A Suburban Farm of 6th Happiness.

Turkey Beards

by Alan - September 9th, 2012.
Filed under: Turkeys. Tagged as: .

This is Charles, our adult Male Turkey (a “Tom Turkey”). He is about 1 year old in this photo.  His breed is a “Royal Palm”. When we got him, he was a juvenile. Like most first-time turkey owners,there were things were unfamiliar with – such as Toms’ “beards”. Do you see those black feathers on his chest, that kind of hang like a pony-tail? that’s his beard.

When he was young, he did not have the beard. When they first started to come in, they were just this tiny tuft of bristles sticking straight out. Our first reaction was to panic- did he have deformed feathers as a result of something wrong with him- like a tumour growing just under his skin in that spot? Frantic Googling found us the answer, thanks to several other first time turkey folk asking the same thing.  This is what his beard looked like when first coming in:

As far as I know, beards are black on all breeds of turkeys, even white ones.  If the beard is not black, it can signal a melanin deficiency related disease or deficient diet.   Beards grow approximately 4 to 5 inches a year and never stop growing.  So if you ever need to sex/age a turkey you did not have since it was young, the beard is useful.  There are a few exceptions though…

  • In some lines in some breeds, about 10-20% of hens can grow beards.  In other lines the rat can be near 0%.
  • After the age of 2 or 3, when the beard starts to trail on the ground when the turkey is eating, or even walking (and stepping on it), the beard can be worn down.  This happens faster in harsh/rocky environments, than in places where the ground is soft, sandy or wet.   In cold, northern climates, ice can form on the tips and break the tips off.  Diet can influence how strong the beard’s filaments are which is also a factory in how fast they wear down.  Genetics also plays a role – there is some selection in some lines for tougher beards, or faster growing beards (that grow fast than the rate of breakage).
  • If the bird has a deficiency in melanin, the beard will be brittle and likely break where the colour is faded.

Here is a good PDF on the secondary sexual characteristics of turkeys:

http://extension.usu.edu/wasatch/files/uploads/Sexing%20turkeys-toms%20vs.%20hens.pdf (back up, if link goes down)

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