Canadian Poultry Magazine

Is Bronze Turkey standard wrong?

By By Jess Throssell Vice-President B.C. Turkey Club Winbush Turkey Ranch Aldergrove B.C. Importer and Originator of the Quick Maturing John Bull strain of Giant Bronze Turkey   

Features 100th anniversary Key Developments Business/Policy Canada

September 1929

It was around 1902 in Hertfordshire, England, when my first flock of about 100 turkeys were raised, and except for a year or so, I have raised flocks of from 500 to 1200 with what one might describe as monotonous success.  In 1909 I was approached by an agent for Lord Rothschild, who had heard of my turkeys, to the effect they were prepared to give me a premium of 12 cents per pound for all quality birds raised over 20 pounds: I understood that these birds were given as presents by his Lordship.  A premium of 12 cents per pound, which in those days more than paid a feed bill for turkeys, looked good to me.  I filled that contract for many years until Lordship died. 

That contract was in a large measure the cause of the big quick-growing turkey I have today.  Not only did those birds have to be large, but their breasts had to be perfect, not the pickaxe shaped breasted birds one can see by the hundreds (and by the way, a disgrace to any breeder) in the stores in B.C. imported mostly they tell me, from the Prairies.  Most of the turkeys in England are hatched in May, late April would be the earliest but by using the strongest and quickest maturing males year after year, we could rely on getting young toms up to 30 lbs, and exceptional birds over, for the Xmas market.

On coming to B.C. in May of 1926, I was much surprised to learn that in spite of the splendid climate here, turkeys were very hard to raise, and very few trying to raise them.  On looking around the cause was obvious; spindly weedy stock being used for breeders.  The one mistake above all others in turkey breeding, is trying to breed from narrow backed, thin legged, snipy headed stock.  The American standard is far below what it should b, and yet there are thousands of breeders on this Continent, trying to raise them from stock below standard weights.  One can always get the smaller birds required by later hatching, when breeding form the larger strains, but one cannot produce the larger, stronger bird from the small run-down stock. 


At the time of writing, I am getting letters from all parts of Canada and the States, stating that poults from eggs sent out this season, are running clean away in weight from poults hatched at the same time from American strains.  The first of my stock to be sent to the Prairies were some day-old poults to Saskatchewan.  These poults were hatched on May 25th, 1928.  They all arrived alive, and when inspected on Dec. 15th, there were toms scaling 30 pounds and pullets to 20 pounds, being under seven months old.  These birds were declared by the Inspector to be the largest birds he had ever seen for their age and this in a Province where they have been importing birds from the best American breeders. 

The whole system of breeding, showing and judging in the U.S.A., and the same thing is happening with the turkey associations on the prairies, is wrong.  They are all more concerned about the amount of bronze on the bird’s backs, than the amount of meat it carries on its breast.  Every breed of poultry that has been bred more for colour than is utility qualities, sooner or later is doomed, and it is happening today with Bronze turkeys in the states.

There are other breeds of turkeys making rapid progress.  The White Holland standard has been raised, and the writer has some of the same breed imported last March from England, that for size and fast-maturing qualities will beat 80 percent of the Bronze to be found in Canada.  The only turkey from a producer’s point of view, is the bird that puts on the most weight in the least time, and these birds are the ones that possess stamina and good constitution.  The Bronze turkey with its various markings to meet the standard of perfection requirements induces the breeding of closely related birds, and often the weddiest specimens are the best coloured.  To get certain markings, birds are bred from those that would otherwise have been killed off. 

The Catalogue of the All-American Show, held last winter, gave a string of prizes for colour, and not a thing was mentioned about the most useful part, the breast; in fact, according to that catalogue, one could have shown the worst scrub on earth with the wing, back, etc.  The breeder of the scrub with a pretty tall gets a boost, and his stock of brother scrubs are sent all over the country to improve some innocent breeder’s flock.  With the White Holland this kind of thing cannot happen.  The bird will be judged instead of his tail, and the buyer of prize-winning White Hollands will more than likely get value for their money. 

In England there has never been prizes given for Bronze turkeys with pretty feathers, but they do give prizes, and handsome ones too, for the best grown, sturdy, all-round specimen, and they are also very particular about the shape of the breast, which part seems to be of no importance at the All-American show.  Is it any wonder there are plenty of American turkeys with breasts like a pickaxe, and nearly as sharp?  I drew the attention of the President of the International Turkey Club to this fact recently.  I have his letter here agreeing that the American judges have gone daffy on feathers (his own words) and that they must give attention to the more useful parts of the birds.  I say, have good coloured birds by all means, but to sacrifice constitution and type to get it, is foolish in the extreme, and is bound to be the downfall of the Bronze turkey if persisted in.

In my opinion if the Bronze turkey is to hold its own, there should be no delay in giving classes for utility Bronze turkeys at every show held, and we know what it has done to improve the breast qualities of the English bird, it would do fro the bird on this Continent.  Within the last year I have had Bronze turkey toms sent me from various breeders in the States costing as much as $150 each, and the type of meat qualities of these birds were of the lowest standard, and no comparison whatever between them and the young toms I imported from England again this Spring. 

Only by breeding from the strongest of the birds raised each year, can a flock be profitable.  Although the past Spring was not ideal for turkey raising, we have considerably over a thousand youngsters, and losses so far very few.  All being well, we hope to have a large exhibit of live and dressed turkeys at the Vancouver Winter Fair again this fall.

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