Raising Turkeys on the Homestead

The best time to begin raising turkeys on the homestead is late May or early June. Learn about what types of turkeys to raise, when a turkey is ready for butchering and how to roast one once the holidays arrive.

| February 2013

  • The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan, Storey Publishing
    With just a quarter acre of land, you can feed a family of four with fresh, organic food year-round. “The Backyard Homestead” gives you all the information you need to grow and preserve a variety of vegetables and fruits; raise poultry for eggs and meat; and raise cows, sheep and goats for meat and milk.
    Cover Courtesy Storey Publishing
  • Standard Bronze Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
    The Standard (or heritage) Bronze was developed in the United States in the 1700s. As colonists began establishing settlements along the eastern seaboard, the turkeys they brought with them from England crossbred with the eastern wild turkey, yielding a cross that was larger and healthier than the birds from Europe.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Bourbon Red Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
    The Bourbon Red is an older American variety developed in Pennsylvania and Kentucky from crosses of Buff, Bronze and White Holland turkeys in the late 1800s.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Narragansett Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
    Like the Bronze, the Narragansett, named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, developed in the 1700s from crosses of domestic turkeys brought from Europe with eastern wild turkeys.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Broad Breasted White Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
    Also called the Large White, this variety has been developed over the past half century specifically for intensive, industrial production. Unfortunately, it is sometimes shown under the name White Holland, though the White Holland is a heritage bird that can still breed naturally.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Turkey evaluation for fat covering illustration by Elayne Sears
    To evaluate the degree of fat covering, pull a few feathers from the thinly feathered area of the breast, at a point about halfway between the front end of the breastbone and the base of the wing.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Pinching the fat on a turkey to evaluate fat covering
    Take a fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Examine for thickness and coloration. On a prime turkey, the skin fold is white or yellowish white and quite thick. Well-fattened birds have thick, cream-colored skin, while under-fattened birds have thin skin that is semitransparent and tends to be reddish.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Carving the drumstick and thigh from the rest of the roasted turkey
    To remove drumstick and thigh, press the leg away from the body. The joint connecting the leg to the hip often snaps free or may be severed easily with the point of a knife. Cut dark meat completely from the body by following the body contour carefully with the knife.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Slice dark meat from the drumstick
    Place the drumstick and thigh on a cutting surface and cut through the connecting joint. Both pieces may be individually sliced. Tilt the drumstick to a convenient angle, slicing toward the table.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Slice turkey thigh parallel to the bone
    To slice the thigh meat, hold it firmly on a cutting surface with a fork. Cut even slices parallel to the bone.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Remove breast meat from roast turkey
    Slice off half of the breast at a time by cutting along the keel bone and rib cage with a sharp knife.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Slice turkey breast evenly against the grain of the meat
    Place the halved breast on a cutting surface and slice evenly against the grain of the meat. Repeat with the second half of the breast when additional slices are needed.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears

  • The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan, Storey Publishing
  • Standard Bronze Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
  • Bourbon Red Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
  • Narragansett Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
  • Broad Breasted White Turkey illustration by Elayne Sears
  • Turkey evaluation for fat covering illustration by Elayne Sears
  • Pinching the fat on a turkey to evaluate fat covering
  • Carving the drumstick and thigh from the rest of the roasted turkey
  • Slice dark meat from the drumstick
  • Slice turkey thigh parallel to the bone
  • Remove breast meat from roast turkey
  • Slice turkey breast evenly against the grain of the meat

Enjoy fresher, organic, better-tasting food all the time. With help from The Backyard Homestead (Storey Publishing, 2009), you can grow the vegetables and fruits your family loves; keep bees; raise chickens, goats or even a cow. Also learn how to cook, preserve and pickle the fruits of your labor. Late spring or the start of summer is the best time to start raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Learn the process of raising turkeys from poult to dinner table in this excerpt from chapter 5, “Poultry for Eggs and Meat.” 

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Backyard Homestead.

With a gobble-gobble here and a gobble-gobble there, the turkey has pecked its way across the United States for hundreds of years to become an American icon.

Traditionally, small farmers raised turkeys both for meat production and for pest control (gobblers are avid eaters of insects like the tobacco hookworm and the tomato hornworm). By 1970, the production of turkeys had dramatically changed from small-scale farm production to large-scale confinement production on an industrial-type farm.



Today, industrial farms produce almost all of the 280 million turkeys required in the United States and Canada to meet the demand for holiday birds and turkey products ranging from turkey bacon to soup. Over 99 percent of the breeding stock, which is essentially held by just three multinational companies, is tied to merely a few strains of Broad Breasted White turkeys that can no longer breed naturally.

This movement toward industrial turkey production has left many of the old heritage turkeys, such as the Standard Bronze, the Bourbon Red, and the Narragansett, in trouble. In 1997, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) considered turkeys to be among the most critically endangered domestic animals and the most vulnerable to extinction.






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