
10/9/2010 5:32:35 AM

Hi, Mountain Woman. Wasn't it Benjamin Franklin who wanted our national bird to be the turkey instead of the bald eagle because the birds are so intelligent? We've got a lot of wild turkeys in this area, but not having an up close and personal relationship with any of them, I can't vouch for their intelligence. I am with Mountain Man though, in my surprise that they fly so well...or run so fast. Early this week, a co-worker and I were given a tour of the facilities of a large wholesale perennial grower. As the representitive drove us through the growing fields, we spotted the largest flock of wild turkeys I'd ever seen. When we got closer, the entire flock started running across the field, then took to flight, to land perching in the trees at the edge of the clearing. It was a beautiful thing to witness. Honestly, it was the highlight of the tour. Looking forward to reading of your new experiences with other heritage breeds of animals next spring, Mountain Woman. Always such a pleasure reading your blogs. Have a great weekend. Cindy

mountain woman
10/8/2010 2:20:51 PM

Hi Shannon, No, they are not headed to the freezer. I'm planning on breeding them and if they don't breed, they'll be pets or as Mountain Man calls it a part of my ever growing zoo. They are so tame and gentle. I'm not cut out for raising animals for food I've learned. Thanks for visiting me.

s.m.r. saia
10/8/2010 1:05:16 PM

Wow, how interesting. Turkeys are not an animal that I think of as being intelligent, interactive or tame, but then I don't know anything about turkeys. It sounds like you're having a wonderful time with them. Are you going to keep them around and breed them, or are they all heading towards the freezer as originally planned? I look forward to hearing about the other heritage animals as you move them in. Take care, Shannon