Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beltsvilles Get a Boost

Conservancy member Julie Gauthier with Beltsville Small White turkeys
This past spring, The Livestock Conservancy was contacted by James Doster of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, GA regarding the Beltsville Small White turkey. The laboratory has been keeping a closed flock of this variety since the 1990’s and having read that the breed is listed as “Critical” on the Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List, he was able to convince the facility to allow eggs and eventually adult birds to be donated into a conservation recovery program for the breed.The Beltsville Small White was developed to fill a clearly identified consumer need for a dressed bird (blood and feathers removed) without dark pin feathers and weighing between 8 and 15 pounds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture research center at Beltsville, Maryland, therefore, began a breeding program between 1934 and 1941 to create a bird that would answer the consumer demand for a bird that would be a good fit for apartment sized refrigerators, small ovens, and small families. Researchers developed the new Beltsville Small White variety from a genetic foundation that included the White Holland, White Austrian, Narragansett, Bronze, and Wild Turkey. The Beltsville Small White turkey’s initial 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.”

With a major opportunity on hand to help the breed, The Conservancy jumped into action on the recovery project and identified several members in the region who would commit to the recovery program and work with us to serve as new stewards for the breed. The first batches of hatching eggs arrived at the Conservancy’s office this past April and together with a nearby member, Julie Gauthier, we were able to hatch nearly 200 poults which were distributed to 4 farms in the region.

This past week, we had an opportunity to receive 25 adult birds that were going to be replaced next breeding season with a younger generation of birds. Staff member Jeannette Beranger and Conservancy member Julie Gauthier made the trek to Athens to collect 25 turkeys and bring them back to North Carolina where they will be incorporated into the breeding flocks started with poults from this spring’s hatch.

This is a very exciting time for the Beltsville Small White and we hope to make them once again, a favorite for a smaller more intimate holiday table.

For more information on the program contact Jeannette Beranger at jberanger@livestockconservancy.org.