Red Bourbon Turkey

Red Bourbon Turkey

The red Bourbon turkey is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it originated in the late 19th century. It was developed by JF Barbee from crosses between Buff, Tan, and Holland White turkeys.

The meat of the Red Bourbon turkey is one of the most delicious among the turkey breeds. But in addition to having delicious meat, Red Bourbon turkeys are handsome and docile in temperament.

Bourbon red turkey

The red Bourbon turkey is a breed of domestic turkey from the United States, and its name is due to Bourbon County, Kentucky, and also to its unique reddish plumage. It was once known as Kentucky Reds and Bourbon Butternuts. And it originated in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the late 19th century. The breed was created by crossing three breeds of turkey and was first recognized as a different variety of turkey by the American Poultry Association in 1909.

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Bourbon Red Turkeys are large birds with a very beautiful appearance, they have dark base color feathers with white primary feathers on the tail, and they are defined by having a soft red band and whitish flight feathers. Both the wings and tail have chestnut-colored coverts, they have flight feathers and a white tail and brown to dark red plumage. The body feathers on males can have a black edge. The chest and neck feathers are chestnut mahogany, and the undercover feathers are light to almost white.

Although they are peaceful and frequently fly around the yard, these birds are quite active, and the males can become violent if they feel threatened. The breed is typically intended for meat production, but can also be used for display or as a backyard eye-catcher.


A type of domestic turkey known as the Bourbon red turkey is called after Bourbon County in Kentucky for its distinctive reddish plumage. The standard weights are due to anticipating the potential of the Red Bourbon turkey and when the breed was in its heyday, the breed standard meant that the Red Bourbon turkey should weigh about 10.4 kilograms (23 pounds) for males and 6, 3 kilograms (14 pounds) for hens of slaughter age (about 29 weeks).

 Although there are efforts to restore and meet the Bourbon Red standard, today these weights are carried by few breeders and growers, and Bourbon Red turkeys have been unpurified due to a lack of selective breeding to protect the breed, for too long.

The feathers of the breed are of a dark base color, with white primary plumage, and in the tail, it has a characteristic, where it is possible to notice These birds have a simple red stripe and white flying feathers; their tail and wings are covered in chestnut-colored feathers. Before the bird is ready for slaughter, the guideline allows for a maximum of 30% red tail feathers.


The plumage of the Red Bourbon turkey is primarily a reddish-brown color. However, its tail feathers are white with soft red bars towards the end. The flight feathers of Red Bourbon turkeys are also white.

Although their plumage is predominantly rufous, male Bourbon turkeys may have black coloration on the edges of their body feathers.

The chest and neck feathers of the Red Bourbon have a mahogany-brown hue. But the belly feathers are light beige or whitish.

These birds normally have red beards. However, they can turn bluish-white. The Red Bourbon turkey has a black beard and pink toes and legs. Their bills are dark at the base and light horn colored at the tip.

The male Red Bourbon turkey has a remarkable tail span; its tail feathers are spread out in beautiful shades of reddish brown. However, Bourbon females are less conspicuous and less colorful.

Red Bourbon turkeys are one of the largest turkeys you will find. On average, adult male turkeys weigh about 33 pounds. While the females weigh around 18 lbs.


The Red Bourbon is a breed of American turkey from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Hence the name. In the late 19th century, a Bourbon County farmer named JF Barbee crossed Tan, buff, and Holland white turkeys. The efforts of this farmer created the Red Bourbon turkey breed.

The first steps in the creation of the Red Bourbon turkey happened in Pennsylvania. Back then, Pennsylvania Buff turkeys had darker shades of red. Settlers heading to Kentucky or Ohio used to travel with their Buff turkeys (known then as Tuscarora or Tuscawara). And they were the base breed for red Bourbon turkeys.

After a few years of exhaustive selection, JF Barbee achieved his goal. He eventually produced adequately sized turkeys with dark red plumage, primary tail feathers, and white wings.

The breed was first given the name “Butternuts de Bourbon” by JF Barbee. But after realizing that moniker did not do the breed justice, he changed it to “Bourbon Reds.” Of course, the “Bourbon” for its place of origin and the “Reds” for the plumage of the birds. The new name stuck because there seemed to be an improvement in interest and sales.


Because they are species used for fattening and selling meat, red bourbon turkeys are one of the factors to achieve profitable breeding of birds. Since food represents up to 70% of total production costs. Turkey’s feed is classified as energy and protein. And due to the rapid growth of these birds, their diet must meet the energy and protein needs required at each stage of development.

Therefore, its food is generally reformulated every 3 or 4 weeks to adjust to the improvements and development of the turkey. Therefore, it is necessary to correctly balance the diet of bourbon turkeys, according to the stage of growth. The most difficult stage is during the first days after birth. In this phase, the birds do not recognize the food, so their senses must be stimulated so that they quickly locate their food and water. To start their correct development from the first day, it is recommended that they consume approximately 25 grams of broken corn per turkey.


Bourbon red turkeys were selectively bred for their utility traits as meat birds. Additionally, it was a crucial variable in the turkey industry throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Like most other turkey breeds, the broad-breasted white’s commercialization caused the breed to decrease.

In the early 21st century, the overall population of Bourbon Red Turkey began to recover. The breed is currently one of the most popular turkey breeds in the US. Despite the breed’s relative popularity as a heritage breed, The Livestock Conservancy still lists it. The name of the breed of turkey comes from Bourbon County, which is located in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region. The turkey breed was developed in the 1800s by JF Barbee.

Domestic turkey was previously known as Bourbon Butternuts and Kentucky ReddsThe heritage he was born after crossing the Buff turkey breeds, the Dutch tan and white. In 1909, the turkey breed was accepted and admitted to the American Poultry Association as a different type of turkey. Since then, domestic birds became popular all over the world.

These heritage birds were generally bred for meat production and this is the reason for their popularity in the turkey industry, especially in the 1930s and 1940s.

There are currently fewer than 5,000 Bourbon Red turkeys breeding in the United States. Additionally, it is listed among the endangered American foods.


Bourbon red turkeys are tough and gorgeous animals. They are a very attractive variety both for display and for the backyard. These birds are very active foragers and generally do very well in a pasture production system. Their capacity for foraging is unaffected by whether they are Thoroughbreds or hybrids of white turkeys.

They are birds with a docile temperament, but some birds can become aggressive, highly dependent on the selection by the breeder, nowadays bred mainly for meat production, it is a very attractive variety with foraging capacity.


This robust and hardy turkey breed has body systems that are dynamic and can easily adapt to different climates with great ease.


Like any other variety of domestic turkey, the Bourbon Red is polygamous by nature. A male turkey can mate with up to six females. Not without first performing a prior courtship, beginning with songs that are followed by a ritual in which the plumage is inflated, appearing larger than the real figure, and at the same time the plumage of its tail is open like a fan.

After mating, the female separates from the group and begins to build a nest to begin the incubation of her eggs, which will last twenty-eight days. The turkey can lay from eight to fifteen eggs. When they hatch, they feed themselves on leaves, small insects, and grains, among others.

The temperament of the breed

Keepers of this Red Bourbon turkey breed claim that their birds have a wonderfully friendly and sweet demeanor. They can occasionally be somewhat aggressive if they feel their territory is threatened, but that is mainly towards rival males.

As far as human interaction goes, Red Bourbons are quite friendly birds with outgoing and affectionate personalities. The Red Bourbon Turkey is an attractive bird for display or just for the backyard. They are active foragers and would probably do well in a grazing system, either as a purebred or when crossed with white turkeys.

Diet and nutrition

The Red Bourbon turkey must be fed a unique formula with all the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy. You want to make sure each bird gets 3-4 pounds of food a day, which is more than enough to keep them healthy and happy throughout their lives. Balanced feed for turkeys is made with great care so that no bird gets too fat or too thin.

In poultry stores, you will find a variety of different foods for your birds. Male Bourbon turkeys are very territorial, so be sure to keep them separate, to prevent them from getting hurt in fights.

 Egg production

While Red Bourbon turkeys are primarily a meat breed, they excel at laying eggs. If you want a turkey breed that will give you a decent yield on eggs, you should consider this breed.

Female Red Bourbon turkeys reach sexual maturity when they are 7 to 8 months old. However, they usually don’t lay eggs until spring. But then, in some cases, a female Red Bourbon turkey might lay a few eggs in the fall. On average, female Red Bourbon lays around 90 to 160 eggs per year.

Meat production

At one time, red bourbons were the favorite breed of turkey for Thanksgiving. Its distinctive flavor was what made it so popular. The main purpose of keeping this breed of turkeys was initially for meat.

Keep in mind that removing the feathers from the skin of red bourbon turkeys can be a bit tricky. But when fully plucked, the body of the red bourbon is quite clean, thanks to its light feathers, which leave no dark pigmentation.

Breed recognition

The Bourbon Red turkey variety was recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909. It was ambitiously selected and promoted for its useful characteristics, including a production-type conformation with a heavy breast and rich-flavored meat.

Red Bourbon enjoyed significant commercial success during the 1930s and 1940s. However, over time, its popularity waned as it was unable to compete with the broad-breasted varieties. Since 2002, renewed interest in Red Bourbon’s fitness, survivability, and superior taste has captured the interest of consumers and created a growing niche market.


The introduction of broad-breasted white turkeys on the market led to the decline of the breed, as these are superior quality birds. The circumstance has led to a total reduction of the turkey breed in the United States to about 5,000 or fewer. These birds have been placed on the American Livestock Conservancy‘s endangered species list and very few private hobbyists in Kentucky still keep them on their farms.