News / USA

Traditional Turkeys Are Disappearing Breed

Efforts Mount to Conserve Breeds Displaced by Modern Agriculturei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Steve Baragona
November 19, 2012 11:31 PM
On November 22nd, Americans observe Thanksgiving, an iconic harvest festival with roots in the nation's 17th-century settlement by European colonists. Roasted turkey is the traditional centerpiece. But the breeds of wild turkey on the table in early America have nearly disappeared, replaced by a domesticated bird that is bigger, faster-growing and cheaper to raise. Around the world, many traditional livestock breeds are disappearing as industrial meat production takes over from small producers. But some are trying to preserve their old varieties as insurance against an uncertain future. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Efforts Mount to Conserve Breeds Displaced by Modern Agriculture
On November 22, Americans observe Thanksgiving, an iconic harvest festival with roots in the nation's 17th-century settlement by European colonists.

Roasted turkey is the traditional centerpiece. But the breeds of turkey which were on the table in early America have nearly disappeared, replaced by a domesticated bird that is bigger, faster-growing and cheaper to raise.

Disappearing breed

Around the world, many traditional livestock breeds are disappearing as industrial meat production takes over from small producers. But some are trying to preserve the old varieties as insurance against an uncertain future.

Efforts Mount to Conserve Turkey Breeds
Efforts Mount to Conserve Wild Turkey Breedsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

A sprinkle of corn, and Rachel Summers' turkeys come running. She raises a small flock of a breed called Standard Bronze at Crowfoot Farm, about an hour from Washington.

These are birds with history, Summers says. "They are what you would have found in colonial barnyards."

And you'll find them today in re-creations of those 17th and 18th-century barnyards, like the ones here at Claude Moore Colonial Farm outside Washington, where workers in period costumes are chopping wood for the fire.

Summers started volunteering at the farm when she was just 11. It was here, she says, she grew to love and appreciate these uncommon birds.

"When I started learning more about their history and their place in the world now, I realized how rare they are and how important it is to preserve them," Summers says.

Julie Long, a turkey researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says today's commercial birds were bred for size, then crossed with white-feathered varieties to produce unblemished skin.

"The heritage breeds are at risk simply because they are not being used commercially," Long says. "Those birds became very popular in about the [19]50s and just took over the market at that point."

Efficiency trumps diversity

Heritage breeds nearly disappeared. Today there are fewer than 10,000 Standard Bronze turkeys left, according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

  • The farm in Amissville, Virginia. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • The Summers family, owners of Crowfoot farm in Amissville, Virginia. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Morwen Summers with some of the farm's turkeys. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Heritage turkeys at Crowfoot Farm. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Heritage turkeys at Crowfoot Farm. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • The farm's chickens and other livestock are sustainably raised. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Morwen chases the birds. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • The family dog, whom they just call "dog." (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Kevin, the owner, with a family friend as they stand on the base of their future barn. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • The family raises quite a wide variety of animals. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • The family raises quite a wide variety of animals. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Rachel Summers sits with two of her children on a fall day. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Sisters Morwen and Ingrid who live on the farm. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Ingrid Summers with some of the turkeys. (Alison Klein/VOA)
  • Heritage turkeys at Crowfoot farm. (Alison Klein/VOA)

Local livestock breeds are threatened in many parts of the world. One reason is because efficiency is trumping diversity in order to meet the growing demand for animal protein.

But Long says it would be a mistake to lose the heritage breeds.

"It's best to keep these around, sort of as an insurance policy," Long added.  "You may never need those genetics. But if you do and they're gone, then you're out of luck."

Genetic insurance policy

That genetic "insurance policy" could provide tolerance for harsher environments brought on by climate change. Or resistance to new diseases. Or better ability to forage for themselves as the cost of commercial feed goes up.

One key to saving these rare breeds, experts say, may be found in the kitchen. John Critchley, executive chef of Urbana Restaurant in downtown Washington, prefers heritage birds to the standard supermarket variety.

"To me it has a better mouthfeel," says Critchley. "It has a richer taste, a more buttery finish to it."

A growing number of chefs and consumers are seeking out flavors they say have been lost in modern agriculture.

Sales of heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving are up. Rachel Summers hopes this niche market will help preserve not just the flavor, but all the other useful traits of these heritage birds.

"I'm not just raising these turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving," said Summers.  "I want to have them be available as a resource to the world, if needed. Just our few turkeys. We're just preserving a little piece of that here on our little farm."

Just as Thanksgiving is about tradition, heritage turkeys are about keeping tradition alive.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid