Native breed turkeys have stronger leg health and more tender breast meat than commercial breeds, a new study suggests.
Eight native breed turkeys - Norfolk Black and Slate breeds - were compared to a test set of 20 commercial birds as part of the study.
Measurements were taken at 12 and 18 weeks for the commercial strains in order to benchmark meat quality in the native breeds.
Tenderness was measured as the force exerted on the sample in order to elicit a representative change in tension.
The study assessed bone strength by measuring tibia and femur strength per kilogram of bird weight.
It found that native breeds had stronger leg bones and more tender breast meat than commercial breeds.
The research was part of a collaboration between Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) and the Poultry Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University.
RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price said the findings highlighted two important commercial advantages for farmers who chose native breed turkeys.
"Firstly, stronger leg bones can reduce the losses from lameness that are an ongoing concern for many commercial turkey businesses," he said.
“Secondly, the improved tenderness of the native breed turkey meat is appealing for consumers, particularly as the trend grows for eating less meat but choosing high quality products that are sourced locally and which are reared in high welfare systems.”
Poultry farmers are being encouraged by the RBST to consider the advantages of choosing native breed turkeys following the research.
There are currently 11 native breeds of turkey on the charity's 'watchlist' for rare poultry, including the Slate, Norfolk Black and British White breeds.
Professor Emily Burton, of Nottingham Trent University said: “Whilst native breeds of livestock such as these turkeys are rare, this is not because they are not good food sources, it is because not many are kept and they take a long time to grow when compared to their commercial friends.
"We need commercial turkey meat for the market, and this suggests that whilst these strains are excellent as being batch produced and offered to consumers, native breed turkeys can also be a tasty alternative, and are good strong birds.”