You’ve just purchased your first pasture raised turkey (or chicken, or duck, etc.), and now you’re probably wondering: what’s the deal with the dark spots on it? Rest assured, there is nothing wrong with your bird!
Dark spots, also called ink spots, are just small amounts of residual pigment from the feathers. They are more often seen on pasture raised birds than on conventionally raised birds, because the vast majority of conventionally raised birds are white for the very reason of preventing ink spots and other “defects” of appearance. Some pastured poultry producers may select white breeds, but having been developed with emphasis placed almost exclusively on yield and color, these breeds do not always possess all of the traits necessary to thrive in an outdoor setting. On our farm, we have experimented with both Cornish cross chickens (white feathered) and red broilers (red feathered with some black feathers here and there). Overall, we found that the red broilers were a much better fit for us, because they were less susceptible to disease, more tolerant of our region’s cold weather, and had greater foraging ability than the Cornish crosses. We are happy to accept some decrease in visual appeal of the finished product, knowing that we are raising the healthiest and happiest birds possible!
Another reason for the selection of darker colored poultry breeds is preservation. Heritage breeds, the livestock of our ancestors, have been in decline since the industrialization of agriculture in the 1900s. Heritage breeds represent an important reserve of genetic diversity. The Livestock Conservancy is dedicated to safeguarding rare breeds of farm animals from extinction, enhancing the resiliency of our planet’s food system.
While ink spots are often unavoidable when working with darker colored birds, they are completely harmless. They may not be aesthetically pleasing, but these naturally occurring blotches of pigment will not alter the flavor of the meat in any way. You should feel good about having purchased a pasture raised bird: the healthy, humane, and environmentally sustainable choice!