Here! Is a fantastic article on the domestication of turkeys! One which really got me thinking about a very distinct breeding possibility/opporotunity, one which like many other of my projects, will likely take a lifetime of work but which is one (of many) projects I feel not only should I explore but in some spiritual sense I have to explore!
According to the fantastic paper published at the site above (which has cleared up many misconceptions we have about our modern domestic turkeys) turkeys were domesticated twice, seperately from one another!
Once in South Central Mexico from the genetics of the South Mexican Wild Turkey (M.G. Gallapavo) by the Aztec and once in the arid Sothwest by the basket maker II class of Natives (Anasazi). No proof of interbreeding was found in the research, so despite the trade northward of beans, maize, and sqash as well as cultural information (including probably turkey raising tips) it appears thusfar that there was no breeding of the two distinct domestic type turkeys (I however would bet there was and the evidence just hasn't been found).
We have discussed this scenario once before when speaking about the domestication of sweet corn genetics and it's multiple centers of domestication which are unrelated.
Though they didn't test any of the heritage breed type turkeys for genetic similarities they did test modern Nicholas Whites and found the lineage to trace back to those South Mexican populations. Despite a millenium of domestication of a unique species in the south west US it has become apparent that the Anasazi type domestics (which were a completely different bird all together) are extinct.
Some other interesting facts are mentioned in the article as well, such as the small to non existent relationship between the Merriams turkey that ranges within the territory of the basket weaver II nations and their domesticated turkeys. It seems obvious they would have used those birds which were located conviniently for domestication purposes......but they didn't, instead their domestic birds shared much more in common with Eastern Wilds (which range here in Indiana) and Rio Grandes which range just east of the four corners area.
So my question is, did they go out of their way to trade for these species and breed them together? Did they choose them for their coloration (considering their early use of turkeys was ceremonial)? Or at some point in time, somewhere east of the four corners area was there a tribe which had previously bred these two distinct sub-species together having domesticated them and did they trade them off wherein the Anasazi may have tried adding in the genetics of Merriams? Or were these birds domesticated from another, as yet unknown, species of wild turkeys which arose in the areas where Rio-Grande and Eastern territories overlap?
No matter though, because despite the extinction of these apparent domesticate Anasazi turekys I have available to me poults of Eastern Wilds, Rio Grandes, and Merriams (all legally obtained by the way!) along with my heritage pure breeds and various crosses, and some things occured to me.
1. Eastern Wilds are the second largest sized sub-species (and the most widespread and common of the sub-species ranging the entirety of the Eastern Seaboard into the midwes and the south), their blood is present in modern domestics such as the bronze and the naragansette and it is well known that Half-Wild crosses provide excellent hybrid vigor. That said it is well known in this area just how "lean" these turkeys really are (probably both genetically related and diet related) often times with only their breast meat being worthy of consumption.
2. If there is hybrid vigor that occurs between easterns and domestics then I'm sure the same is true of Rio's and Merriams, but what about vigor between wild subspecies?
3. According to my reading of another recently published article the Anasazi (and later puebloean tribes) relied soley on their domesticated turkeys for a 1,000 years and some have done tests which have proven the size of these domestic toms to be similar to that of the Bourban Red Domestics with Toms approaching 30 lbs.
4. Is it possible to retain lean meat qualities (while still feeding corn and free range) in these new hybrids but to increase the amount of meat on the body with the ideal being the creation of a new domestic which is not so much bred for deep fat frying or oven roasting but instead slaughter at a bit of a younger age and instead selected for cooking over an open fire in the summer creating an alternative market for turkey meat in the summer/fall months?
That said the turkeys are ordered, a new coop and run is built and plans are underway to begin making crosses next season.
The above are only a few of the more "grounded" reasons I wanted to approach this project. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows of my admiration for the Anasazi peoples and their reverance of corn and turkeys as well as their beautiful culture, spiritual practices, agriculture in general, and their building skills. I have been looking for a good excuse since I started raising turkeys to begin raising some Rio Grandes, as much as a reminder of what has come before as it is a reminder of what is yet to come. If I find success I have already chosen a name for the breeds "Kiva"