|Stag (male) turkey displaying|
One of the first odd things about turkeys is their name. Why should a bird native to North America be named after a country on the other side of the world? The turkey was first domesticated in Mexico, around 2000 years ago. Not long after, turkeys were also domesticated separately in the South West from their own local wild birds. When the Spanish arrived, turkeys were sent back to Spain, but owing to the perpetually bad relations between Spain and England at that time did not pass immediately to the British, but eventually arrived in England via Ottoman Turkey, hence the name. The birds were introduced to England by William Strickland, whose coat of arms includes a "turkey-cock in his pride proper”. Strickland later became a prominent Puritan MP, which may explain why when they emigrated to what was then the Colony of Virginia the Pilgrim Fathers took with them British turkeys.
Modern farming methods have not been kind to the turkey. The premium on large size has resulted in the main commercial breeds growing so huge that the males (‘stags’ in the UK, ‘toms’ in the US) are not capable of mating, so they are produced by artificial insemination. More normal appearing breeds are still in existence, and command a premium price, but they are less efficient at converting feed into meet.
|Commercial white turkeys|
|Gould's Wild Turkey M.gallopavo|
|Ocellated Turkey M.ocellata|
Next week, we finally reach an end to this series with one of the oldest domesticated birds in the world, the ordinary domestic chicken. It is a story of trade across Asia, cruel sports, an entire people being called chicken, insane looking birds and public health, so tune in next time!
(images from wikipedia)