The Bronze is possibly the most popular and well-known turkey and closest in colouration to the wild turkey. The metallic sheen on the plumage eventually gave the variety its name and is part of the inheritance from its wild ancestors.

Born in the USA

Domesticated Bronze turkeys were becoming known in the USA by the late 1700s but it was not until 1830 that the name Bronze was used to describe a strain developed in Point Judith, Rhode Island. Throughout the 19th Century the variety was being bred towards standardisation, with occasional cross breeding back to the wild turkey.

Many people will associate the Bronze turkey with those they see being bred for the Christmas market. However, most of the commercial birds, even those that are reared as free-range, were selectively bred during the early part of the 20th Century in order to provide more meat on the carcass. In the USA the Bronze variety, as the largest and most numerous of turkey varieties, attracted the attention of breeders wanting to emphasize market characteristics, such as body size and width. This resulted in what was called the ‘Mammoth Bronze’, to distinguish it from the Standard Bronze, which was selected for form, feather and exhibition qualities.

In 1926, an Englishman, Jesse Throssel, emigrated to British Columbia. The following year he imported two lines of turkeys, a Bronze and White that had been selected for greater breast width. These were called the Cambridgeshire lines after his home estate in England. By the 1930s, Cambridgeshire Bronze had been crossed with the Mammoth Bronze, which resulted in an even bigger, broader version of the commercial Bronze.

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A Bronze female

Style versus substance

In 1938 a new organisation was formed in the North West of America to continue turkey breeding for economic traits. Mrs. H. P. Griffin, wife of one of the breeders in this club, coined the term “Broad-breasted Bronze” to describe the turkeys being bred.

The adoption of the Broad-breasted Bronze was phenomenal in its take-over of the market, practically replacing the Standard Bronze as a commercial variety within a few years leading up to 1945. The new variety was quite similar in colour pattern to the Standard Bronze but there were no specific requirements for markings. The lack of uniformity made it an object of ridicule by many Standard Bronze breeders (Small 1974). In the 1930s and 40s there were heated arguments among breeders. Live bird ‘utility’ classes and classes for ‘dressed’ carcasses were added to turkey shows. Market characteristics were the only qualities considered in these classes. Eventually, dressed carcasses took over specific turkey exhibitions entirely and the classes for live turkeys were ‘relegated’ to the multi-species poultry shows.

Differences between advocates of “feather” shows versus dressed bird exhibition became so intense that breeders of standard varieties threatened to cease advertising in Turkey World magazine unless it discontinued its energetic promotion of ‘utility’ turkeys.

Today, only the single-breasted Standard Bronze, which is classified as rare by Turkey Club UK, the Department for Environment & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), qualifies for exhibition under the British Poultry Standards. This bird should only be known as the Standard Bronze and not be referred to under any other name. Commercial Bronze are marketed by many names, to differentiate between their size and strain, such as Roly Poly.

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Wild turkey finding a reflection of himself

Who's who

The plumage of both sexes of the Bronze turkey is metallic bronze but the breast feathers on the female are edged with white, whereas on the male they are edged in black. This is one way in which Bronze turkeys can be sexed, once their adult feathers are grown at around 12 weeks. The primaries are black with a definite white barring. The tail feathers are black and brown and have a wide black band with a white edging. The beak is horn coloured and the eyes have a dark hazel iris and blue-black pupil. The legs are a smoky horn colour in adults. Although the Bronze turkey does breed true it is the variety most likely to throw off-coloured birds, with some black and white feathering but also, just poor quality, smudgy markings.

The Standard Bronze is a heavy variety and a mature standard stag can weigh up to 18.14kgs (40 lbs) and a mature hen up to 11.79kgs (26lbs).

Day-old Bronze poults: The head is light brown with dark brown blotches and streaks. The neck and back have a broader dark streak down the centre with narrower streaks on either side. The wings have two dark streaks in the centre and a dark spot near the tip. The underneath of the poult is a yellowish white on the surface and pale grey beneath. The legs and feet are mainly flesh coloured with some smoky pigmentation below.

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Bronze poults. Photo: Kelly Turkeys

On the smallholding

Bronze turkeys have placid natures and if handled from poults are even easier to keep when adult. If only a few are kept they will become immensely tame and appear to enjoy being around people and seeing what is going on.

The Standard Bronze turkey is a useful breed for smallholders supplying both eggs and meat. Although they have less flesh than the double-breasted birds there is still ample for a family Christmas dinner and more. The poults need to be hatched ideally by May or early June to be mature by December but this slower growth results in very flavoursome meat. Turkey eggs are wonderful in the kitchen and can be eaten as themselves or used in cooking. The ample albumen (white of the egg) makes excellent soufflés and the yolks are good in pastry sauces.

The Standard Bronze, like other Standard varieties of turkey is naturally-mating. The females should therefore wear breeding saddles throughout the breeding season so that the males do not injure the females by inadvertently ripping the skin when treading them. This is included in the DEFRA Code of Welfare for Turkeys if male and female turkeys are kept together.

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