About Bourbon Red Turkeys
The Bourbon Red, also known as the Bourbon Butternut or
Kentucky Red, is one of eight "Heritage" or standard breeds that were
originally included in the American Poultry Association (APA) Standard
(not the Broad-breasted Bronze and now the Large White industrially
raised today); the other seven are the Bronze, White Holland,
Beltsville White, Narragansett, Blue Slaate, Black, and Royal Palm. The
Bourbon Red is the most numerous of the rare varieties.
Bourbon Red turkeys are primarily brownish to dark red
with white in the flight and tail feathers. The tail has soft red bars
crossing the main feathers near the end. Toms' body feathers may be
edged in black. The neck and breast feathers are chestnut mahogany, and
the undercolor feathers are light buff to almost white. This mix of
buffs and reds make the birds quite handsome.
The beak is light at the tip and dark at the base. The
throat wattle is red and is changeable to bluish white, and the beard
is black. The shanks and toes are pink.
Some breeders enjoying showing these birds at
competition, and some have won distinctive recognition.
The Bourbon Red turkey is thought to have been developed
from the Tuscarora Red turkey. The Tuscarora, or Tuscawara, may have
been developed in Pennsylvania by selecting Buffs for darker color,
while some sources say the Tuscarora Red was initially developed from
the Jersey Buff, an historic variety of turkey known in the
mid-Atlantic states. The Tuscarora Reds were taken to Kentucky where
their development continued until the deep reddish-brown color of the
Bourbon Red was established, as was its improved meat production. This
turkey was thus named for Bourbon county, Kentucky. The Bourbon Red
variety was recognized by the APA in 1909.
Watch. The Bourbon Red is the most numerous of the
The American Poultry Association (APA) lists the following varieties
of turkeys in its Standard of Perfection: Black, Bronze, Narragansett,
White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and
Royal Palm. The Buff variety was accepted in 1874 but removed this
century when it became quite rare. The term "variety" is
used purposefully, since the APA considers the turkey to be a breed
and the sub-breeds to be varieties. Turkey varieties as genetic
units are somewhat similar to the breeds and varieties of other
domestic species. Though there are not many varieties, there are
fewer differences between them, and, with the exception of the
Bronze, they have been poorly documented.
For much of this century, the turkey industry has focused on a
single variety, first the Broad-breasted Bronze and now the Large
White. The other varieties have been neglected for some time and
are rare today. As they were of value in the past, however, they
merit conservation today.