This site was created to provide information regarding the Ridley Bronze turkey – Canada’s only surviving heritage turkey breed which is currently in grave danger of becoming extinct – see our NEWS page for more information regarding this.
This turkey type was created during the 1940’s by J.H. Richardson of Saltcoats SK. At that time he had in mind his “ideal” turkey, which would be large, able to forage well, calm natured, hardy and able to reproduce naturally. He travelled all over Canada and the US, getting stock upon which he based his breeding program. He eventually created his ideal, and once that happened, never again added in any new stock.
He commercially raised these turkeys for the next 20 years on his “Richardson Turkey Ranch” in Saltcoats SK. He was also the supplier of hatching turkey eggs to multiple other farms as well as commercial hatcheries in the area.
Several members of the Ridley family became involved in the raising of this type of turkey as well. First in being employees of Mr. Richardson, and then eventually branching out and forming turkey farms of their own. Maree Willis (nee Ridley) and her husband Fred, farmed these turkeys on their farm in Saltcoats SK, starting in the 1950’s. Later on, Maree’s brother George also started his own turkey farm in Leslie SK, in the very late 50’s or early ’60s. They each farmed these turkeys for nearly the next 20 years, ceasing when George moved to Ottawa in 1981.
Through George Ridley, the University of SK obtained stock for their Ridley Breeding and study program. It appears they were the ones who applied the name “Ridley Bronze” to this variety of turkey. The university maintained their Ridley Bronze flock until budgetary constraints forced them to disperse it in 2008 at which point the turkeys were sent to various private flocks located right across Canada. Sadly, this dispersal did not go well, with the majority of bird being lost to a variety of causes (disease, predation, loss of interest) within a short few years. Fortunately in the years preceding their mass flock dispersal, the University had sold birds to other private owners and so by 2009 or so, these small flocks owned by private breeders, were all that remained in Canada.
A census has been done of the Ridley Bronze turkey population three times since then. In 2010, it was determined that there were only 90 breeding females remaining in the entire breed. In 2012, the numbers has improved slightly with 225 breeding females, with a total of 50 breeders raising the turkeys. The most recent survey, conducted in March of 2015, sadly did not show a significant improvement with only 250 breeding females counted and those actively breeding, having dropped to 30. They are listed as “critical” on the Rare Breeds Canada conservation list, and as such are in desperate need of preservation.
It is rather inexplicable that the numbers have remained so poor. These turkeys are hardy, friendly, calm and quite prolific, and well able to raise their own young, and so would be an asset to most small family farms. Likely the numbers are not improving because most Canadians don’t know about them, and for those who do, they can be difficult to source.
The other problem with the ongoing low numbers is actually due to their most positive asset. Most people who get them now, do so because of their ability to reproduce naturally. As such, they soley rely upon this means for production. Unfortunately right now with the numbers so low, this breed will not be sustainable by doing this, as a hen setting on her own small number of eggs each season, simply cannot produce enough to both replace and increase breed numbers. Only by each breeder making a concerted effort to take at least half of the eggs produced by each hen in the beginning of the season to either sell or hatch out, will the breed survive. By doing this, the production of each of these rare, precious hens can be tripled and this will help to ensure survival of the breed.
There has been a concerted effort being put forth to try to preserve this part of our Canadian Heritage by a number of dedicated breeders located right across Canada. We are trying to find more of the same. If you are interested in trying to help with these efforts, please be sure to contact us.