Where Do Turkeys Go After Being Pardoned by the President?

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
November 20, 2001

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The schedule of a presidential turkey does not differ too much from that of the Presidents. Once the First Bird and his Vice-Bird have been chosen, through a process that is anything but democratic, their lives become a frantic whir of fancy hotels and White House ceremonies—eventually culminating in a cozy retirement in the country.

Presidential turkeys spend their entire life bettering themselves in anticipation of that glorious presidential pardon; that ethereal moment when they are forever reprieved from the roasting rack.

It all begins in April when about 2,500 breeder toms—basically male stud turkeys—hatch from their shell. These turkeys, already a notch above the common variety destined for the dinner plate, are raised in an air-conditioned barn with fluffy piles of sawdust up to their knees, said National Turkey Federation Chairman Nick Weaver.

In August, when the toms have reached about 25 pounds (11 kilograms) six are chosen as presidential candidates.

Weaver, as chairman of the NTF, will raise and choose the final pair of birds destined for the appointment at the White House.

Birds Chosen for Fine Looks

These six elite specimens, chosen for their fine plumage, poise and portly figure, are moved to a separate building where they are groomed for their future executive tasks.

From August through November and up until the day before the pardon, the goal is to familiarize the birds with people so that they don't lose their composure during the ceremony with the President.

Weaver came up with a particularly unique way to do this. The six birds are exposed to people dressed in long-sleeved, dark-blue overalls to simulate the dark blue suits of the officials and security personnel present at the White House.

During the four months leading up to Thanksgiving the care providers, dressed in their White House simulation gear, clap and chatter noisily around the turkeys. From this point on the turkeys are also hand-fed and petted frequently, all the while preparing the birds for the flocks of excited children and swarms of press that will descend on them at the pardoning ceremony.

This year Weaver chose the presidential and vice presidential turkeys from the half dozen eager toms in Goldsboro, North Carolina, two days before the ceremony in the nation's capital.

Continued on Next Page >>


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