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.
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.
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.
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 Google+.