Kevin and a Red Bourbon tom turkey

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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.

Physical Appearance

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.

From the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy:


Watch. The Bourbon Red is the most numerous of the rare varieties.

Species Note

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.