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Bourbon Red Heritage Breed Turkeys

Written By Ryan Tierney

Most of us are familiar with the annual march of the frozen turkeys. Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite holidays! Families and friends gather together one Thursday per year to feast on turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. For many of us, the turkey takes center stage. This has been the case since 1863 when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday. We celebrate the turkey, in part, due to the belief that we have been hunting wild turkeys in this country since the 1600’s. Our turkeys tend to come from the grocery store these days, however.

While many people are forced to collect their turkeys from the grocery store, this isn’t an ideal situation. The turkeys from the major turkey farming companies are grown for mass production and efficiency. A quick Google search for “Butterball cruelty” will provide all of the information needed to understand what is happening with those turkeys. There are healthier and more ethical options at many stores, but they often taste like any other turkey in the freezer.

What is the solution to this conundrum? While the process might not be readily apparent to many, the answer is quite simple. Heritage breeds are sure to give you a taste of real turkey flavor! At Triple Strand Ranch, the Kentucky Bourbon Red is our heritage breed of choice. Not only do these turkeys taste like turkeys (and not…chicken), but they are quite striking too! Deep reds on the body and white wings and tail feathers really make these birds stand out!

The Bourbon Red was actually first named “Bourbon Butternut” when it was developed in the late 1800’s. While that name is far more entertaining, buyers seemed to be put off. The creator decided to rename the variety in hopes of improving commercial success. This worked, and the breed was eventually recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909.

Although the breed was quite popular until the 1930’s due to its rich flavors, it would eventually fall to varieties that had much more developed and broad breasts. Interest in the Bourbon Red has increased since the early 2000’s, however, and it is easy to understand why. Bourbon Reds have been among the most flavorful turkeys in the United States for over 100 years!

While they don’t lay many eggs each year, our first resident momma bird was determined to have a successful brood. We had a rough patch with predators around the time she began laying, and it sometimes seemed as though she was laying her eggs just for them! Still, she never gave up. She moved around the pasture and wood-line laying in different areas. We ultimately managed to solve the predator problem, but we still decided to start collecting the eggs for incubation. We now have a significant flock of Bourbon Reds! We will definitely be continuing this line.

Ultimately, any turkey that you can get your hands on that wasn’t mass-produced is a victory, and heritage breeds are a vast improvement in flavor over typical commercial breeds. They may be harder to find, but you can bet that we will have them at Triple Strand Ranch for years to come!


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