The Broad-breasted White turkey is a commercial strain of turkey and does not qualify as a ‘breed’. Although the American Poultry Association only recognises eight breeds, other countries recognise other breeds as well and there are many more variants and/or strains in America. The broad-breasted white turkey has been bred to put on more meat in a shorter time and at a lower cost.
The predecessors of the turkey go back 50 or 60 million years. Slightly nearer to present day, between 200BC and 700AD turkeys were domesticated in Mexico, probably by the Aztecs. The Spanish conquistadors shipped turkeys back to Spain in the early 1500s and from there the turkey has spread through Europe.
The early American colonists brought domesticated turkeys to America with them. Some of these bred with wild turkeys and the hybrids had more vigour and were better fleshed.
Turkeys (and chickens) belong to the order Galliformes. Like many of the species in this order the hen is smaller and usually less resplendent than the cock (normally called a tom or stag). The tom has a conical, fleshy appendage that hangs from the beak, called a snood. This becomes elongated and distended when the tom is aroused and will contract at other times. The tom also has a wattle or skin flap down the neck and below this is the caruncle which are small, wart-like structures. The wattle and caruncle change from pale blue and cream to bright red during courtship. On the chest is a ‘beard’ which consists of coarse, usually dark, vestigial hair. There may be two or three beards and occasionally hens will also develop a beard.
Depending on the breed and management conditions, hens average around 3.6 kg to7.2 kg and take 4 months to fully mature. Toms are fully mature at around 19 weeks and weigh from 7.2 to 10.8 kg. They may even get to around 18 kg if given time to fully develop. The wingspan can measure 1.5 to 1.8 metres.
Hens have a six month laying cycle and produce perhaps 45 to 60 live chicks in that time. Incubation takes 28 days. Mortality of baby chicks is high and in general, turkeys are harder to raise than chickens.
These birds have been produced for a specific purpose – that of producing a large, well-fleshed carcase. The broad-breasted white turkey came about through crossing the White Holland with the Broad Breasted Bronze. It is especially popular because white birds have lighter coloured quills and pin feathers and there are very few, if any,
dark spots on the dressed carcase.
For every benefit there is usually a balancing deficit and in the case of the broad-breasted white turkey, the toms have so much meat on their breasts and such short, widely spaced legs that they are normally unable to mate naturally which means artificial insemination is required. Breast meat comprises 70% of the carcase value, 73% of the carcase yield and has only 1% fat. The fast growth and heavy weight at a young age can cause leg problems in the birds.
The broad-breasted white turkey has been developed specifically to grow faster than pure varieties and to have an excellent conversion rate of food to flesh. During the development of this type, the focus was on choosing those individuals with meatier thighs and breasts. With a well-balanced ration and under good management the broad-breasted white turkey may reach 6 kg by 10 weeks of age. The ratio of feed consumed to body weight gained (called the feed conversion ratio) is around 2:1.
Unfortunately, although the most numerous turkey around, the broad-breasted white turkey cannot breed, cannot fly and cannot survive with human assistance. There is, therefore, a great need for enthusiasts to continue to produce the so-called ‘heritage’ breeds.
http://www.burkesbackyard.com. au/2003/archives/2003/roadtest s/birds/turkey_roadtest
Learn more about this author, Judy Evans.