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13 Best Meat Turkey Breeds for Your Homestead

Raising poultry such as turkey on your homestead is an excellent way for you and your family to enjoy plenty of healthy protein. And turkey is our favorite way to put delicious meat in your freezer – and on your table. So what’s the best tasting turkey breed for meat? 

The best meat turkey breed in terms of taste is likely either the Midget White or Bourbon Red. However, other breeds may be faster growers, have better temperaments, or fit the forage available on your homestead better than these breeds.

If you’re going to raise meat turkeys, you have several turkey breeds to consider, each with its unique qualities. Understanding what each variety offers can help you determine which meat turkey breed is best for your homestead.

What Is the Best Type of Turkey to Raise for Meat? 

The best type of turkey to raise for meat is the one that’s best tasting. Right? Well, yes and no. Of course, we want meat that tastes good, but there are other factors to consider when choosing a turkey breed that fits your homestead needs.

Tasty meat aside, some things you may want to look for in a turkey breed are the following. 

  • Finishing weight
  • Breast width
  • Growth rate. Or the number of weeks until butcher.
  • Temperament. Is it friendly and pet-like? Or more independent?
  • Foraging ability
  • Ability to breed and rear offspring naturally. Do you want to buy poults every year or raise your own?
  • Attractiveness. Beauty feeds the soul – and our bellies.

Which Turkey Variety Is the Biggest Meat Producer? 

val broad breasted bronze turkey northwest wisconsin bonnie warndahl
Val was a Broad Breasted Bronze that lived on my farm for a while in Northwest Wisconsin. She was a tremendously large bird with a sweet and curious temperament. Photo credit: Bonnie Warndahl.

If you’re going for volume alone, you are probably looking at one of two meat turkey breeds for your homestead. The heavyweights of the turkey world broil down (see what I did there) to the Broad Breasted Bronze and the Broad Breasted White.

Hens of these breeds weigh around 25 pounds, and toms at about 45 pounds. That’s nearly twice the weight of most other turkey breeds. 

Broad-Breasted Bronze Turkeys

Last year I took in a pair of Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys after the farmer who owned them had an accident and couldn’t care for them.

They were shockingly large.

I never weighed them, but I estimated that the tom weighed at least 60 pounds and the hen at least 40. I believe they were an older breeding pair. And they had their gluttonous fill of all the corn they wanted! 

I think it’s fair to say that Broad Breasted Bronze is the biggest meat producer. They were the standard commercial breed for many years due to their impressive size.

A Standard Bronze may be the way to go if you wish for higher meat production from a heritage breed.

Broad-Breasted White Turkeys

The Broad Breasted Bronze was crossed with the White Holland Turkey in the 1950s to create the Broad Breasted White. White turkeys are preferred to commercial breeders because dark feathers are undesirable to consumers. 

The Broad Breasted White, the smaller cousin to the Broad Breasted Bronze, is still a good meat producer while retaining more heritage breed qualities, like deeper flavor and a larger quantity of dark meat. Toms usually weigh about 25 pounds, while hens weigh around 16 pounds

What Breed of Turkey Is a Butterball? 

broad breasted bronze male turkey in a garden
Broad-breasted bronze turkeys have meaty breasts. That makes them ideal for delicious and ample Thanksgiving banquets! Fascinatingly, their demand has decreased as a result of their white-feathered cousins. White-feathered broad-breasted turkeys are more desirable because their pin-feathers are less visible after cleaning.

To clarify, Butterball is the brand name of turkey and other poultry sold through the Butterball brand – not a breed. 

Butterballs, like most commercially-raised turkeys, are Broad Breasted Whites. Unlike their heritage breed cousins, Broad Breasted Whites have been bred to grow rapidly. It only takes 16 weeks to butcher a Broad Breasted White, rather than 28 weeks for most other breeds.

They also grow large breasts and white meat. Their white pin feathers also make them look more appetizing when compared to their dark-feathered cousin, the Broad Breasted Bronze.

Broad Breasted Whites don’t have time to develop strong muscles and bones. They struggle to move around (no foragers in this bunch!) and usually fail to breed naturally due to their overly large breasts and short legs.

Broad Breasted Whites breed through artificial insemination. Their artificial breeding means that if humans ever kick the bucket, this species will also be bye-bye birdie in mere months. 

Due to so much genetic meddling, some folks feel that this breed of turkey doesn’t have much natural flavor.

However, some flavor loss may be due to how we raise these birds and their diet. Commercially-raised birds never go outside and don’t have access to bugs, greens, and exercise that would help to enrich the meat. 

What Is the Best Tasting Breed of Turkey? 

midget-white-best-turkey-breed-for-meat
In most blind taste tests, the Midget White Turkey, a smaller variety of Broad Breasted Whites, reigns supreme as the best tasting meat turkey breed.

According to a taste test performed at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia, in 2008, Midget White is the best-tasting meat turkey breed, followed by the Bourbon Red.

This blind taste test, executed by 70 food professionals, compared a Butterball against eight heritage turkey breeds.

  • Midget White
  • Bourbon Red
  • Royal Palm
  • Slate
  • Narragansett
  • Chocolate
  • Bronze
  • Black

Each breed got rated according to appearance (when roasted), flavor, tenderness, texture, and aroma.

All eight heritage breeds outranked the Butterball (Broad Breasted White), with the Midget White and Bourbon Red taking nearly twice the votes as any other single breed. 

Los Angeles Times taste test conducted in 2003 yielded similar results. The Times Taste Test Kitchen compared three turkeys.

  • A free-range, hormone-free Broad Breasted White
  • A standard grocery store Broad Breasted White
  • A heritage turkey (breed not disclosed)

Taste testers once again rated the heritage breed over the commercial turkey breeds. They were especially surprised by the delicious flavor and texture of the breast meat since heritage breeds are known for their superb dark meat. 

Heritage breeds are known to have better flavor than commercial breeds. The reasons behind this are the following.

  1. They have a longer growing time, building up an extra layer of fat.
  2. The birds have more dark meat compared to commercial breeds.
  3. Because they are more active, the turkey meat tends to have a firmer texture

So, when it comes to the best-tasting turkey breed, it’s very likely that any heritage breed will taste better than commercial breeds, with Midget White and Bourbon Red perching at the top of the list.

What Is the Best Meat Turkey Breed for Temperament? 

ken lambert blue slate meat turkey tom
Here’s a beautiful blue slate tom turkey. Some farmers call blue slate turkeys lavender turkeys – especially if they are a light shade. Photo credit: Ken Lambert.

When it comes down to temperament, four breeds stand out for being nice guys

Some of the best turkey breeds for their temperament include:

  • Midget White
  • Narragansett
  • Royal Palm
  • Bourbon Red

Each of these turkey breeds gets recognized for its calm disposition. However, if you noticed, two of these breeds, the Midget White and Bourbon Red, were also voted the tastiest turkeys. So, you can have the best of both worlds!

Midget Whites are known for good temperaments and being attentive mothers. Narragansetts and Royals Palm turkeys are also sweet-tempered and good mothers! They’re also good foragers.

Bourbon Reds are also well-known for having a generally chill attitude. 

Read More – 7 Best Dairy Goat Breeds Perfect for Delicious Goat Milk!

What Is the Calmest Turkey Breed? 

If you are looking for a calm turkey breed for your homestead, Midget Whites get touted for their docile and calm disposition. They are widely kept as pets and are considered good starter birds. 

So, if you’re just getting started at raising turkey for meat, you might want to pick the midget white. These friendly birds don’t only have the best-tasting meat, but they are one of the easiest breeds of turkeys to keep.

What is the Best Turkey Breed for Foraging?

narragansett and bourbon red turkeys
The Narragansett turkeys hail from Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. They came about from their Norfolk Black and Native Eastern turkey parents. They aren’t large turkeys – but their meat is delicious. (Males weigh up to 28 pounds.) They’re an old-fashioned breed and have enjoyed recognition by APA since 1874. They also have a fancily-feathered relative named the Silver Narragansett.

The best turkey breeds for foraging are Narragansett, Royal Palm, Black Spanish, and Blue Slate. Blue Slates are also known for being a hardy turkey breed. 

Foraging skills are vital if you want a more flavorful bird. Good foragers also make life easier for the homesteader. They need less protection from predators and extreme weather conditions because they are active. They can run and even fly. 

Good foragers consume less grain since they can access plenty of greens and protein-rich creepy crawlies. Their minimal grain consumption means less work and more money saved on feed. 

Read More – Can You Eat Rooster Meat? Are Male Chickens Edible? Or Not?

Which Turkey Breeds Can Breed Naturally?

bourbon-red-hen-and-poult
Heritage turkeys like this Bourbon Red Hen can breed naturally without human help.

All heritage-breed turkeys can breed naturally. If you want to raise your poults, it is best to choose a heritage breed.

The ability to reproduce naturally is one of the defining factors for being listed as a heritage breed with the Livestock Conservancy.

Heritage breeds include the following.

  • Midget White
  • Narragansett
  • Royal Palms
  • Standard Bronze
  • Bourbon Red
  • Blue Slate 
  • Black Spanish 
  • Beltsville Small White
  • White Holland
  • Chocolate 
  • Jersey Bluff
  • Lavender

While Bourbon Reds and White Hollands can breed naturally, it is common for the hens to break eggs due to their large size. So it is best to move the eggs to an incubator for hatching.

If you want to learn more about heritage turkey breeds, including many of those mentioned in this article, you might find this video from the Heritage Poultry Conservancy as interesting as we did:

Best Snacks and Treats for Turkeys

We know that turkeys get hungry! Feeding them is a challenge – doubly so if you have a sizeable flock of large meat turkey breeds.

So we put together a list of our favorite turkey snacks, treats, and goodies. Turkeys love these yummy victuals!

The following will keep your turkeys happy – and content. For a short time, at least.

  1. Manna Pro Chicken Treats | Harvest Delight Chicken Scratch
  2. Manna Pro Chicken Treats | Harvest Delight Chicken Scratch
    $13.99 $11.99

    If you're worried about your turkeys, poultry, or chickens flying the coop and hopping your fence, then give them one less reason to leave. Give them delicious chicken treats!

    Harvest Delight is perfect for mature birds and mixed flocks. It contains boatloads of raisins, peanuts, whole grains, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, carrots, and flax seeds. The ingredients sound good enough for us to eat. But - don't do that. Save it for your turkeys - and poultry!

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    11/29/2022 10:11 am GMT
  3. Manna Pro All Flock Crumbles | Complete Feed for Chickens, Ducks, Geese, and Turkeys
  4. Manna Pro All Flock Crumbles | Complete Feed for Chickens, Ducks, Geese, and Turkeys
    $12.46

    Want more than just a snack for your flock? Manna Pro All Flock Crumbles contains 16% crude protein and satisfies turkeys, ducks, chickens, geese, and game birds. It also has added probiotics for gut digestion and health. It doesn't have artificial flavors or colors - and the crumble is tremendously easy for birds to eat.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    11/30/2022 06:06 am GMT
  5. Manna Pro Gamebird Showbird Crumbles | With Vitamins & Minerals
  6. Manna Pro Gamebird Showbird Crumbles | With Vitamins & Minerals
    $10.50

    Manna Pro Gamebird Showbird Crumbles is perfect if you have a chic flock of fancy feathers and show birds. It contains 25% protein to help support efficient gains, growth, and healthy plumage. Your mixed flocks with turkeys, geese, broilers, and ducks will also appreciate the extra vitamins and minerals.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    11/29/2022 10:26 am GMT
  7. Organic Cracked Corn | Scratch and Peck Feeds
  8. Organic Cracked Corn | Scratch and Peck Feeds

    We know turkeys that eat cracked corn by the gallon - and wheelbarrow. Give them what they want! This Cluckin' Good Organic Cracked Corn from Scratch and Peck Feeds is an excellent snacking source for your flock. It's milled and grown in the Pacific Northwest - USA. The creators also support sustainable farming. Perfect!

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

  9. Grub Bird Treats - Scratch and Peck Feeds
  10. Grub Bird Treats - Scratch and Peck Feeds
    $38.98 ($0.70 / Ounce)

    Your turkeys, chickens, ducks, and geese will go wild over these. For sure! The grubs are 100% natural and contain 40% protein plus oodles of calcium and nutrients. We also love broadcasting these grubs if your turkeys get bored. Throw a handful of these in your yard to keep your flock happy, nourished, and active.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    11/30/2022 02:18 am GMT
  11. Manna Pro Chicken Scratch | Manna Pro
  12. Manna Pro Chicken Scratch | Manna Pro
    $14.85 $11.99

    Want to spoil your rowdy roosters with handfuls of yummy snacking scratch? Try these! The yummy grain scratch contains real veggies like peas, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and beets. It also has sunflower and pumpkin seeds to keep your flock guessing! It's perfect for mature birds - turkeys, roosters, hens, and more.

    Get More Info

    We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    11/30/2022 02:50 am GMT

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you’re just embarking on your turkey-rearing journey, you probably have some questions. So, let’s answer them!

Can Meat Turkeys Breed Naturally?

Most commercial meat turkeys, such as the Broad Breasted White, cannot breed naturally. However, all heritage meat turkeys, such as the Broad Breasted Bronze, Midget White, and Bourbon Red, can breed naturally.

What Is Better, a Tom or Hen Turkey?

Turkey meat from a hen is often more tender, but hens are generally smaller than toms. However, toms of some breeds may have more tender meat depending on the traits they were bred for, and some people claim that toms have more flavor.

What Breed of Turkey is Most Common?

The most common breed of turkey is the Broad Breasted White, as it is the primary turkey breed in large-scale meat farming in North America. Most turkey sold in supermarkets comes from this breed.

Conclusion

ken lambert mixed flock royal palms blue slate bourbon red turkeys
Mixed flock of Royal Palms, Blue Slate, and Bourbon Red Turkeys. Photo credit: Ken Lambert.

We know that raising turkeys is a lot of fun – whether you intend on raising them for meat or not!

Finding your perfect poultry match takes a bit of research, but once you find a breed with great-tasting meat, a disposition that suits yours, and traits that match up with your homestead, you’ll surely understand why these birds are the key feature of the most thankful day of the year.

We hope our best turkey breed guide helps you decide which type of bird suits your fancy.

If you have questions about turkey breeds or have tips for which turkey breeds are best for meat, we invite you to share!

Also – let us know which turkey breeds you think have the best temperament! (And, which ones should others avoid?)

Thanks again for reading!

Have an excellent day!

More on Raising Poultry:

13 Best Meat Turkey Breeds for Your Homestead

Author

  • Bonnie Warndahl

    Bonnie Warndahl is a farmer, homesteader, floral designer, and freelance writer/editor in northwest Wisconsin. She is a passionate advocate for nature conservation and loves sharing knowledge about gardening, homesteading, and sustainability.

Tracy

Saturday 24th of September 2022

Great article and information. Thanks for sharing.

Elle

Sunday 25th of September 2022

Thanks so much Tracy! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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