Poultry of the Week: Heritage Breed Red Bourbon Turkey
The Bourbon Red is a breed of domestic turkey named for its unique reddish plumage and for Bourbon County, Kentucky. Mature Bourbon Red toms weigh 33 pounds (15 kilos), and mature hens weigh 18 pounds (8.2 kilos). Bourbon Reds slaughtered at market weight are 16 pounds (7.25 kilos) in toms and 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) in hens. The breed’s feathers are a dark chestnut base color, with white tails and flight feathers.
In the past, the breed has alternatively been called Kentucky Reds and Bourbon Butternuts. The bird originated in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, and was created by crossing Buff, Standard Bronze, and White Holland turkeys. It was first recognized as turkey variety by the American Poultry Association in 1909.
It was selectively bred for utility traits as a meat bird, and was an important variety in the turkey industry throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Like most turkey breeds, it declined after this point with the commercial adoption of the Broad Breasted White. Populations began to recover in the early 21st century, and today it is one of the most popular heritage turkey breeds in the U.S. Despite its relative popularity as a heritage breed, it is still listed as “watch” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, entailing that there are fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the States. The Bourbon Red is also included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of heritage American foods in danger of extinction.