The North American turkey industry has built its current success on broad-breasted white turkeys. Broad-breasted turkeys (whether White or Bronze) require artificial insemination to reproduce, a result of the meaty breast which presents an obstacle for natural mating. In addition, processors have favored the white-feathered birds, whose pinfeathers are harder to detect after cleaning. This has left the Bronze in decline, even though many producers say this breed is calmer and easier to handle than the White. The Broad-breasted Bronze is now bred at only five or six hatcheries in the United States. It is sometimes crossed with the White turkey and also sold as a backyard hobby bird, but has an uncertain future.
The unimproved Bronze is rarer still, with only one hatchery breeding flock and a few scattered university flocks known. For information on purchasing unimproved Bronze turkeys, contact Wish Poultry, Box 362, Prairie City, OR 97869, telephone 541-820-3509. Other sources can be found in the ALBC Breeders Directory.
The turkey is native to North America and was domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico 500 years ago. Turkeys were taken to Spain beginning in 1500 and rapidly became known across Europe. The Pilgrims and other settlers brought turkeys with them to New England where they were crossed with wild indigenous stocks. This hybrid type was itself taken back to England where a game keep named John Bull began to select for a broader breast. He emigrated to Canada and brought turkeys with him, selling them in North America as "broad-breasted" turkeys.
The unimproved Bronze is not the same breed as the wild turkey, though they able to interbreed, which is a cause for concern to some wildlife managers.
Status: RARE. Less than 300 breeding hens were found in the 1987 ALBC poultry survey, although there may be more if the exhibition turkeys are included.
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, PO Box 477, Pittsboro, NC
Jason Rekemeyer, Rekemeyer Fowl Farm, Maquoketa, IA