Arkansas farmer seeks to save historic turkey breeds

Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:06pm EST
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By Suzi Parker

ROLAND, Ark (Reuters) - P. Allen Smith can talk for hours about saving rare poultry. He also will be eating one of them for Thanksgiving.

On his 650-acre Moss Mountain Farm outside Little Rock, Smith breeds domestic heritage poultry - turkey, chickens, ducks and geese - threatened with extinction.

"The Thanksgiving turkeys that people put on their tables now are not what their great-grandparents ate," Smith told Reuters. "They ate birds with names like the Bronze, the Black Spanish and the Slate, but the grocery store ones originated from these."

Smith, a garden and lifestyle designer and author, is known by television viewers around the country for garden design advice and food tips on two PBS shows as well as NBC's Today show and the Weather Channel. But on his farm, he has cultivated another passion.

In 2009, Smith began the Heritage Poultry Conservancy, a non-profit organization, as a way to support threatened breeds and strains of poultry. The conservancy focuses on fowl that were developed or recognized in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. He now has about 600 birds on his farm.

These poultry breeds were once very common. They fled the country during some of its most desperate times, such as the Civil War and the Great Depression, Smith said.

But as factory farms and hybrid genetics became more prevalent in the last several decades, these birds began to vanish quickly.

"My grandmother raised these types of birds and so did a lot of other people's grandmothers," Smith said during a tour of his sprawling farm. "Now we have a monoculture when it comes to poultry."   Continued...

<p>P. Allen Smith rounds up his flock of blue state turkeys at his 650-acre Moss Mountain Farm outside Little Rock, Arkansas, in this 2009 handout image obtained by Reuters on November 23, 2011. REUTERS/Courtesy Heritage Poultry Conservancy/Handout</p>