Sustainable Production Systems for Range-Reared Standard Turkeys

Final Report for ES05-078

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2005: $109,444.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Marjorie Bender
American Livestock Breeds Conservacy
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Project Information


Accurate information on range production of naturally-mating Standard varieties of turkeys (a.k.a. Heritage Turkeys) is urgently needed. The market for Heritage Turkeys is growing rapidly and many producers are adding them to their farming enterprises. Conclusive evidence that Heritage Turkeys have more robust immune systems, better survivability, and superior overall performance in range-based systems than commercial strains have also fueled the interest. (SSARE R & E Grant (LS02-134) to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy).

Information on range production of Standard turkeys is largely out-of-print. A diverse collaboration proposes to train agricultural professionals about range production of standard turkeys. Two regional workshops will be held on farms. A training manual, consisting of a series of topic-based pamphlets will be published which will integrate traditional information on production with contemporary information on diseases, processing and marketing. Participants’ outreach efforts will be supported with materials and personnel.

Project Objectives:

1. Ag professionals will become familiar with range production of standard turkeys. Participants will…

a. Be able to define the terms “naturally-mating”, “heritage” and “standard”;
b. Understand the recent research on standard turkeys which validates their conservation as commercially viable resources;
c. Understand the value of range production based on market trends and consumer preferences;
d. Be able to identify and name the standard varieties of turkeys;
e. Be able to outline the steps of range production from ordering poults through brooding, from pasturing and feeding through processing;
f. Be able to describe market niches, distribution options, and related regulations;
g. Be able to assist producers in developing a marketing strategy for this enterprise;
h. Be able to help farmers develop enterprise budgets and provide the economics of production based on regional and state specific data; and
i. Understand the regional infrastructure needed to successfully bring turkeys to the marketplace.

2. Ag professionals will be able to effectively disseminate information about range production of standard turkeys to their constituencies.


ALBC began this project as the Heritage Turkey market was just growing its flight feathers. It was clear that people were interested in producing Heritage Turkeys, but they were at a loss for how to manage many of the issues that come with these older varieties – flying, roosting, nutritional needs, processing, marketing, and more. In order for ALBC’s goal of genetic conservation of these non-industrial varieties to be successful we needed to teach potential producers how to care for them properly so they could be successful AND so that the consumer would enjoy the product and want more.

A two pronged approach of developing long-lasting written material and intensive, up-close and personal clinics was undertaken.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Carole Addlestone
  • Jeannette Beranger
  • Scott Beyer
  • Holly Born
  • Barbara Bowman
  • Brad Burbaugh
  • Dennis Epperly
  • Ann Fanatico
  • Jesse Grimes
  • Scott Hammann
  • Linda Hart
  • Sep Harvin
  • Julie Helm, DVM, DACPV
  • Alex Hitt
  • Janelle Holden
  • Jennifer Kendall
  • Linda Landrum
  • Calvert Larson
  • Jeff May
  • Bill McBrayer
  • Darlene McElwee
  • Steve Moize
  • Alan Moore
  • Barbara Mracek
  • Sam Ormont
  • Thomas E. Peterson
  • Don Schrider
  • Tarri Street
  • Elena Toro
  • Mike Walters
  • Danny Williamson

Education & Outreach Initiatives



ALBC developed a manual entitled How to Raise Heritage Turkeys on Pasture. A broad array of experts contributed content and reviewed the material for accuracy and readability.

Originally, ALBC intended to print individual booklets on each topic, and provide these in hard copy to extension offices. Changes in the way people seek information caused ALBC to modify its approach. Instead, the material was made available electronically for free. Each chapter stands on its own as a PDF file, including full authorship and reference information. This allows each chapter to be downloaded and printed as needed. The chapters were compiled and published in a single volume for purchase at $12.95 for those who prefer to have a book.

An agenda was then developed for a one and a half day workshop. PowerpPoint presentations covering each topic area were created. An expert Heritage Turkey producer was contracted to teach the class, covering the bulk of the technical topics. An ALBC facilitator/educator put this workshop in context by information on the genetic importance of Heritage Turkeys, comparative research, population and market trends, definitions and resources. Presenters on the specific topics were recruited to provide important local information. The local poultry processor spoke on processing access, regulations, and producer/processor responsibilities. A state department of agriculture vet or designated representative spoke on the topic of biosecurity. Where possible, local contacts spoke on marketing issues and opportunities. The local farmer was asked to share economic information.

ALBC solicited applications from potential host sites. Host site requirements included a farm location where Heritage Turkey production could be observed as a local case study, and a classroom setting for the lecture component. Applications were reviewed, promising hosts were contacted, and locations confirmed. All of the logistical pieces were then arranged. Sessions were posted to the ALBC website and promoted throughout the country. In compliance with the requirements of the Southern Region SARE grant, the majority of the promotion was focused in the southern region. Press releases were sent specifically to metropolitan, regional and local newspapers, radio stations, colleges and universities, state departments of agriculture, and sustainable agriculture organizations.

A scholarship program was developed for agricultural educators and made available to those in the Southern region. The application and an invitation to apply were distributed through the Cooperative Extension network. The press releases and promotional material told people how to learn more about the scholarship program. The registration made note of the scholarship program.

Registration was accepted up to 5 days before the program, to allow food to be ordered. However, walk-ins were allowed. All of the registration information was posted to the website, and either sent electronically or by US Post, as preferred by the individual registrant.

Materials, including the printed book, were shipped to the host location.

The clinician and the ALBC facilitator arrived the day prior to the clinic. The farm was visited, the classroom was set up, printed materials, which were done locally, were picked up and packets filled, snacks and beverages were purchased and signs posted. An orientation with the host assured we were all prepared for a coordinated and smooth presentation.

On the first day, the program ran from 8:30 – 4:30 with an hour break for lunch, and from 8:00 – noon on the second day. Time was incorporated for questions and discussion throughout the day. Pre- and post-tests were administered to participants to assess the effectiveness of the instruction. Attendees received the following:

How to Raise Heritage Turkeys on Pasture, published by ALBC
Agenda with presenter contact information
Participant list with contact information (to facilitate networking)
Contagious Disease Biosecurity Plan
Generic Poultry Enterprise Budget & Introduction. Created by Robert A Luening, Cooperative Extension Farm Management and Donald J. Schuster, Project Economist CIAS, University of Wisconsin – Madison, January 2003.
Marketing Options for Heritage Breeds of Turkeys. Power Point by Linda Landrum (FL, MO)
Small Farms Business & Marketing Resources
Hatcheries/Farms and Breeders Who Breed Purebred Turkeys 2006
Hatcheries and Breeders That Sell Poults 2006
Hatcheries Selling Turkeys 2006

Scholarship recipients also received:
ALBC Heritage Turkey Husbandry Workshop Curriculum

ALBC had previously developed a breeding stock selection clinic for Heritage Turkeys. When possible, a breeder selection clinic was added on either the day before or after. This hands-on workshop taught participants how to evaluate their own flocks, and to how to select the best birds as next year’s breeders. Because quality stock is difficult to obtain, producers are needing to learn how to identify animals with the qualities that are needed for commercial viability. These breeder selection clinics are an added value to the husbandry clinic in that they provide one more puzzle piece to economic success. Scholarships were not offered for this program.

Attendees received the following:
Selection Your Best for Breeding, published by ALBC
Birds of a Feather: Saving Rare Turkeys from Extinction, by Carolyn Christman and Robert Hawes, published by ALBC
Agenda with presenter contact information
Participant list with contact information (to facilitate networking)
Hatcheries/Farms and Breeders Who Breed Purebred Turkeys 2006
Hatcheries and Breeders That Sell Poults 2006

Outreach and Publications

How To Raise Heritage Turkeys on Pasture was published in 2007. It is available at no charge through the ALBC website ( A bound version is available for $12.95 through the ALBC store ( or by calling 919-542-5704)

Selecting your Best for Breeding was drafted in 2002. It was significantly revised over the course of the seminars and will be made available through ALBC.

Outcomes and impacts:

Each of the clinics met their objectives, effectively educating participants on Heritage Turkey husbandry and breeding. Each clinic also had significant and unique impacts.

The clinic in North Carolina reached the most people. This is largely due to the vibrant and well-supported sustainable agriculture network in that state. Because most of the attendees are already well situated in networks and have identified markets, the clinic provided educational information that enabled farmers to add or enhance a Heritage Turkey enterprise.

The Florida clinic was actively supported by the area extension agents and specialists. The producers do not have access to either a state or federally inspected processing plant. This is a nearly insurmountable obstacle to significant development of independent production and marketing. The participating extension agents are working very actively to identify the obstacles and develop strategies for overcoming them. The clinic was an important opportunity for them to explain the issues, relate the progress that has been made, explore the role attendees can play in addressing the issue, and further expand the network. This group seemed to have great potential for being cohesive and cooperative. Several people let me know that they were purchasing young stock from a breeder we visited, providing a market outlet for the breeder and a local source of stock for a producer. This exchange is keeping money circulating locally,

Though the clinic in South Carolina had the fewest attendees, it included a core group that recognized the benefit that working cooperatively would bring each of them. One participant is maintaining a breeding flock while another is running the hatchery and selling poults. The local processor is willing to process, package and label producers’ produce. All will work together to supply the food-aware Charleston market with Heritage Turkeys. The hatchery has been running full-tilt since February and is working hard to keep up with the demand as word gets out among producers that locally grown poults are available.

The clinic in Missouri was the most remote of the four, and is in one of the poorest counties in the state. Wheatland was chosen because an important breeding flock is located there and ALBC was interested in both evaluating the flock and supporting distribution to other breeders and producers. This very rural region was hungry for information. Participants came from everywhere: Missouri (of course), Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa. The breeding flock was of excellent quality and provided an great opportunity for the local breeder to redouble his efforts to carefully breed and select his flock, and to serve as a local resource for high quality production and breeding stock. This is good for both buyer and seller. The breeder/host of the workshop is connected to the Amish community, and the flocks are being kept on several Amish farms. Therefore this clinic provided an opportunity to reach a segment of the agricultural community that is not easily reached. Only time will tell the effect.

Genetic conservation is the goal of everything that ALBC does. In all locations, educating producers about good husbandry practices increases the potential for a better product and a good economic outcome for producers. A good outcome is more likely to result in a repeat or increase of production, increasing demand for young stock and causing breeders to increase the size of their flocks. The result: breeding populations increase and conservation is served. In both South Carolina and Missouri the conservation outcome had increased significance beyond the immediate goals was greater. The cooperative effort in South Carolina has the potential to establish a regionally adapted strain of the Narragansett turkey while also serving as a badly needed local source for poults. In Missouri the strains of Jersey Buff, White Holland and Narragansett all show very good production attributes, which are important for economic success. This flock is also known to be relatively unrelated to other flocks of these varieties, making it very important for genetic conservation. Many of the participants in the clinic were very keen to have a regional source for Heritage Turkeys that have been selected for utility. Developing a demand for poults from this flock and distributing them throughout the region is an important step in the long-term conservation of Heritage Turkeys.

In each of the communities where the workshops were SSARE money supported the local economy. The small towns of Adams Run, SC, Live Oak, FL, and Wheatland, MO don’t get much call for caterers and classrooms facilities. While it may have been more challenging to obtain services in these rural communities, the funds that were spent there were very important to the community, and will be circulated through their local economies.

Several young people attended the workshops. They were engaged and enthusiastic learners. This was exciting because it is this generation that will inherit responsibility for the farms, the genetic resources, and knowledge to keep them going.

At each clinic ALBC sought a State Veterinarian to conduct the biosecurity presentation. While ALBC could have done this, we felt it was important for the State Vet or designated representative to see the quality of education that was being provided, know that as educators we were interested in promoting best practices, and to meet the people who are serious about becoming independent producers of poultry in their state. In all cases this has proven to be a very positive approach with good connections established between the producers and their State Veterinarian, mutual respect developing, and an understanding of the resources the State can provide for the small producer who often feels attacked or underserved by government.

Networking among the group and with the speakers was an important aspect of the sub-agenda for each clinic. At all clinics we built in time for the attendees to talk to each other informally. These were always noisy, interactive times that were hard – in more ways than one – to pull people back from. Additionally, the clinics brought in additional local resources. Local processors, where they existed, were invited (and attended) so that folks understood the ins and outs of processing. Local people that had potential links for marketing product also attended. In most locations a local Slow Food convivial leader attended both sharing information about their members interest in locally grown Heritage Turkeys, and getting contacts of producers to share with their membership.

Requests for clinics reached far beyond the southern region, including California, Washington, Montana, British Columbia, New York, and Pennsylvania. Between February 24 and April 21, 2009 (when ALBC began its monitoring) webpage hits to the Heritage Turkey Workshop totaled 1033. How to Raise Heritage Turkeys on Pasture, the book that was produced with this grant, was also in demand. A total of 238 hard copies were distributed. The Educational Resources page of the ALBC website ( provides links to pdf files of each chapter of the book, in addition to several other pieces. Since ALBC began monitoring page hits on February 24, 2009 through April 21, 2009 there were 3648 hits to this page alone.

While ALBC feels that attendance was acceptable, we do believe that the economic downturn affected people’s abilities to attend. The very tight budgets and reduced staffing that extension has been troubled by for several years also affected their ability to attend, in spite of the offered scholarships.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The book, How To Raise Heritage Turkeys on Pasture, was published in 2007, and posted to the internet in 2008.

Four husbandry workshops were organized and implemented:
July 21-22, 2008 Graham, North Carolina
45 people total
1 youth
3 scholarships (NC Community College teacher, Multi-county NC Poultry Agent, Alamance County, NC Extension Agent)

Jan 31 – Feb 1, 2009 Live Oak, Florida
28 total
5 scholarships (Webster County Georgia Extension Agent, Indian River County Florida Extension Agent, Duval County Florida Extension Agent, Marketing Specialist IFAS, Suwannee County Florida Extension Agent)

Feb 20 – 22, 2009 Adams Run, South Carolina
16 total
March 19 – 21, 2009 Wheatland, Missouri
25 total
3 youth
2 scholarships (Missouri Dept of Ag NPIP Rep, Stone County Missouri Extension Agent)

Total attendees: 104
Total scholarships: 9

Two Breeder Selection Workshops were organized and implemented
Feb 20 – 22, 2009 Adams Run, South Carolina
6 total
March 19 – 21, 2009 Wheatland, Missouri
17 total
3 youth


Potential Contributions

Included in the Impacts and Outcomes were items that are still developing and may, in time, contribute significantly beyond the defined project goals. These include greater potential for enhanced genetic conservation of Heritage Turkeys, enhanced local and regional cooperation – specifically on the issues of processing, and cooperative production and marketing, and expanded networks and improved relationships that include the State Veterinarians.

Future Recommendations

1. Husbandry manuals and clinics on pre-industrial breeds of all species of livestock are needed. The growing interest in humane, outdoor production, and great flavor has brought the older breeds back to light. But they have different management and nutritional needs than the modern types, for which most of the in-print material has been written. Appropriate material is largely out of print and the producers, mostly elderly, who know how to care for these breeds are dying. Development manuals and programs like ALBC has done for the Heritage Turkeys is badly needed.

2. Breeding stock management and breeding stock selection workshops for pre-industrial breeds are needed, for much the same reasons as stated above. If individual Americans are to maintain control over and access to their agricultural genetic resources, then they need to learn the skills to manage and use them well. Many of our nation’s agricultural resources are owned and managed by large corporate entities. While making us feel secure, this situation actually jeopardizes the nation’s long-term food security.

3. A significant, national, multi-partner approach to challenges in the processing sector is imperative. Independent processors are scarce, especially for poultry. HACCP need to be scale and risk sensitive. Many small plants do not have the potential food safety risks as large volume, fast moving plants. Different regulatory agencies or departments oversee aspects of plants. If these agencies are not working cooperatively and with a real desire to assist people for a positive outcome all progress seems to stagnate in a quagmire of bureaucracy and perceived indifference. For small scale independent production to grow, these issues must be addressed.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.