Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Turkey Evaluation Part 1: The Blue Slate

I think its about time to talk turkey.
We have three heritage breeds and are enjoying them very much and I would like to give you our observations to this point.

First off is our Blue Slate.
Here is the description of this breed from the ALBC website.

"While most early texts state that the Slate turkey originated from a cross of the Black turkey on a white turkey, there is little genetic evidence to support such a conclusion. The slate gene is a legitimate mutation that arose just as the gene for blue in the Andalusian chicken is the result of an unrecorded mutation. One added element of confusion in defining the variety is that there are actually two different genetic mutations (one dominant and one recessive) that produce the blue slate color, and these produce slightly different shades. White and rusty brown markings may be present but are considered a defect.

The Slate or Blue Slate variety is named for its color, which is solid to ashy blue over the entire body, with or without a few black flecks. It is also called the Blue or Lavender turkey. Hens are lighter in hue than the toms. The head, throat, and wattles are red to bluish white. The beak is horn in color; the eyes are brown; and the beard is black. The shanks and toes are pink. The Standard weight for a young tom is 23 pounds and 14 pounds for a young hen. Since, however, the Slate has not been selected for production attributes, including weight gain, for years, many birds may be smaller than the standard. Careful selection for good health, ability to mate naturally, and production attributes will return this variety to its former stature.

 The Slate was accepted by the American Poultry Association in 1874. It has been popular in exhibition circles and is gaining popularity in pastured poultry production. Renewed interest in the biological fitness, survivability, and superior flavor of the Slate has captured consumer interest and created a growing market niche. The Slate is less well documented and more variable in type and color than any other variety. This makes it more challenging to breed consistently than the others. Its production potential today is not known."
They are on the watch list: fewer than 2500 annual registrations in the USA.

We also enjoy this video from P Allen Smith about Breeding selection of Blue Slate or Slate Turkeys.

 A prime Mature Blue Slate Tom.

Ralph and I did a lot of research about this breed, we found that the modern Blue Slate is much smaller than they used to be and need careful selection to regain the status of old. The mature toms should weigh 33 or more pounds at maturity and modern birds are hovering around 25 pounds.
They are noted for their good disposition and pale feather for fewer pin feathers and a cleaner carcass.

Our Blue Slates arrived when we were in the middle of our move from Virginia and they were hatched in New Mexico, flown to Roanoke Virginia and delivered to us in New Castle. Then we hauled them here to Cub Run.
They were good sized poults and quite vigorous. Way more active than the commercial Broad Breasted White turkey's I am used to.

 The New Arrivals, Blue Slate Poults from Meyer Hatchery.

We had no trouble with them eating and drinking right away. Good vigorous poults with no bad feet or crooked legs. They were curious right from the start.
Not a bit afraid of us and just amazing little birds. Hard to imagine they are going to get so big.

 A Blue Slate in Ralph's hands.

We had trouble getting the higher protein turkey starter because it was so late in the year. [These were the  last poults we could get anywhere when we ordered them this fall, its why we had them shipped to Virginia.] We fed them game bird starter which is high enough protein for them. We did have some losses and we are not sure if the first ration we had was not high enough nutritionally or if it was the flight from New Mexico and then the drive to Kentucky all in their first two weeks.

But despite the losses and the move they grew well and by mid October were showing their color in the first feathers. 

 6 week old Blue Slate Poult

The feathers are lovely and show faint penciling along the edges and down the spine, the slate color has odd black flecking where the lilac or lavender phase which is more rare is purely light gray.

 They are friendly birds and would always come up to see what we were doing, this was right from the start and has remained constant as they have grown. The move caused us to research and modify a working ration to both be affordable and yet grow these bird well, into strong healthy adults. We lost 10 percent of the young turkeys and unfortunately more of these were Blue Slate. At about two months they really started to grow and thrived on being let out to graze and hunt bugs. The love tomato scraps and always rushed to see what i was throwing out.

Ralph would pick the young toms up to see how they were growing and despite their long gawky legs they were getting serious muscle to them. Of the three breeds we have they are the biggest and fastest growing. They are also the most steady and social. They will let you hold them without complaint and my favorite {Black Feather} would actually sit on my lap.

The Blue Slate started to  mature the first and were strutting and displaying at 6 to 7 weeks old. We found they were not as much into flying as the other breeds which is quite  good thing with birds that will be over 30 pounds.

 A Blue Slate letting an Uppity Royal Palm know whats what!

 A young Tom on our garbage bin. Note the heavy leg structure and good feet.


They forage extremely well and have been growing steadily. We did have a disaster with two of the three biggest slate toms getting hit on the road out front. This will sound mercenary but it did give us a chance to find out about the table quality of these birds. At a bit over four months old and we  have been letting them grow out naturally the dressed weight was 12 pounds for the biggest Slate. I processed the carcass into parts and roasted the breast meat after marinating it. It was very good, albeit a bit lean and I have to say I am sure salvage is not the  best test of meat quality but we still felt it was good.

We most definitely want to breed these birds and we hope to, we only have one hen and fortunately the Best Tom was not in the accident. We continue to watch these birds and so far there is a lot to like about them. We will have to see if the hen sits, she is a Prima Donna and really knows she is lovely! I don't hesitate to say if she does go broody she will rule the roost! 
Lilac giving me her HOW dare you take my picture stare!
We will let the remaining Tom's of lesser quality grow out so we can properly evaluate the carcass potential of these beautiful birds. From what we have observed these birds have great potential to be wonderful small farm turkeys. 



  1. We have wild turkeys come up and eat the chicken food here. The dogs don't bother them, as I believe they are under the impression that turkeys are a kind of chicken.

  2. I didn't know that much about the blue slates - this was very informative, Fiona. I have been thinking of raising a few again and may consider these. Of course, I am going to wait until you rate all the rest!