Purebred turkey lines alive and well on King Island, thanks to a precious gobbler

Have you ever considered the humble turkey to be your next backyard buddy?

Lyndsey Sumpton of the Australian Heritage Turkey Society said poultry are keen on making friends and are like having an “ugly parrot”.

She wants more people to be interested in heirloom breeds and fears the line will die out due to the focus on raising large birds for meat production.

“A lot of heirloom turkeys have been put aside because they can’t compete with the rapid growth and carcass size you get from commercial broad-breasted varieties,” she told Margot Kelly on ABC. Hobart Radio.

The purebred turkey gene pool is kept alive on King Island, which Ms Sumpton says is home to the only intact line of poultry in Australia that originated in the United States.

Lyndsey Sumpton wants more people to be interested in turkeys.(

Facebook: Lyndsey Sumpton


A sanctuary island

The large population of wild turkeys on the island in northwest Tasmania are certainly not bastards.

Turkeys have been raised there since the early 1900s, Ms Sumpton said.

In 1927, the local newspaper reported that breeder Ben Heddle had imported a champion gobbler and the rest of the population had been killed for meat.

Now Ms Sumpton is hopeful that the island’s purebred population can be preserved.

Besides the aesthetics of the poultry, the meat was also tastier, she said.

Since the 1950s, the focus has been on producing larger and faster growing birds for mass production.

“It loses a lot of flavor because the meat is so much fatter,” Ms. Sumpton said.

If these turkeys weren’t processed by the age of five months, they wouldn’t live beyond 18 months anyway, she said.

“Their hearts and livers fill with fat, and their bodies are growing too fast for their bones. “

A group of turkeys on a fence on King Island
The island has been the ideal home for the growth of the purebred population.(

Provided: Heritage Turkey Association


“Like having an ugly parrot”

Ms Sumpton said it was rare for people to keep heritage turkeys or maintain an interest in birds.

She is one of a small group of genetics mapping people and considers birds to be good pets.

“Unlike chickens where you have a lot of hobbyists making sure they keep pure varieties, we don’t have that with turkeys,” she said.

She said turkeys enjoy company and would congregate in groups – even wild turkeys could be domesticated.

“They can’t stand being alone,” she explained.

“Chickens don’t really do that, or ducks, but turkeys need to have a connection to something.”

Ms Sumpton said birds have strong vocabulary and you can ‘always say what they’re thinking’.

One of King Island's wild turkeys
King Island turkeys are smaller than their mainland cousins.(

ABCs of Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves


Birds of “exceptional quality”

Former King Island residents were paying a high price to import birds for breeding from the United States.

“The difference between them and the turkeys available in Australia is that the King Island turkeys have benefited from the isolation,” Ms. Sumpton said.

“They started from scratch and raised their birds from there.

Three turkeys on King Island
King Island heirloom turkeys are of “exceptional quality” due to a lack of crossbreeding.(

Provided: Melissa Bee via Heritage Turkey Society


The result, she said, were exceptional quality “bronze turkeys” on the loose, whose winning attributes were a small frame and crisp stripes.

“I am looking for a smaller sized bird although that may not be what is commercially acceptable,” she said.

Birds weigh up to eight kilograms; their cross cousins ​​on the mainland can weigh 17kg.

She said the cross also made the turkey’s stripes “stained”.

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Jeanetta J. Stewart

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