Beltsville Small White Turkeys
At one point thought to have gone extinct, Firefly Farms is so incredibly lucky to have a small flock of these incredibly rare birds.
The Beltsville Small White was developed specifically for the customers of the the 30s. A 1936 survey found that 87% of home consumers wanted a New York-dressed bird (blood and feathers removed) weighing between 8 and 15 pounds. They also wanted a bird that was meaty, well-finished and free from dark pin feathers since those show dark spots on the flesh when picked unlike white feathers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture research center at Beltsville, Maryland, began a breeding program between 1934 and 1941 to create a bird that would answer the consumer demand. Beltsville Small White variety is developed from a genetic foundation that included the White Holland, White Austrian, Narragansett, Bronze, and Wild Turkey.
The Beltsville Small White turkey’s success was short lived and by the 1970’s it was nearly extinct. Although considered a fine bird for family use, it was less well received by the hotel and restaurant trade or by processors that desired a larger bird from which they could obtain more “slices.” The Broad Breasted White (or Large White) turkey, replaced the Beltsville because when they are slaughtered at a young age, the Broad Breasted White fit the processor’s niche for a both a smaller AND larger turkey. Despite this, the Beltsville Small White still had advantages. Beltsvilles had good reproductive qualities, including the ability to mate naturally, and so could be selected, bred, and maintained by small-scale producers. In contrast, Broad Breasted White turkeys generally required artificial insemination for reproduction.
Today the Beltsville Small White is quite rare and primarily by few exhibition breeders. A research flock exists at the Iowa State University was one of the only surviving flocks in the world. Efforts are underway to locate and conserve any remnant flocks in the United States and Canada.