If you keep smaller livestock and would like to fatten your annual Thanksgiving bird up before the big day, the Bourbon Red Turkey might be just the right fit for your farm. If you have heard of this lovely heritage breed and want to learn more, we think you’ll definitely be interested in the details.

Let’s put it this way—some claim that Bourbon Red Turkeys are so delicious, you’ll never pick another for Thanksgiving dinners. They’re also a pleasure to keep in your backyard due to their docile temperaments—but they also have major instincts that can be a pain. Let’s get to know the breed a little better.


Quick Facts About Bourbon Red Turkeys

Breed Name:Bourbon Red Turkey
Place of Origin:Kentucky, USA
Uses:Meat, eggs
Tom (Male) Size:33 pounds
Hen (Female) Size:18 pounds
Color:Reddish Brown
Lifespan:10 years
Climate Tolerance:Cold/heat tolerant
Care Level:Moderate
Production:Meat, eggs
Temperament:Calm, social

Bourbon Red Turkey Origins

Bourbon red turkey walking in hay
Image credit: Bourbon red turkey tom, Mtshad, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Bourbon Red Turkeys have become a real farm favorite because of their usefulness. These heritage birds are just now recovering from a few decades of a dip in popularity. Once farmers started producing hybrid breeds that were fuller and arguably more flavorful, the Bourbon Red took a backseat.

However, in recent years, they are progressively making a comeback, as breeders have an ever-growing interest in this breed’s hardiness and brooding potential.

Bourbon Red Turkey Characteristics

Even though Bourbon Red Turkeys have a docile temperament, they are still quite challenging to keep. These are not the type of turkeys you want to buy if you are a first-time turkey owner. They have strong wild-like instincts, which helps them act as wonderful mothers, but they do tend to nest in inappropriate spaces.

When the Bourbon Red Turkey nests, they don’t take into consideration boxes you might build for them. Instead, they seek out a place they see fit to lay their eggs. If they set up shop at a nesting area they’ve made themselves, you have to respect their territory and let them be, even if you are tempted to move it.

Mothers are incredibly devoted, getting off their eggs very few times to eat or drink during the entire incubation period, which lasts roughly 28 days.

Because this can cause slight disorganization with breeding, and won’t be ideal for those not wanting to raise poults, it can be a little bit of a nuisance for some farms to deal with. However, they are incredible mothers, doting and ensuring the survival of their kin. We give them an A+ for motherhood—you could call them brooding queens.


The Bourbon Red Turkey used to be the most popular choice for Thanksgiving birds. So, they have a one-of-a-kind flavor that turkey lovers rave about. However, they make equally excellent egg-laying turkeys.

Even though they make wonderful table birds, some people report that they are significantly harder to pluck than other breeds. So, you might have some challenges when it comes to cleaning.

Appearance & Varieties

Bourbon Reds are gorgeously feathered, touting rusty red and white plumage.

Males are significantly larger than females, weighing a total of up to 33 pounds as adults. Females top out around 18, remaining sleek with slight muscle.

Males have an impressive tail span, feathering out beautifully with hues of auburn. females are slightly less dazzling, taking on a sleeker and slightly less colorful look.

Population & Distribution

These birds are originally from the United States, which is where they reside.

The Bourbon Red Turkey is much rarer today than it was in the 1940s. However, they are still decently prevalent for small-scale farming, permitting you find the right hatchery or breeder.

You can check with your local hatcheries to see if they have any availability.

If you bring home a few Bourbon Reds, it’s best that you let them free-range, allowing them access to essential natural sustenance in addition to grain and grit.

No need to worry about your turkeys getting away, as domesticated turkeys cannot fly.


Are Red Bourbon Turkeys Good for Small-Scale Farming?

Bourbon Red Turkeys can be excellent for small-scale farming, permitting that you understand their unique care needs. While they are docile and a joy to have on the farm, they also tend to nest in awkward or inconvenient spaces.

So, if you have a very particular setup in mind, you might try looking for another breed instead. But if you have the patience and expertise to deal with this beautiful turkey breed, we do not think you would regret it. Just learn all you can about the breed with research and hands-on experience.

Featured Image Credit: Amy McNabb, Shutterstock