Many people in the USA have grown up with the tradition of eating a roast turkey on Thanksgiving, but we rarely consider where that meat came from. A lot of turkey meat in the USA comes from local farms that raise Narragansett turkeys and other endemic turkey breeds. The Narragansett turkey is a well-loved breed of farm fowl named Narragansett, Rhode Island. It features a hardy exterior and easy-going personality, making raising these birds a breeze.
Quick Facts About the Narragansett Turkey
|Breed Name:||Meleagris gallopavo|
|Place of Origin:||Rhode Island, USA|
|Tom (Male) Size:||22–28 lbs|
|Hen (Female) Size:||12–18 lbs|
|Color:||Black, tan, gray, and white feathers|
|Climate Tolerance:||Cold weather appropriate|
|Production:||50–100 eggs per year|
Narragansett Turkey Origins
Meleagris gallopavo, or the Narragansett turkey, is a breed of turkey endemic to the United States of America. The Narragansett turkey is a famous game bird but never achieved the raucous popularity afforded to the bronze turkey. However, it maintains a spot in America’s most popular large game birds and is farmed across the nation.
The Narragansett turkey’s origins start with the pilgrims in New England, for whom this hardy winter bird was a staple source of meat. Here the beginnings of America’s Turkey Industry would take root on the back of the Narragansett turkey.
However, even the American Poultry Club’s recognition of the breed didn’t bolster its popularity enough to overtake the bronze turkey. By the 20th century, the Narragansett turkey was a rare sight, and the bronze turkey had taken over most turkey farming.
Today, the Narragansett turkey is still not as popular as the bronze turkey. However, it has a niche market in the animal farming world. The bronze turkey still has control of most of the turkey market in both meat and eggs. But the small fan club that sees the beauty of the Narragansett’s athleticism and survivability is growing with each passing day!
Narragansett Turkey Characteristics
Narragansett turkeys are hardy cold-weather birds that evolved to live in the wilderness of Rhode Island. The Narragansett features muted black and gray feathers—unlike the bold feathers sported by bronze turkey—that allow them better camouflage in a wooded setting where they’re endemic.
Narragansetts can run and fly well; they even roost in trees at night if given the opportunity. Even at a bulky 22–28 pounds, the Narragansett is quite agile and could easily escape a human if needed. Keep an eye on your Narragansetts if you have any ornery turkeys who want to explore the world.
The Narragansett is also prized for its calm temperament and good maternal instincts. In addition, it’s said that when Narragansett turkeys are kept “at liberty,” they rarely stray far from home. So, it’s considered pretty safe to keep them free range for the most part.
Narragansett Turkey Uses
Narragansetts are good birds for meat. A healthy Narragansett can produce a large amount of meat. However, their egg-laying season is March through May, a very short season. Still, the turkeys will generally lay eggs every day and produce 50–100 eggs in a season, significantly less than chickens but a moderate amount for turkeys. Since turkeys lay eggs less frequently than chickens, selling turkey eggs to eat is not a popular business. Mostly, the Narragansetts’ eggs are incubated and raised to be chicks.
Narragansett Turkey Appearance
Narragansetts have duller colors than their bronze turkey cousins. They sport primarily gray, black, and tan feathers with an occasionally white stripe along the wings’ width—a genetic mutation not seen in Narragansetts endemic to the USA. Aside from the color differences, Narragansetts look very similar to bronze turkeys.
Population, Distribution, and Habitat
The Narragansett turkey is named for Narragansett Bay, where they are endemic. This is the primary habitat of the Narragansett turkey. They thrive in conifer forests in the North East and Midwest, also found on domestic farms.
Are Narragansett Turkeys Good for Small-Scale Farming?
Narragansett turkeys are reasonably suitable for small-scale farming, but the market is harder to break into since the market tends to be dominated by bronze turkey farming.
However, Narragansett turkeys are considered a heritage breed. Heritage bred Narragansett turkeys are more valuable than crossbred turkeys in some respects and can fetch a good price on the meat market. This means that actual Narragansett chicks may come at a higher price than commercially bred chicks.
It’s hard to imagine a Thanksgiving without turkey, and you can raise these lovable birds in your backyard! This beloved heritage breed makes a great starting point for small scale-farmers if they can afford the price of entry. They’re a well-producing and easy-going turkey breed for any occasion!
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Featured Image Credit: Jared S Davies, Shutterstock