Big or small, turkeys are common sights on supermarket shelves around the holidays. Many people even raise their own. Many small farms don’t have the space for large birds, however, which means that small turkeys — the Beltsville Small White Turkey, for example — are ideal options for raising meat birds.

Unlike other, more recognizable breeds, the Beltsville Small White Turkey is rare and was first bred to be quite small. This guide will tell you why.

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Quick Facts About the Beltsville Small White Turkey

Breed Name:Beltsville Small White Turkey
Place of Origin:Beltsville, Maryland, U.S.A.
Tom (Male) Size:Young: 17 pounds

Adult: 21 pounds

Hen (Female) Size:Young: 10 pounds

Adult: 17 pounds

Color:White plumage, red to blueish white head, black beard, dark brown eyes, and yellow beaks
Climate Tolerance:Most climates
Care Level:Medium

Beltsville Small White Turkey Origins

Stanley J. Marsden, a member of a USDA research team, led a breeding program to develop the Beltsville Small White Turkey in Beltsville, Maryland, in the 1930s. Small families wanted a meat bird that would fit in their fridge and oven without leaving too many leftovers. Following these requests, several turkey breeds were crossed together.

The breeds that originally formed the Beltsville Small White Turkey are:
  • Broad Breasted Bronze
  • Black
  • Narragansett
  • Small-type Canadian Bronze
  • Standard-bred Bronze
  • Wild turkey
  • White Austrian
  • White Holland

Beltsville Small White Turkey Characteristics

Compared to most other turkey breeds and even the ones used in the initial breeding program, the Beltsville Small White isn’t that well known. These turkeys have unique personalities and quirks while still holding true to the image of turkeys that we all know and love.


While most turkeys that you see in a commercial setting range between 30 and 45 pounds, if not more, the Beltsville Small White Turkey is only slightly bigger than the largest chicken breeds. Their minimal size doesn’t mean these turkeys are not worth keeping as meat birds, though.

The breed might not be popular when it comes to supplying the masses — whether it’s stocking shelves or using in restaurants — but it can still feed a small family. With young male toms averaging about 17 pounds in weight and hens weighing around 10 pounds, these birds are easy to manage without losing out on meat quality.


In general, turkeys tend to be bulkier and somewhat grumpier than ducks and chickens. The Beltsville Small White Turkey is one of the more docile turkey breeds. Partnered with its manageable size, its quiet nature makes it a great addition to small farmsteads. It’s friendly but still has the outgoing personality that most other turkey breeds are known for.


Although Beltsville Small White Turkeys are among the easiest turkeys to breed, they’ve always been predominantly meat birds. They were first introduced to supply a larger amount of white meat with fewer pinfeathers, without taking up too much space.

Bred to be small, these birds were originally fan favorites of small homesteads and hobby farms. They’re the perfect size for small families but never found a foothold in the commercial market due to their limited meat production.

Appearance & Varieties

The Beltsville Small White Turkey might be smaller than the more popular turkey breeds, but it’s still easily recognized. Along with its birthplace playing a part in its name — Beltsville — the complete white color of its plumage also gives this breed its moniker.

The white plumage also serves to give it fewer dark pin feathers and a cleaner-looking carcass, which sets it apart from other turkey breeds with darker coloring. The Beltsville Small White Turkey also has a red to bluish-white head with a black beard, dark brown eyes, and a yellow beak.

Midget White Turkeys are similar in appearance, and although they’re bigger birds than Beltsville Small Whites, they’re often mistaken for them.


While the breed started successfully, its small size made it unpopular for selling commercially. Between 1947 and 1954, the breed’s population peaked at about 19 million. The 1960s found a small decline, until it only made up 11% of the domesticated turkeys in the U.S.A.

By the 1970s, when larger turkeys came into demand, the Beltsville Small White Turkey’s population declined rapidly.

These days, its low population and “critical” status according to the Livestock Conservancy make it one of the breeds undergoing conservation. The Iowa State University has a flock for research purposes, but public access is restricted.

chicken feet divider Are Beltsville Small White Turkeys Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Small farm owners and small families originally wanted a meat bird that was small and manageable. With the purpose of the original breeding program to create a small bird to meet this demand, the Beltsville Small White Turkey is unique in that it’s almost perfectly suited for small-scale farms.

Unlike larger turkey breeds, it doesn’t require much human interference when it comes to breeding. Its ability to adapt to most climates and low level of care also makes it a good addition to small homesteads. The rarity of this breed, however, can make it difficult to find.

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Featured Image Credit: Eric Buermeyer, Shutterstock