Monday, November 25, 2013

Heritage Turkey Domestication

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!    If you're thinking of raising turkeys next year, now is the time to check with breeders and reserve hatching eggs or poults.  There are a variety of colors to choose from, so you can go traditional or play with the Crayola box.  Check out The Livestock Conservancy's online breeders directory and classifieds, or join the Conservancy for a complete print version of the Breeders Directory (products too!).  Here's a piece on domestic turkey origins.
Black Turkey Foraging.  Turkeys are a big help
getting rid of unwanted bugs in the yard.

The ancestor of the domestic turkey is the North American wild turkey.  Like other domestic livestock, wild turkeys were suited for domestication by their tolerance for living in close proximity with humans,  flexible diet, and long reproductive season.  Wild turkeys from Mexico (Meleagris gallopavo subspecies gallopavo) were domesticated by the precontact native cultures before 180AD.  These turkeys were transported in the 1500’s to Europe and several varieties were developed.   European varieties returned to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries with settlers, and from them our current domestic varieties were developed.  The Mexican progenitor of the domestic turkey and many of the early European varieties are extinct. 

Turkeys were common on farms in colonial America for domestic use and were transported by ship to many markets.  On early farmsteads some breeders crossed domestic turkeys with wild turkeys, probably the Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris).  Recent DNA studies, however, show minimal contribution of wild turkeys to the domestic turkey genome, so the hybrids were probably crossed back to the domestic varieties for improved temperament and productivity. 

Specialized varieties of turkeys were developed by selecting for local adaptation, color, growth, and temperament, and these varieties were named for the region where they were developed and their color.  Eight varieties of American turkeys are recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA), Black, Bourbon Red, Standard Bronze, Narragansett, Royal Palm, Slate, White Holland, and Beltsville Small White.  Two additional varieties developed in the mid to late 20th century are now used widely in commercial production, the Broad Breasted White and the Broad Breasted Bronze.  Of the eight APA recognized varieties, five were well established by the 1870s when standards were created – these are the Black, Bronze, Narragansett, Slate, and White Holland.  Documented history indicates that these varieties likely originated in the 1700’s. 

The domestic turkey is a single breed with the different varieties defined primarily by plumage color and conformation.  DNA studies comparing 5 heritage varieties (Narragansett, Black, Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Slate) found them to be very closely related to each other and to the more populous broad breasted white (commercial turkey), consistent with their documented history and their treatment as a single breed. 

Heritage turkey numbers declined rapidly after development of the Broad Breasted White.  A census by The Livestock Conservancy in 1997 found only 1330 breeding birds of all varieties combined.  Through promotion efforts and growing interest in locally produced food, these numbers have increased and most varieties are out of immediate danger of extinction.  Additional growth in breeding populations are needed, however, to ensure the future of these historic turkey varieties. 

The domestic turkey is a breed composed of numerous varieties which have a long documented history in the United States and are distinct from their wild cousins.  The varieties were standardized beginning in 1874, and DNA evidence shows that all are closely related. 

Kamara, D., K. B. Gyenai, T. Geng, H. Hammade, and E. J. Smith, 2007.  Microsatellite Marker- Based Genetic Analysis of Relatedness Between Commercial and Heritage Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo).  Poultry Science 86:46-49.

Powell, R.E. 1990.  Turkey Husbandry in Virginia and the Chesapeake Regions 1750-1830.  Colonial Williamsburg Research Report 327. 

Schorger, A. W. 1966.  The Wild Turkey:  Its History and Domestication.  University of Oklahoma Press.

Speller, C.F., B. M. Kemp, S. D. Wyatt, C. Monroe, W. D. Lipe, U. M. Arndt, and D. Y. Yang, 2010.  Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Reveals Complexity of Indigenous North American Turkey Domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107: 2807-2812.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding Farmland and Farm Jobs

A question we are often asked at The Livestock Conservancy comes from those who don't have the resources to buy a farm, but want to get involved.  Fortunately,  there are a number of organizations out there who can help. 

One of these is the Center for Rural Affairs, 402.687.2100. 
They help  aspiring farmers in the upper midwest connect to land, mentors, and jobs, through the Land Link program.

There are also beginning farmer resources in almost every state, through non-profit and sometimes state government.  Even if you're an experienced farmer, it can be helpful to connect to these organizations and their networks. 
Try googling "Farm Opportunities <statename>"
Check with your extension agent for other opportunities in your state - there may even be small grants to get you started.

If you are new to farming and want to learn more through an internship, google is your friend.  Google "Farm Internship" and see how many opportunities show up! 
Check out this website too:
It may be worthwhile to connect with your state's farmland preservation trust(s);  sometimes families who are struggling to preserve their farms are looking for interns or farm managers to help out.  This might also be a way to find farmland for sale.
Finally, some online job sites post farm jobs and internships, such as

Don't forget The Livestock Conservancy's classifieds!  There are sections for Jobs/Internships, and for Stewardship Opportunities.   As a member you can post ads for free, so contact the office to set up an account.
You can make a difference - Join Now!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Name and Website!

From the summer 2013 issue of The Livestock Conservancy News

The new homepage of The Livestock Conservancy's website.
Greetings members! We are excited to announce that the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) has officially shortened our name to simply “The Livestock Conservancy.” In addition, we have launched our new website which includes many new features and a member login area that allows members to update their contact information and Breeders Directory listings. Much thought and hard work has gone into the name change and website redesign and we expect both to benefit the organization and our members. We realized that the previous name was difficult to use for many new members, in advertising, on the phone, communicating to media, etc. due to its length, and with a growing membership and reach, the need for a shorter name was apparent.

We would like to take some time to explain some things regarding these changes and hopefully answer some questions you may have about them. First and foremost, although we will be going by a new name, our mission will remain exactly the same as it has been for the past four decades – “ensuring the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.” The sole purpose of shortening the name was to make it easier to use in promoting the organization and our work. Suggestions for a shorter name have been coming into the office for years, but as the organization has been growing (and we prepare for future growth), we realized that now was the time to make the change. In recent years we started to use the acronym ALBC increasingly when referring to the organization which addressed the length issue, but did not help to explain what type of organization we are to people who had never heard of us. For this reason, we will be referring to the organization as “The Livestock Conservancy”, or “the Conservancy” in most cases, instead of “TLC” or “LC.”

In evaluating web statistics, we could see that many people who were searching for us were typing in incorrect names and acronyms, and were having a hard time finding the organization. “The Livestock Conservancy” was actually what some people thought our name was before it had even changed. The shorter name will also allow us to fit the name in many areas we previously could not use it. One example occurred last year when we received a grant from Google for free internet advertising for the organization in their search engine. Because of its length, we could not fit our name in their ads. The new name will also now fit on legal documents, merchandise, and in other areas where we had to abbreviate or omit the name. The new name can also be seen better when used in the logo.

In choosing a shorter name, many different options and word combinations were considered, but The Livestock Conservancy retained much of our brand recognition while addressing the length issue the best. Some concerns were raised about taking “American” out of the name, but because we will still be focusing on breeds historically used in American agriculture and our membership is based in America, we feel that “American” will be implied. There are several similar organizations such as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (United Kingdom), Pro Specie Rara (The Netherlands), and Stichting Zeldzame Huisdierrassen (Switzerland) that also follow this model. And, while our old name was long, we do realize it was still shorter than our German counterpart, “The Society for the Conservation of Old and Endangered Livestock Breeds in Germany.”

Costs of renaming were also carefully evaluated and to ensure a minimal financial impact on the organization and to avoid waste, we will be using up any brochures, envelopes, etc. with the old name on them before ordering more. We have managed our supplies carefully so our supply of new brochures and renewal envelopes are ready to be printed. We have also received a generous donation from some of our members to create a new traveling display to use at fairs and events and for signs and banners with the new name.

We realize that this is a big change, but it is one that will help the organization become more recognizable, and if more people know about the Conservancy, more people will know about the need to conserve the genetics of the breeds we work with, which helps us further our mission. If you currently reference us on your website, in printed materials, etc. you can begin to update our name and website. A copy of our updated member logo can also be obtained from the website.

New Website

In addition to the new name, our new website, is now live! In 2011, a Conservancy member generously donated funds to purchase a new database and website for the organization. Realizing that conservation work is our top priority and we did not have extra funds to spend on these, they kindly covered 100% of costs for the new computer systems. The old website was originally launched 15 years ago and had been pieced together over the years as it grew with the organization. While it contained a wealth of valuable information, it lacked organization and reliability. If you ever had problems renewing your membership, you know what we’re talking about! The new database is already allowing us to process memberships much more efficiently, letting staff time to be directed to better serving our members and conservation work. One exciting new feature is the “Breed Facts” list inside each breed’s page. This highlights characteristics of the breed such as Conservation Status, use, weight, temperament, and experience level needed, among other categories. Please note that due to the massive amount of information being migrated from the old to new website, we are still populating some areas.

The database is also connected to the new website in real-time, allowing members with internet access to log in and update their information as they would like to. Each member has a Member Number (now printed on the back of the newsletter for current members) and an email was sent out with directions to log in to the member area. If you did not receive this email, we may not have an accurate email address on file for you. Please contact to update your information if needed. We would like to thank you in advance for patience as we finish building out the new site and welcome any feedback you may have.