It is time to start hatching your heritage poultry eggs if you haven’t already. Depending on the locale or hatchery you purchase your eggs from, the turkeys and geese have either started to lay their eggs or will be soon. There are many heritage breeds to choose from but consider the breeds that are on the threatened or critical lists. These birds are endangered and could become extinct, so help build the numbers while raising meat for your table. There is a good market for the eggs and goslings.
The incubator was started up 24 hours before the eggs arrived. Right now it has 4 Pilgrim goose eggs and 6 Bourbon Red turkey eggs in it with more Pilgrim eggs on the way. I have prepaid for Narragansett turkey eggs and look forward to the hens laying so I can start those eggs as well. Each breed hatched will be housed separately so there will be no chance of cross breeding. When the hens aren’t laying then they can free-range on the farm.
Due to economics and the will of the people wanting more white meat, turkeys have been genetically bred for large breasts. The large white turkeys coomonly raised for the table are so out of proportion that many are unable to stand up and walk normally by the time they reach butcher weight. These birds also have to be artificially inseminated because they cannot mate naturally. All of this just so the general public can have a little more white meat.
The heritage turkeys are beautiful birds and will make an attractive addition to your farm and a good protector for your flock. The meat is full of flavor and the birds will produce an excellent meal for your family. Any extra eggs or poults are easily marketed to halp offset your costs. The satisfaction is also in knowing you are producing quality food for your family while helping to increase the population numbers of one of our heritage breeds.
Bourbon Red turkeys are handsome birds with brownish to dark red plumage and white flight and tail feathers. The tail feathers have soft red bars crossing them near the end. The body feathers on the toms may be edged in black while neck and breast feathers are chestnut mahogany, and the under-color feathers are light buff to almost white. The Bourbon Red’s beak is light horn at the tip and dark at the base. The throat wattle is red, changeable to bluish white; the beard is black; and the shanks and toes are pink. Standard weights for Bourbon Reds reach about 23 pounds for young toms and 14 pounds for young hens. Since, however, the Bourbon Red has not been selected for production attributes, including weight gain, for years, many birds may be smaller than the standard. Careful selection for good health, ability to mate naturally, and production attributes will return this variety to its former stature.
The Bourbon Red is an attractive bird for either exhibition or just for the backyard. They are active foragers, and would probably do well in a pasture production system. They also present an attractive carcass when dressed, since the light pinfeathers leave no residue of dark pigment showing the feather follicles as with the Bronze. This breed is on the watch list so it’s numbers are increasing.
The Narragansett turkey is on the threatened list. Its’ color pattern contains black, gray, tan, and white. The pattern is similar to that of the Bronze, with steel gray or dull black replacing the coppery bronze. White wing bars are the result of a genetic mutation which removes the bronze coloration and is not known outside the United States. The Narragansett’s beak is horn colored; its head is red to bluish white; and its beard is black. The shanks and feet are salmon colored. The standard weight for young hens is 14 pounds and a tom is 23 pounds.
Narragansett turkeys have traditionally been known for their calm disposition, good maternal abilities, early maturation, egg production, and excellent meat quality. As recently as 50 years ago, they were used for their production qualities. This historic variety is unique to North America. The Narragansett turkey would make a useful and beautiful addition to the family farm.
Pilgrim geese are a new breed but are listed as critical and definetly worth the time and investment.They were first documented in 1939 so they are a ‘new’ breed but one develoed here in the United States and worth saving.
The Pilgrim goose is known for being calm and personable. It is also the only American goose breed that is auto-sexing. Day-old gosling males are silver-yellow with light-colored bills while the female gosling is in contrast in olive-gray with darker bills. Adult ganders [males] are mostly white, usually with gray rumps (which are covered by the wings) and traces of color in the tail and wings. Mature geese (females) are a soft gray like a dove with varying amounts of white on their face. The bills and legs are orange in both sexes but there is another distinguishing feature. The eyes are blue in ganders and dark brown in geese.
Pilgrim geese are medium-sized geese usually weighing in about 13 to 14 pounds at maturity. The head is trim and the crown is often slightly flattened. The neck is average in length and thickness. Their bodies are full and plump with a smooth keel-less breast. They should have two rounded fatty lobes on the abdomen. Pilgrims can lay 35-45 white eggs annually, each weighing about six to seven ounces.
Pilgrims are adaptable birds being rugged and good foragers. They are quiet and docile. Both are excellent natural parents and they are good medium-sized roasting birds. It is a simple matter even for a beginner to properly mate Pilgrims and to keep the correct ratio of males to females when selecting young for future breeders since they are sex-linked for color. Ganders can be mated with three to five geese. Pilgrims are an excellent choice for the home goose flock.
Our farm is trying to make a difference even if it does appear to be a small one. Not to do anything to preserve these breeds would be a shame. Many of the heritage breeds are better producers and sturdier stock than the new genetically modified species we have to consume now. I like knowing where my food comes from and what it eats. I also like knowing I can make a difference.
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