Find a New Feathered Friend: 10 Turkey Breeds to Know and Love

When one mentions “turkey,” the immediate imagery might be of the classic Thanksgiving bird. But did you know that the world of turkeys is far more varied and interesting?

Whether you’re a poultry enthusiast, an aspiring farmer or homesteader, or someone looking for a new hobby, the rich tapestry of turkey breeds offers an array of choices.

Dive in with me as we journey through the history, popular breeds, and some rare gems of the turkey world.

Historical Background

Turkeys, native to North America and Central America, were domesticated by native peoples numerous years before the arrival of European colonists. There is even evidence that the Mayans raised turkeys around 2,000 years ago!

Eventually, explorers took turkeys to Europe in the 16th Century, where they became a popular meat bird. Over time, they transitioned from wild game to integral members of agricultural communities.

Through centuries of selective breeding, many breeds emerged, each with its own unique characteristics.

Common Turkey Breeds*

Broad Breasted White Turkey

Broad breasted white Turkey with Muscovy Ducks
  • Physical characteristics: Known for its white plumage and large frame, it is the most popular commercial turkey.
  • Purpose: Specifically bred for meat production.
  • Size: Males 34-44 lbs. Females 22-28 lbs.(however they are usually considered mature for commercial uses before these weights)
  • Availability: Readily available due to its popularity in commercial turkey farming.
  • Status: Not on a watch list.

Broad Breasted Bronze Turkey

Broad Breasted Bronze Turkey (photo from Cackle Hatchery)
  • Physical characteristics: Distinguished by its metallic sheen and dark feathers.
  • Purpose: Another favorite for meat production.
  • Size: Males up to 45 lbs. Females up to 32 lbs. (however they are usually considered mature for commercial uses before these weights)
  • Availability: Common in many farming environments.
  • Status: Not on a watch list.

Heritage Turkey Breeds*

Bourbon Red

Bourbon Red Turkey with domestic Geese
  • Physical characteristics: Rich, dark red feathers with white tail tips.
  • Purpose: Bred for meat but also admired for its beauty.
  • Size: Males 32 lbs., Females 18 lbs.
  • Availability: Growing in popularity, especially among hobbyist farmers.
  • Status: Watch**
  • Experience Level: Better for keepers with some experience.


Heritage Breed Narragansett Tom Turkey
  • Physical characteristics: A mix of gray, tan, and white plumage.
  • Purpose: A versatile breed used for both meat and ornamental purposes.
  • Size: Males 28 lbs., Females 18 lbs.
  • Availability: Found among enthusiasts and small farms.
  • Status: Watch
  • Experience Level: Better for keepers with some experience.

Royal Palm

Royal Palm Turkey male display
  • Physical characteristics: Striking black and white feathers in a patterned array.
  • Purpose: Typically ornamental due to its distinct appearance.
  • Size: Males 20-22 lbs., Females 12 lbs.
  • Availability: More on the rare side but can be found with a bit of searching.
  • Status: Watch
  • Experience Level: Better for keepers with some experience.

Black Spanish

A pair of black feathered turkeys
  • Physical characteristics: Dark, nearly black plumage, giving it an air of elegance.
  • Purpose: Used for both meat and as an ornamental bird.
  • Size: Males 27 lbs., Females 18 lbs.
  • Availability: A bit rarer, but a treasure for enthusiasts.
  • Status: Watch
  • Experience Level: Appropriate for beginners.

Slate Turkey

Royal palm and slate turkeys standing together
  • Physical characteristics: Blue-gray to slate colored plumage.
  • Purpose: Dual-purpose but increasingly being raised for ornamental reasons.
  • Size: Males can grow to 33 lbs., Females 18 lbs.
  • Availability: Rare but increasing in recognition.
  • Status: Watch
  • Experience Level: Better for keepers with some experience.

Beltsville Small White

Beltsville Small White Turkey (photo from The Livestock Conservancy)
  • Physical characteristics: Small and compact with pure white feathers.
  • Purpose: Initially bred for meat.
  • Size: Males 21 lbs, Females 17 lbs.
  • Availability: Considered a rare breed today.
  • Status: Threatened
  • Experience Level: Appropriate for beginners.

White Holland

White Holland Turkey (photo by Lynn Magedson on the Oklahoma State University website)

The White Hollands are sometimes confused with the Broad Breasted White turkeys. They are, in fact, separate breeds. A reputable, knowledgeable breeder may have true White Hollands available for purchase.

  • Physical characteristics: White feathers and broad breast.
  • Purpose: Initially bred for meat.
  • Size: Males 33 lbs, Females 18 lbs.
  • Availability: They are a rare breed.
  • Status: Threatened
  • Experience Level: Appropriate for beginners.

Standard Bronze Turkey

Bronze Turkey (photo from Oklahoma State University)
  • Physical characteristics: It resembles its broad-breasted counterpart but with a more balanced physique.
  • Purpose: Great for both meat and ornamental purposes.
  • Size: Males 35-38 lbs, Females 18-22 lbs.
  • Availability: Not widely available but can be found at a few reputable hatcheries.
  • Status: Watch
  • Experience Level: Better for keepers with some experience.

*Please note that all weights are estimates

How Long Do Turkeys Live?

The lifespan of a turkey largely depends on its breed and living conditions. Domesticated turkeys usually live between 5 and 10 years. However, they’re often harvested before they reach the end of their natural lifespan, especially if they’re raised for meat.

On the other hand, wild turkeys can live up to 10 years if they can evade their natural predators.

It’s worth noting that many commercial breeds have been designed for rapid growth and might only live for a short time due to health complications. Heritage breeds would be better if you want a feathered friend, who occasionally lays eggs, to add to your flock.

Can You Eat Turkey Eggs?

Yes, turkey eggs are edible and quite delicious! They are creamier and more decadent than chicken eggs; some prefer their taste over the more commonly consumed chicken eggs.

However, turkey eggs are not commonly found in supermarkets or shops because turkeys lay fewer eggs than chickens (around two to three a week) and take up more space.

Additionally, farmers often find it more profitable to raise turkeys for meat rather than for egg production. But if you ever get the chance, their eggs are definitely worth trying!

Turkey Feeding Guidelines

Proper nutrition is paramount for raising healthy turkeys. Here are some guidelines to ensure your birds get the nutrients they need:

      1. Starter Feed: Newly hatched turkeys, known as poults, should be given turkey starter feed. This feed is protein-rich, usually around 28% protein, and specially formulated for their rapid growth.
      2. Grower Feed: After 6-8 weeks, transition the poults to grower feed. This feed has a slightly reduced protein content, typically around 20-24%.
      Finisher Feed: If you’re raising turkeys for meat, you’ll switch them to finisher feed a few weeks before you process or send them to be processed. This feed promotes weight gain and finishing.
      3. Layer Feed: For turkeys raised for egg production, provide them with layer feed that contains the essential nutrients to support egg production.
      4. Access to Grit: Like other types of poultry, turkeys require grit to aid digestion. Grit aids their digestion by helping grind down grains and fibrous materials in their gizzard
      5. Fresh Water: Always provide fresh, clean water. Turkeys consume large quantities of water, especially in warm weather.
      6. Treats: While commercial feeds are comprehensive, you can occasionally offer fruits, vegetables, and grains. However, like chickens, treats should be at most 10% of their diet.

Please note that young turkeys (poults) may need help finding food and water after hatching or after you get them from a hatchery. You may even have to take them to the food and water to help them learn. They will starve themselves if they don’t know where the food is early! Some experts advise that you dip poults’ beaks in water to help them understand what to do.

Turkey Housing

Turkeys walking by a luxury chicken coop in the form of a cathedral
      1. Space: Turkeys need ample space to thrive. Aim for a minimum of 3-5 square feet per bird inside the coop, but more is always better. For outdoor grazing or free-ranging, allocate at least 10 square feet per bird.
      2. Ventilation: Ensure that the coop is well-ventilated to prevent respiratory issues. However, avoid drafts, especially in the colder months.
      3. Protection: Turkeys are susceptible to predators. Their housing should be secure from animals like raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. Use strong wire mesh, and consider burying it a foot deep around the perimeter to deter digging predators.
      4. Roosting: Turkeys prefer to roost off the ground. Provide roosting bars that can hold their weight. A height of 3-4 feet is usually sufficient.
      5. Nesting Boxes: If you’re raising turkeys for egg production, provide nesting boxes. While turkeys aren’t as particular as chickens, they appreciate a quiet, dimly lit space to lay their eggs.
      6. Cleanliness: Regularly clean the coop to prevent the spread of disease. Replace bedding, remove waste, and consider periodic disinfection.
      7. Access to Dust Baths: Like many birds, Turkeys enjoy dust baths. They help with parasite control and keep the birds clean. Ensure they have a dry spot with loose soil or sand for this purpose.

What to Consider When Choosing a Turkey Breed

If you’re thinking about venturing into the world of turkey rearing, several factors should guide your decision:

  • Purpose: Are you looking for meat production, egg-laying, or simply ornamental birds?
  • Space Requirements: Some breeds require more space than others. Ensure your environment suits your chosen breed.
  • Feed and Care: While turkeys generally have similar dietary needs, some may require special attention.
  • Climate adaptability: Some turkey breeds are more resilient in certain climates. As a general rule, watch for frostbite on their heads if you live in a place with harsh winters. If you live in a place with extreme summers, ensure your turkeys have shade and plenty of fresh water.
  • One more thing to consider: commercial breeds cannot always mate naturally because of their large size. So, if you hope to breed your turkeys, heritage turkey breeds are a better choice.

Chickens and Turkeys Living Together: What You Need to Know

Turkey walking a farm with a rooster and chickens

Many hobbyists and farmers contemplate raising chickens and turkeys together when diversifying a poultry flock. While it’s not uncommon to see various poultry species cohabiting, there are several considerations to keep in mind if you’re thinking of letting chickens and turkeys share the same space.

      1. Disease Risk: The primary concern when housing these two birds together is the risk of disease transmission. Turkeys are very susceptible to a disease called Blackhead (histomoniasis), which is often carried by chickens. While chickens might show little to no symptoms, it can be fatal to turkeys. Regular health checks and a clean environment are essential to mitigate this risk.
      2. Size Difference: Turkeys are significantly larger than chickens. This size disparity can lead to problems, especially if turkeys become aggressive. They can unintentionally or intentionally harm the smaller chickens during feeding time or when establishing dominance.
      3. Dietary Needs: While both birds have similar diet structures, turkeys have higher protein requirements, especially when young. If raised together, it’s crucial to ensure that both species receive the appropriate nutrition for their growth and health.
      4. Behavioral Differences: Turkeys and chickens have different behaviors and social structures. For instance, while chickens have a clear pecking order, turkeys establish a pecking order but often display a more communal behavior. Understanding these dynamics can help in managing any potential conflicts.
      5. Roosting Habits: Turkeys prefer to roost at a higher elevation than chickens. If you’re housing them in the same coop, ensure roosting spots at varying heights to cater to both birds’ preferences.
      6. Breeding Concerns: If you have male turkeys (toms) and roosters, be wary during the breeding season. Toms can attempt to mate with hens, which can harm or even kill the much smaller bird due to the size difference.
      7. Space: Both species appreciate space. If you decide to house them together, make sure there’s ample room for both to roam, feed, and rest without competition.
      8. Safety: As with any mixed flock, monitor their interactions, especially in the beginning. It’s essential to have a backup plan, such as separate housing, if conflicts arise or if disease transmission becomes a concern.

While it’s possible to house chickens and turkeys together, it requires diligent management, understanding of their needs, and close observation. It can be a harmonious coexistence for those willing to put in the effort. However, always prioritize the health and safety of your birds, and be prepared to separate them if necessary. Some experts even recommend NOT housing turkeys and chickens together for the reasons listed above.

The Importance of Preservation

Embracing diversity among turkey breeds is more than just a matter of choice. It plays a pivotal role in biodiversity and can be crucial for small-scale farming and local economies. Preserving less common breeds ensures genetic diversity, making the entire species more resilient.


Turkeys are more than just Thanksgiving centerpieces; they’re a testament to nature’s diversity and human ingenuity. Exploring different breeds can be a rewarding hobby and a step towards conservation. As we understand and appreciate the differences among these birds, we enrich our lives and contribute to a richer, more diverse world.

Have you raised any of these turkey breeds? I’d love to hear your experiences and stories. Please, comment below. And share this article with fellow bird lovers and help spread the knowledge!

**Note on Status Meanings (as described on The Livestock Conservancy website):

Status Meaning
Critical This category encompasses breeds with extremely low populations. In the U.S., these breeds have fewer than 200 annual registrations. Globally, they have a population of under 500. Poultry under this category have less than 500 birds in the U.S., are maintained by five or fewer major breeding flocks (comprising 50 birds or more), and have a worldwide population under 1,000.
Threatened Breeds in this classification are at risk, with less than 1,000 annual U.S. registrations and a worldwide population under 5,000. Poultry criteria include fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the U.S., seven or fewer primary breeding flocks, and a worldwide population below 5,000.
Watch Breeds under this category have potential genetic, numerical, or distribution issues. They have less than 2,500 annual U.S. registrations and a global population of under 10,000. Poultry in this category number fewer than 5,000 in the U.S., are upheld by ten or fewer breeding flocks and have a global population under 10,000.
Recovering Breeds formerly in a riskier category but now surpass the “Watch” category’s figures. They still necessitate observation.
Study This category involves breeds needing additional investigation to determine if they warrant a spot on the Conservation Priority List. The aim is to optimize The Livestock Conservancy’s conservation strategies for breeds genuinely in need, and that can gain from such efforts.


The Wild Turkey: History of an All-American Bird |

White Holland Turkey – The Livestock Conservancy

Small-Flock Turkey Production (


Can turkeys and chickens be housed together? – Cooperative Extension: New Farmers – University of Maine Cooperative Extension (

The Long, Surprising Journey of the Domestic Wild Turkey | Audubon

Bronze Turkeys

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and is interested in backyard chicken health and care.

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