The Black turkey originated in Europe and was developed from wild turkeys brought from the Americas by explorers. It became popular in Spain, where it was referred to as the "Black Spanish" as well as in the Norfolk region of England where they were dubbed "Norfolk Blacks".
- Breed Colors/Varieties:
- Black Spanish/ French Black - pure, rich black
Norfolk Black - dull black, with brown and even white tips showing
Black - lustrous, greenish-black plumage
- Breed Size:
- Large Fowl
Centuries later the Black turkeys of Europe came back to America with colonists and inevitably crossed with the Eastern wild turkey. This created the Black turkey of America we are familiar with today. Originally this variety was not as common in New World flocks but colonists selected heavily for this trait and dominated farmyards in New England for quite some time.
In America Black turkeys were used to develop newer breed such as the Bronze, Narragansett, and Slate varieties. Black turkeys were admitted to the American Poultry Association in 1874 and remained commercially viable and popular up to the twentieth century but fell out of favor and was replaced by new commercial strains like Broad-breasted Bronzes and Whites.
The birds are still common in Europe but here in America the current ALBC (American Livestock Breed Conservancy) census shows the Black Turkey listed as a breed that should be watched to ensure future generations can enjoy this beautiful bird. Black turkeys are also included in Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste, a catalog of heritage foods in danger of extinction.
The Black turkey should have a lustrous greenish black plumage, shiny black with metallic green overlay and a more dull, flat black underneath. White, bronze, or other off-colors are considered undesirable; although poults may show off-color feathers, especially white, that are molted at a later time. Hens seem more likely to have stray white feathers while mature toms occasionally have brownish-bronze feathers in the tail. This can also be due to crossing strains as Europe has several Standards regarding color. The beak should be black and the wattle red. Like any turkey the color can change from a healthy red to a whitish-blue when startled or threatened. Shanks and toes are pink in mature birds, the eyes dark brown and the skin white. The Standard weights for the variety in America are: Adult tom, 27 lbs.; yearling tom, 22 lbs.; young tom, 18 lbs.; hen, 18 lbs.; young hen, 12 lbs. This makes the Black turkey slightly smaller than breeds like the bronze or white turkeys and certainly smaller than the commercial broad-breasted heavyweights. Since the Black turkey has declined in popularity and been replaced by commercial breeds birds are generally several pounds lighter but with responsible breeding the Black turkey can be bred up to its former glory. Here in the US this variety is still occasionally referred to as "Black Spanish" or "Norfolk Black" and is referred to as a Heritage Breed. In my experience, Black turkeys are calm and easy to handle. They mature quickly and enjoy nice evenings out to free-range. Grain and fresh greens make excellent treats. Hens lay well throughout the spring and summer months slowing down in the heat and stopping in the fall. Eggs are a light creamy color with darker speckles. Hens will go broody and if allowed to incubate their last clutch can make wonderful mothers. Toms are non-aggressive and I could walk up to my original male and pick him up without so much as a care from him.
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Recent User Reviews
"Best overall breed I've kept yet"
Pros - Big, hardy, alert, friendly, great instincts, great layers, quiet
Cons - none
I have two black jennies, Drogon and Balerion the Black Dread. At least one is laying, and she started much younger than I had expected. Eggs are super tasty (it's a turkey thing). They're both the largest heritage turkey hens I've ever seen. Wonderful dispositions--neither mean nor doormats, they're more than able to fend for themselves without being bullies to smaller birds. Very curious but not jerks about it. Love treats and people, and they follow me around like dogs wihtout being pushy about attention. They have wonderful survival instincts and range well. Neither has ever been sick. Feathers are lovely and great for crafts or just to look at. Many turkeys hens I've had can get really loud, but these girls make very little noise.
Pros - Reliable egg production, excellent egg quality, calm disposition, delicious, VERY winter hardy, great foragers!!
Cons - Flighty when they are 1 month - 3 months old, picky about feed sometimes
We got 12 of these buggers from Cackle in 2012 as poults, and I raised 2 to adulthood. They are now pets as much as my dog! My hen is an EXCELLENT egg layer! In the early spring, she will lay an egg every day, then as the summer comes on, she lays every other day. Right now (its almost October) she's giving me an egg every day and a half to two days. Their eggs are delicious, too! I haven't had anything weird in my eggs (like, you know how chickens are weird about laying eggs when they first start? Some are small, some have weird shells, double yolks, ect), when she started laying she was a pro! *That whole statement about the eggs might apply to any turkey, though, I'm not sure.
My tom is VERY calm and always treats my hen like the princess she is! He's calm around me, hubby, dogs, cats, he just wants all of our attention! He spent all of his summer molting and I have a whole BOX of these beautiful turkey feathers. If you like feathers for painting, I recommend these. The solid black makes paint really stand out. And if you use feathers for crafts, the sheen is a wonderful touch to any project! The tips of his feathers have a rainbow effect going on (like the back of a CD in the sunlight), especially his covert feathers. His wing feathers have a shiney green barring thing going on, really striking!
I am keeping them to breed, and they do it very well. I incubated 15 of their eggs this May and 7 hatched (this was my first year) and their babies are doing great. They are very VERY friendly and curious when they're under a month old (will roost on you and everything!) then they get a little flighty (maybe unruly is the right word? They don't want anything to do with you!) and then after 3 months or so they come back around and won't give you ANY space. Mine don't roost on me anymore at this point (although my hen will up on things I'm working on... much like a cat).
They seem to grow a bit slower than the other turkeys I have (standard bronze) and are picky about certain foods. One day, they'll really like something, then the next day, they hate it. But they are wonderful at finding their own food in the grass (my adults don't eat a whole lot of feed in the middle of summer).
These turks are incredible in the winter. They hunker down on a high roost and only come down first thing in the morning for some feed and water. Then they go back up. They just went "dormant". Nobody got frostbite or even cold. I should also mention that I keep my turks in an old horse barn... its a bit drafty and there's no heat, but they're out of the elements.
I think my tom (year and a half old) weighs about 25-30 lbs. My hen is pretty big, too, I think she'd be right around 20 lbs (she's not too stocky, she is tall and everything). I forget what the butchered weight of a 6 month old is... but we did butcher a bunch last November. They were delicious!!