Do you love Thanksgiving? Well, if you’re also a fan of the most famous item on the Thanksgiving menu, the turkey, you’ll be interested in learning about the five most expensive turkey breeds in the world.
These turkeys are prized for their meat, which is considered to be some of the most luxurious food around. If you’re looking to impress your guests at this year’s Thanksgiving feast, consider serving one of these rare breeds.
Here are the five most expensive, luxurious turkey breeds for Thanksgiving. They are all heritage turkeys.
- 1 – Jersey Buff Turkey ($349.99 for a 16-pound bird)
- 2 – KellyBronze Turkey ($160 – $300 depending on the size of the bird)
- 3 – Narragansett Turkey ($249.99 for a 16-pound bird)
- 4 – Black Spanish Turkey ($230 for a 16-pound bird)
- 5 – Bourbon Red Heritage Turkey ($219.99 for a 12-pound bird)
Heritage Turkey Breeds
The US is the largest turkey consumer in the world, so you will be pleased to know all these varieties are available, and most popular in America. We didn’t include show birds such as the Royal Palm Turkey for this list because we’re focused on what might end up on your family dinner table!
Some of the turkeys on this list are threatened or in a critical state of endangerment. Don’t be mistaken by what that means, though.
Because these birds only exist as livestock, you can do your part to increase their numbers by either seeking to buy them for Thanksgiving (and driving demand) or by choosing to breed them and sell them yourself.
What makes heritage turkey breeds special is that they are the direct descendants of the wild turkeys that were first domesticated by ancient Mexican cultures and Native Americans.
All heritage turkeys on our list also have three important qualities. We’ll explain them quickly before elaborating on the most expensive breeds.
They Mate Naturally
Due to centuries of selective breeding, the most commonly available commercial turkeys, such as Butterballs, do not mate naturally.
They are artificially inseminated. This is traumatic for the animals, who are often kept in cages and not as bodily aware as their heritage counterparts.
Heritage turkeys can mate naturally without any human intervention. They have high fertility rates, often in the 70 to 80 percent range, and can lay fertile eggs. They can instinctively brood their way to hatchlings.
To be named heritage turkeys, the livestock conservancy stipulates that the birds must be a result of natural reproduction, not artificial insemination.
They Live Longer
Regular, commercially produced mass-market turkeys are usually never allowed to live longer than the barest minimum. As soon as they achieve the market weight, they are slaughtered.
This is because every second the turkey is alive, it costs money to raise and feed. It’s also because as soon as it reaches market maturity, it can be sold and result in revenue for the farmer.
Turkey farms have notoriously low profit margins. That’s because turkeys require a lot of food and space but don’t fetch high market prices outside of seasonal sales. A big difference with heritage breeds is they take a lot longer to raise.
So, they naturally cost a lot more to care for and feed.
They haven’t been selectively bred to get larger at increasingly younger ages like their commercially available non-heritage counterparts. Heritage turkeys can achieve the full, natural lifespan of wild turkeys.
That means that breeding hens can be productive for five to seven years and breeding toms can breed for three to five years.
They are also tougher and more capable of withstanding the challenging weather and terrain of life outdoors. Barn-raised modern turkeys are unable to survive outside for long periods.
They Grow Slower
Regular, modern grocery store turkeys grow fast. They have been carefully bred and cultivated to be as efficient meat producers as possible. That means they get bigger at a younger age and reach market weight in a matter of weeks, not months.
However, heritage turkeys have a slow to moderate, natural rate of growth. While an ordinary, modern intensively farmed turkey reaches slaughter weight at 14 – 18 weeks, it takes a heritage breed turkey 28 weeks to reach the same size.
This gives heritage turkeys the time to develop strong, healthy organs, muscle tissue, and bones. It also increases the chances of a marbled or more desirable fat distribution throughout the bird. They still get exercise and can exhibit natural behaviors in line with natural developmental milestones.
5. Bourbon Red Heritage Turkey ($199.99 for a 12-pound bird)
The Bourbon Red is a large, all-purpose bird that typically weighs in at about 16 pounds. These are some of the most popular turkeys in the world and are available through many hatcheries across the United States.
These turkeys are native to the United States and are named after the Kentucky county where they were first bred. Bourbon Red Turkeys are slow growers and have a long lifespan, making them one of the more expensive turkey breeds.
The Bourbon Red turkeys are large birds with a lovely appearance. They’re considered one of the most beautiful turkey breeds due to their distinctive feathers.
Their feathers have a dark base color and white primaries in the tail, which is highlighted by a soft red band and white flight feathers. Chestnut coverts are present on both the wings and tail.
A single hen can lay between 160 – 180 eggs in a year. They are a very old breed so they can fly, perch and roost despite their enormous size. That requires farmers to clip their wings to keep them from getting into trouble.
They typically take six months to reach a weight of 12 pounds and about 20 or more months to reach full market weight at 28 pounds.
Why Are Bourbon Red Turkeys So Expensive?
Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys are one of the most expensive heritage turkey breeds because they are slow-growing birds with a long lifespan. A longer lifespan means that farmers have a higher chance of losing money on these turkeys.
In addition, Bourbon Red Turkeys require more care than other turkey breeds. They need to be vaccinated for Marek’s disease and blackhead, two common diseases among turkeys.
All of these factors make Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys some of the most expensive turkeys you can buy. The market price of the bird also reflects high welfare practices, for example, access to pasture and non-GMO feed.
4. Black Spanish Turkey ($230 for a 16-pound bird)
The Black Spanish turkey is the oldest American breed of a domesticated turkey, brought over to North America by the Spaniards in the 1500s. They were once the most popular breed of turkey in the United States, but their numbers have dwindled significantly in recent years.
These birds are also known as the Norfolk Turkey and are popular in England. The males can weigh up to 24 pounds, while the females top out at around 14 pounds.
They’re called “Black Spanish” because of their black feathers and wattles (the fleshy ornament on a male’s head), but their skin can be a range of colors including white, cream, tan, light brown, or reddish-brown.
These birds are bred for eating and typically weigh up to 22 pounds as adults.
Why Are Black Spanish Turkeys So Expensive?
Black Spanish turkeys are expensive because they’re a rare breed. They were once the favored turkey in the United States but their numbers have decreased. If you can find one of these turkeys, it will be very expensive because there’s such high demand for them.
These turkeys are also hard to care for and require a lot of attention from farmers. They have a long history, which makes them even more special. They’re listed as threatened by the livestock conservancy.
If you’re considering breeding your turkeys to sell and to feed your family, these birds are a great option.
3. Narragansett Turkey ($249.99 for a 16-pound bird)
The Narragansett turkey is another breed that originated in the United States, specifically Rhode Island. These turkeys get their name from the Narragansett tribe, who once hunted them.
The Narragansett turkey is considered to be one of the best-tasting turkeys around and is prized by chefs for its flavor and texture. They’re also known for their beautiful plumage, which ranges in color from light brown to black.
These birds are smaller, and it can be challenging for farmers to achieve standard weights because they have a high feed to weight-gain ratio.
The average adult Narragansett turkey hen weighs between six and 12 pounds, while the tom (male) can reach up to 24 pounds. Commercial turkeys typically weigh around 30 pounds.
So, there’s a big difference. However, the larger tom Narrangansett turkeys do not have as much breast meat.
Why Are Narragansett Turkeys So Expensive?
The reason that Narragansett turkeys are so expensive is that they’re a heritage breed and they’re in high demand. Chefs love these birds for their flavor and texture, so there’s always a high demand for them at Thanksgiving time.
They’re a smaller turkey which leads to people sometimes buying two of them instead of one large bird.
They also require more care than other turkey breeds, which drives up the cost of production. Farmers need to spend more time feeding and caring for these turkeys to make sure they reach standard market weights.
2. KellyBronze Turkey ($160 – $300 depending on the size of the bird)
These birds have been described by some as the Rolls-Royce of turkeys. The birds go for upwards of $13 per pound, meaning that a large turkey can cost well over $300.
This heritage breed is slow-grown on small family farms in the UK, where they are free to roam outdoors and develop a rich, natural flavor. In the UK where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, KellyBronze turkeys are served at Christmas time.
Turkey That’s Marbled with Fat Like Wagyu
The KellyBronze is a turkey that has delicate, moist meat with a gamey aroma and is marbled with fat in the same way as high-end beef, so it’s naturally juicy and cooks in half the time of normal turkey.
In the 1970s, the Kelly family began producing and selling traditional white turkeys. They set out to distinguish themselves from other mass-produced fowl on the market in the 1980s. To get consumers into grocery stores, those typical white birds were frequently sold at a loss, which was terrible for farmers.
In response, the Kelly family began to buy the last stock of a rare, slow-growing Bronze breed with ancestry in Mexico. They focused on heritage turkeys and a high welfare raising process.
Although still associated with the UK, the Kelly family now raises and sells these birds in the US, too. They have become foodie sensations.
Why Are KellyBronze Turkeys So Expensive?
The KellyBronze is a heritage breed with an ancient lineage. They’re slow-grown on small family farms in the UK where they are free to roam outdoors. They are also extremely rare which also impacts price.
They’re fed a diet of locally grown cereals milled fresh on the farm and whatever else they forage on beautiful pasture land with just 200 birds per acre. All of these factors result in a healthier, more mature, and more expensive turkey.
1. Jersey Buff Turkey ($349.99 for a 16-pound bird)
These turkeys are named after the state in which they were first bred, New Jersey. They’re buff-colored, with a mix of brown, black, and white feathers.
This bird is not just rare, it’s endangered. Toms weigh 21 pounds, while hens are 12 pounds. This bird’s color offered advantages for processing as the quills were invisible when plucked. But, this variety struggled to gain popularity in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States and started to wane in number.
By the end of 1915, it was nearly extinct. The variety is still accessible through small producers and hatcheries. It has been classified as endangered, with fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and a global population of fewer than 2,000 individuals.
You will have a hard time finding this bird to buy on the open market for eating because it’s now so rare. Raising your flock could result in a good return on investment, however!
Why Is The Jersey Buff Turkey So Expensive?
The Jersey Buff Turkey is so expensive because it’s a rare bird. There are only a few hundred of these turkeys in the USA and they’re not easy to find. If you do find one, it will be very expensive because there’s such high demand for them.
These turkeys are also hard to care for and require a lot of attention from farmers. They have a long history dating back to the early 1900s, which makes them even more special.
Thanksgiving is a time to feast with family and friends, and what better way to do that than with one of the most expensive turkey options?
These types of turkey may be pricey, but they’re also delicious and luxurious. If you have the budget for it, why not splurge on one of these rare breeds?
By choosing a heritage breed, you can help conservation efforts, as these livestock breeds can only survive through farming. Thanks for reading and happy Thanksgiving!
Do you have a favorite expensive turkey breed? Keep reading to find out about some of the most expensive foods in the world and what makes them so special.