All About Heritage Turkeys


It’s time to talk turkey. The heritage variety, to be exact. These historic breeds, unaltered by modern agriculture, are heralded by devotees for their superior taste and sustainability. Since the time to order one of the coveted birds is now, we checked in with Craig Haney, livestock manager of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, to find out everything a heritage turkey newbie needs to know.

craig haney with bourbon red turkey

Craig Haney at Stone Barns with one of his Bourbon Red heritage turkeys

First things first, why choose a heritage turkey?

Number one: flavor. Heritage breeds have more dark meat, and a more pronounced “turkey” flavor. Number two: “Eat ‘em to save ‘em,” you know that saying. To really raise animals in the numbers that you need to bring a breed back, you need to eat them. Number three: You’re supporting a small farm with good husbandry practices.

What makes your birds different?

We let our turkeys be turkeys. Turkeys are omnivores, and omnivores are naturally inquisitive. They have freedom to roam, they roost at night, they take dirt baths.

Obviously, they’re pricier than the regular variety. How come?

The poults are more rare, and more expensive — they usually cost us about four times more. And they take about twice as long to grow and reach maturity.

You raise Broad Breasted Whites (what we’d think of as “regular turkeys”) as well as the heritage Bourbon Reds. What’s the difference?

The Bourbon Red has a longer carcass, more like a wild turkey. They hold themselves upright. And they have a greater ratio of dark to white meat — smaller breasts, and a different mouthfeel. It’s not … mushy, like a commercial bird. The hens reach about 9 pounds, and the toms reach 16 to 18 pounds.

broad breasted white turkeys

Craig also raises Broad Breasted White turkeys at Stone Barns.

How did you end up choosing Bourbon Reds over all other heritage breeds?

I started with lots of breeds, but I started to focus on the Bourbon Red because they have more consistency, and I just enjoy being around them. They’re beautiful birds.

bourbon red turkey

One of Craig's Bourbon Reds struts its stuff

Are there any special tricks for cooking a heritage turkey?

Not really — but they tend to cook more quickly than people anticipate. I think it might have something to do with density.

Would you say the birds are getting more popular?

Yes, for sure. We always sell out, but we’ve been selling out faster in recent years.

Can you recommend the best places to order heritage turkeys?

LocalHarvest and Heritage Foods USA are good resources. There are a couple of bigger places that nonetheless have good practices, Mary’s Turkeys and Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch. Frank Reese Jr. at Good Shepherd should be credited for keeping heritage turkeys going even during lean times.

Thanks, and good luck as we approach Thanksgiving season!

It really is our busiest time. I have to be on my A game!


Once you’ve placed your order, see our Roasted Heritage Turkey recipe for perfect results. And watch the video of “The Martha Stewart Show” visiting Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch.



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