Bourbon Red Turkey Characteristics, Origin & Uses

The Bourbon Red turkey is a breed of domestic turkey from United States. It is named for Bourbon County, Kentucky and also for it’s unique reddish plumage.

Previously, it has alternatively been called Kentucky Reds and Bourbon Butternuts. And it was actually originated in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth century.

The breed was actually created by crossing Buff, White Holland and Standard Bronze turkey. And it was first recognized as a different turkey variety by the American Poultry Association in 1909.

The Bourbon Red turkeys were selectively bred for utility traits as a meat bird. And throughout the 1930s and 1940s it was a very important variety in the turkey industry.

The breed declined after the commercial adoption of the Broad Breasted White, like most other turkey breeds. In the early 21st century, total population of the Bourbon Red turkey began to recover.

And currently the breed is one of the most popular heritage turkey breeds in the United States. The breed is still listed as ‘watch‘ by The Livestock Conservancy, despite it’s relative popularity as a heritage breed.

Currently there are fewer than 5000 breeding Bourbon Red turkey birds in the United States. And it is also included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste (a catalog of heritage American foods in danger of extinction). Read some more information about this domestic turkey breed below.

Bourbon Red Turkey Characteristics

The Bourbon Red turkeys are large birds with very beautiful appearance. Their feathers are of a dark base color with white primaries in the tail characterized by a soft red band and white flight feathers.

Both the wings and tail feature chestnut coverts. They have white flight and tail feathers and brownish to dark red plumage. On the toms, the body feathers may be edged in black.

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Feathers on the breast and neck are of chestnut mahogany, and the undercolor feathers are light buff to almost white.

Beak of the Bourbon Red turkey is light horn at the tip and dark at the base. The throat wattle is red, which is changeable to bluish white.

The beard is black, and the shanks and toes are of pink color. The mature toms on average can weight around 15 kg.

And average live body weight of the mature hens is around 8.2 kg. Photo and info from The Livestock Conservancy and Wikipedia.


The Bourbon Red turkey is a meat breed, and it is raised mainly for meat production.

Special Notes

The Bourbon Red turkeys are hardy and very beautiful birds. They are a very attractive variety for either exhibition or just for the backyard.

These birds are very active foragers, and they generally do very well in a pasture production system. Either as purebreds or if crossed with white turkey, their foraging ability remain same.

In case of breeding, they are highly dependent on selection by breeders. Some birds are of docile temperament, and some can be aggressive.

Today the breed is raised mainly for meat production. However, review full breed profile of the Bourbon Red turkey in the chart below.

Breed NameBourbon Red
Other NamesPreviously called as Kentucky Reds and Bourbon Butternuts
Breed PurposeMainly meat
Special NotesVery strong and hardy birds, docile temperament, but some birds can become aggressive, highly dependent on selection by breeder, today raised mainly for meat production, very attractive variety for either exhibition or just for the backyard, active foragers, foraging ability remain same if crossed with white breeds
Breed SizeLarge
TomAround 15 kg
HenAround 8.2 kg
Climate ToleranceAlmost all climates
ColorRed with white
Country/Place of OriginUnited States

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