Turkey Talk

The subject of my blog post today will be turkeys.  While I admit it would be better suited to save a turkey post until the month of November, I am just a little bit excited and couldn't wait!

I have been trying to include a new species to the farm each year.  (Last year it was the hogs.)  This year I just about let time slip completely away from me before I added the new farm members. 

I have been wanting to raise turkeys for some time but have been intimidated because I have heard they are hard to start.  I was able to find two juvenile turkeys and brought them home being told they were Royal Palms.  It didn't take me long to realize that they didn't look exactly like Royal Palms.  While their conformation said they were Royal Palm, their coloration spoke differently. 

A friend saw a photo of the turkeys today and asked me if they were "Calico".  I had never heard of a Calico Turkey before and began to do some research which led to some very interesting information.  Upon seeing photos of other Calico Turkeys (also known as Sweetgrass Turkeys or Ronquière if the turkey is known to be of more ancient heritage),  I am pretty sure the two I have are Calico Turkeys. 

I took the following information from Porter's Rare Heritage Turkeys:

In 1996 a few tricolored birds appeared out of a Heritage Bronze flock in Big Timber, MT, at Sweetgrass Farms. These birds had a heavily marked royal palm pattern with chestnut red. The name Sweetgrass was put on this strain of tricolors.

The Sweetgrass genotype is (b1b1cgcg) Black winged bronze based with Oregon Gray (aka Palm genes) They breed 100% true to color/pattern.

The Ronquière is obviously an ancient breed of turkey and quite interesting (although the American counterpart is not so ancient).  I found information on this breed from the Association for Promotion of Belgian Poultry Breeds
Origin : The Ronquières is a very ancient native turkey breed of which the first evidence goes back to the sixteenth century, only a few decades after the discovery of the turkey in America by the Spaniards. This breed owns its name to the village of Ronquières nearby Brussels where this turkey was bred on a large scale since the eighteenth century. However at that time this breed was already kept in every part of Belgium. The two World Wars almost eradicated this turkey. Only the ermine variety knew to survive in Germany by the name ‘Cröllwitzer’. It was only at the beginning of the nineties that by coincidence an authentical very small breeding stock of other Ronquières varieties was recovered in the Campine region of Belgium. Meanwhile all the original varieties of the breed have been bred back from this breeding stock without any crossings with other breeds.

Characteristics : The Ronquières is not a heavy turkey and doesn’t produce a large quantity of meat but its meat is of very high quality. The Ronquières exceeds every other turkey breed by its vitality and its fertility. The hatching results are remarkably high compared to other breeds. The hens lay very good a brood easily. They are very good sitters and excellent mothers. The poults grow up without any problems.

Appearance : The Ronquières is a primitive light turkey of which the toms weigh 9 to 10 kilos and the hens 4 to 5 kilos. The head is remarkably bluish and has only few carunculs. The beak is bone-white with a bluish base. The shanks and toes are always white. The plumage always shows a number of breed-specific characteristics that are present in every variety (except the white). The primaries are always darker than the secondaries and show a typical ‘stippling’. The quills are always pale in color. All the other feathers tend to show ‘penciled’ markings (like the dark Brahma) and a very fine white edging follows the black edging of each feather.

Varieties : The Ronquières is the only turkey breed with more varieties, no less than five. Besides the self-white, there is the ermine which shows a fine black edging on each feather, and the yellow-shoulder which is identical to the ermine except for the brownish yellow path on the shoulders and the saddle region. The fawn has a yellow-fawn groundcolor with a very fine almost invisible black edging and the partridge has a grayish brown groundcolor with a heavily contrasting penciling. The toms of this variety are much darker than the hens. Very remarkable is that the poults of all these varieties hatch with near white down.

Several of these ancient varieties are known under another name in different countries. In Germany they have the Cröllwitzer (ermine) and Krefelder (partridge), in France the Tricoloré du Colorado (yellow-shoulder) and in the U.S the Royal Palm (ermine) and Sweetgrass (yellow-shoulder). All these varieties are quit recent and none of them already over 100 years old. All the Ronquières varieties are much older and were pictured in very old photographs and paintings. The oldest painting with a Ronquières turkey goes back to Antwerp in 1566 !

‘The Four Elements: Fire.
A Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the Background’
Joachim Beuckelaer
(active 1560 to 1574)

Photo courtesy of Period Food Link.

Do we have the Calico breed of Turkey?  I will let you be the judge.

Regardless of what we have, we are enjoying Tom and Henny very much and plan to allow them to breed and hopefully hatch out some of their eggs in the spring. 

1 comment:

Lucky Lizard Ranch said...

They are beautiful!
We ordered ours from Porter, they have the most incredible selection!