Black Spanish turkey is among the oldest turkey breed of heritage turkeys. Turkey rearing in the United States and the UK has been a culture that can be traced back many years ago.
On Thanksgiving, thousands of these birds find their way on the dining table because they are butchered extensively.
Turkeys are commonly reared for meat where their breasts are the most valued parts. However there are those that keep them as pets with a few choosing these birds for eggs.
Taking a minimum of 32 weeks to lay their first egg is a long wait considering the amount of food they eat. In addition to that, these birds only lay a few eggs that don’t exceed 100 in a year. This number is very low compared to the farmers input in the rearing.
History of the Black Spanish Turkeys
These birds are also called the black turkeys or the Norfolk turkeys. They were developed in Europe from Aztec turkeys brought by Spanish explorers coming from Mexico.
At the time, turkey keeping was gaining popularity and these birds were among the best meat producers. The pace to breed them gained momentum and by the 18th century they were reared extensively.
By 20th century, these birds were now raised commercially in the United States but faced a major challenge. The development of other turkey breeds like the Bronze and Broad Breasted Whites made the popularity of these birds decline.
In 1874 these turkeys were officially recognized by the American Poultry Association of Standard Perfection. In modern day, these birds are rare and have been listed as endangered by The Livestock Conservancy with much efforts already in place to raise their numbers.
They are black in color with solid black plumage. When under the sun, their black feathers have a greenish luster. The neck and head are deep red but sometimes this changes to pale bluish or somewhat looks like whitish.
Their legs, toes and shanks are black but the color changes as they age to pink. On each foot, there are four toes with long claws a good adaptation for scratching on the ground. The eyes are black while the skin is white in color.
In males the beards are long and are well seen. Beards are a long bunch of feathers that hang and grow from the breasts of mature male turkeys or toms. A small number of female black Spanish turkeys may have this unique feature.
Young baby turkeys or poults of this breed may have bronze or whitish feathers on the neck and head but this change as they grow and molt.
These birds are mainly raised as meat birds because they are medium to large in size and can offer much of it. Mature males or toms weigh 25lbs while hens weigh 18lbs.
With these weights, Norfolk turkeys qualify as good table birds. They are also good layers of light cream colored eggs though their laying pattern is seasonal with most of their eggs being expected in summer.
They have an excellent ability to mate naturally, lay and sett on the eggs. Unlike other breeds such as the Broad breasted Whites that cannot mate but rather depend on artificial insemination to lay fertile eggs, this breed does it naturally.
Hardiness and Temperament
Black Spanish turkeys do not have the reputation of being aggressive though it may vary depending on individual bird. They are calm and docile posing no threat to other poultry and children.
These cool friends require large spaces as they roam and range in vast areas looking for tasty grubs, insects, worms and small plants to supplement their diet.
My flock prefers spending much of their time in the backyard with their kind returning to the coop late in the evening at sunset. Sometimes they are a bit notorious and decide to roost on the fence giving me more work of getting them.
They are very hardy and tolerant to diseases. These birds adapt very easily and prefer raising the young baby turkeys on their own.
Domestic turkeys have a life expectancy of 5 to 10 years while their wild cousins can live between 3 to 5 years. However, for them to live this period of time there are certain factors that may lengthen or shorten their lifespan.
Robust health will make your birds live longer. Diseases suppress the health of turkeys and if not treated can easily succumb to death.
Turkeys mainly those living in the wild roam large areas as they seek food, water and proper shelter. On their journey they are tracked by predators like wolves and hawks that prey them for food.
Another serious problem related to this is poachers. Licensed hunters shoot these birds for meat and fun sweeping large numbers denying them the much needed opportunity to live longer.
However, domestic turkeys are sometimes reared and kept for meat making their lives shorter as they are harvested as soon as they attain market weight between 14 to 16 weeks.
Lack of food
This mostly hits hard on wild turkeys that rely on Mother Nature and their own means to seek food. Prolonged periods of drought and winter are some of the common times that they die of starvation and dehydration.
Most of turkey food is abundant when it is rainy as there are numerous plants, seeds, insects and grubs that they rely on for food.
The Black Spanish turkeys are very hardy and resistant to common poultry diseases. Their poults are hatched healthy and grow very fast. Both external and internal parasites are the main threat to their health and can lead to illnesses or death when not controlled.
Mites and lice are the main external parasites that infest these birds. Using small amounts of diatomaceous earth by either dusting it directly on the base of their feathers or in their dust bath will help get rid of them.
Diatomaceous earth works by dehydrating body oils and moisture from these hosts to death. Once infested, your turkeys look weak and emaciated. Their laying pattern is interrupted and they lay few eggs or stop laying at all.
These parasites hide under the feathers where they lay eggs and multiply sucking blood and damaging newly developing feathers. Sevin a common poultry dust is also another type of powder that can be used to control them.
Internal parasites like ringworms and roundworms attach themselves in the intestines where they eat the already digested food and multiply. In addition, they do harm and injure the intestinal wall leading to loss of weight and poor health.
Seeking the help of a qualified vet will help control these internal host using the right medication. A clean coop, a well-balanced diet and proper living conditions are some of the factors that will greatly contribute to good health and robust development.
Black Spanish turkeys are currently listed as an endangered species that is almost extinct. However, there is hope if they are rehabilitated and bred again.
They are cool and hardy birds that require little management. These birds make good table birds as they offer fair amounts of meat.
Their good mothering ability and ability to mate and hatch naturally is another factor that makes them a good choice among many keepers.