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
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

TEXT SIZE - +
— 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

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population 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.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid