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The Myth of Beard Rot

This Turkey Tuesday is about odd colored beards and the myth about beard rot. First, beard rot does not exist, there is no such condition in wild turkeys. Rather, the tom with the odd-colored beard in this picture from Brian Proctor shows classic signs of a melanin deficiency. Melanin is the most common pigment in birds, and in turkeys, is what colors their beards the blackish color we all recognize. But when melanin production gets interrupted, beards can be rust or blond colored. Disruption in melanin production is often linked to nutrition (vitamin deficiencies), which could be linked to other issues like injuries, or illness. Usually, melanin production resumes at normal levels so the beard has streaks in it, and because the lack of melanin in that part of the beard makes the beard brittle – it breaks and looks like it was cut. That’s what people call beard rot, but again, the beard isn’t rotting. Interestingly, it’s much more rare to see a tom like the one in this picture, where the entire beard is rust colored, because you’d think the beard would have broken. However, toms with beards that are entirely rust or blond colored sometimes have a chronic issue with melanin production, or they could have a genetic variation that causes the odd coloration in the beard. Regardless, beard rot doesn’t exist, the odd colors and stripes we see in beards usually results simply from a nutrient deficiency and a lack of melanin. Has anyone harvested a bird with an odd-colored beard?

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