Last week a precious package arrived at Front Porch Pets. Employees gathered around to peer into a box of peeping yellow fluffs with tiny beaks and big eyes. The baby turkeys, called “poults”, had arrived! Though they looked like any other adorable baby poultry, these turkeys are a little extra special. They are Holland White turkeys, a threatened heritage breed. Heritage breed turkeys are different from what you would typically find in the grocery store or at a commercial turkey farm. Instead of being bred to produce large quantities of meat during their short life in captivity, the various breeds of heritage turkeys have a slower, more sustained growth rate, can live a long productive life outside, and carry out natural turkey behaviors like foraging and mating. Heritage turkeys are the types of birds that you would find on your great grandparents farmstead and they are the perfect fit for our mission at Front Porch Farm. Our turkeys will live an extended life in our pastures eating grass, insects, and seeds before being butchered in late fall for Thanksgiving. A trio of the Holland Whites will be spared to join our pair of Bourbon Red turkeys in the hopes of reducing our reliance on commercial hatcheries in the future.
There are many breeds of heritage cattle, sheep, goats, horses, pigs, mules, rabbits, and poultry. It’s more important than ever to protect these breeds. Modern agriculture continually pushes for unnatural amounts of egg, meat, and milk production. The focus is on higher yields and profits and pays little attention to the health, well-being, and sustainability of the animals within the commercial food system. The hybrids developed in these industries lack disease resistance, mothering instincts, and ability to thrive in a natural environment whereas these are the areas where heritage breeds excel. Over decades and sometimes centuries, heritage breeds were specially selected to create hardy breeds, often specific to a certain region, that will withstand the test of time.
In addition to our heritage turkeys, Front Porch Farm has several breeds of heritage chickens, ducks, geese, and cattle. Though we do not receive record yields of eggs or meat from our livestock, the benefits of these superior animal breeds far outweigh the perceived negatives. These remarkable animals have demonstrated time and again the exceptional traits that make up a heritage breed.
This week, May 21-27, is International Heritage Breeds Week. The Livestock Conservancy is an excellent resource to learn about history, status, breed standards, and care of the many heritage breeds. They even have a marketplace page! If you do not have the resources to have your own heritage livestock, I encourage you to support farmers who are keeping history alive by raising these prized animals.