Sustainable Production Systems for Range-Reared Standard Turkeys

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: housing, free-range, feed rations
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: disease vectors, genetic resistance
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainable Production Systems for Range-Reared Standard Turkeys

    There is an urgent need to disseminate information on range production of naturally-mating, standard varieties of turkeys (aka “heritage” turkeys) to agricultural educators and producers in the South. Until the 1950s turkeys were reared on range as an important economic resource for family farms in the South. In the second half of the 20th century, turkeys were moved indoors and selected for rapid growth in confined, high-input systems. There is now a growing movement, motivated by both farmers and consumers, to move turkeys back on range. Through a SSARE Research & Education Grant (LS02-134) the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) and Virginia Tech have conclusive evidence that standard turkeys have more robust immune systems, better survivability, and superior overall performance in range production systems. A dramatic increase in public awareness and discriminating consumers seeking a high quality, specialty entrée for their holiday feasts is fueling market demand. As recently as 2001, the market for free-range “heritage” turkeys was virtually non-existent. In 2003, over 10,000 were sold through formal channels: many more found their way to holiday tables through informal channels. Farmers received $2 - $4 per pound, 2 - 5 times supermarket prices. The market demand is far from satisfied. Southern farmers have an opportunity to add range-reared turkey production to existing farm enterprises, adding an additional income stream with minimal financial outlay. Information on range production of standard turkeys is, however, dated and difficult to find. A collaboration of farmers, ALBC, Southern Sustainable Ag Coordinators, ATTRA, and Heifer International proposes to gather and disseminate information about range production of standard turkeys and will get this information to producers through the established networks and systems of the collaborators. The collaborators will develop a production manual and training course for ag educators. The manual will integrate information from early 20th century publications, written when turkeys were routinely reared on range; contemporary information generated in SARE projects; and experiential information from current range producers. The training course will familiarize ag educators with brooding, rearing, processing and marketing of standard turkeys, and provide them with resources needed to address inquiries and actively promote standard turkey production.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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;
    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.

    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.