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Behnke’s & the Beltsville Small White Turkey

sonja-and-roland-with-turkeysSonja & Roland Behnke in the early ’40s, with their Beltsville Small Whites

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I started my yearly tradition of pulling out my grandmother’s old cookbook and reading all the notes in the margins that she wrote about different turkey dinners. Oma (that is what we called her) always got her turkey from Maple Lawns in Fulton, MD…and for 35 plus years, so have I.  What I did not know was that before she started buying her birds from her friends at Maple Lawn, my grandparents actually raised turkeys at Behnke’s.

While I am not really sure about the whole story, I did hear that these turkeys were some of the “Beltsville Small White Turkey” breed that the U.S Department of Agriculture Research Center in Beltsville bred from 1934 to 1941. The idea was to create a bird that would answer consumers’ demand for a turkey that would fit in small refrigerators for apartment dwellers, into small ovens, and feed small families.

The Beltsville variety started being used in the 1940’s and was recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1951. The Beltsville Small White also helped with the development of other strains of medium and small white turkeys. Today the Beltsville Small White is quite rare and only a few exhibition breeders have them. A research flock exists at the Iowa State University, but public access to this flock is pretty much non-existent.

My mother, Sonja Behnke Festerling, used to tell us stories about the turkeys and chickens chasing her and her brothers around the yard. Looking at this photo, I am not sure if they were in a fenced-in yard or not. But I think it is pretty interesting to know that our hometown of Beltsville is where these turkeys were developed.

I hope you have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. Enjoy your family and friends, and of course, your turkey dinner!

You can click here for more information on the Beltsville Small White.

by Stephanie Fleming, Behnke Nurseries

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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