What happens to the turkeys the president pardons?

Louise Hall
·3 min read
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump depart after taking part in the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington (AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump depart after taking part in the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington (AFP via Getty Images)

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Donald Trump took a moment off protesting the result of US election to participate in one of the country’s more bizarre presidential traditions: the turkey pardon.

Each November, the sitting president bestows a pardon on a turkey to a crowd at the White House, sparing it from the dinner table and the fate that befalls millions of turkeys during Thanksgiving celebrations.

How did the tradition begin?

Turkeys have been sent as gifts to American Presidents from as early as the 1870s as part of annual thanksgiving traditions and the official turkey presentation to the president began in 1947.

The sparing of the turkey began during Ronald Reagan’s administration, with the president deciding to send the presentation bird to a petting zoo or farm rather than off for the chop.

However, the ceremony formally cemented itself under George H W Bush, as he officially pardoned the bird in response to animal rights activists picketing nearby.

Since then, it has become a time-honoured White House tradition for the president to offer clemency to a turkey, or two.

The path to pardoning

The lucky turkeys take convoluted and extravagant route to freedom, as explained by the White House in 2018.

The “presidential flock” of contenders “is prepared for potential stardom at the White House from an early age” and the birds are acclimated to crowds, lights and standing comfortably on a table.

The two prize poultry are now bestowed names and battle for the title of the official turkey title via an online poll before the winner is granted the coveted pardon.

Ahead of the ceremony the birds rest in the luxurious Willard Hotel. This year's birds, Corn and Cob, were pictured reclining in their fancy hotel room ahead of the final competition for freedom.

Corn and Cob, a pair of turkeys that will be pardoned by US President Donald Trump, walk inside their hotel room at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in WashingtonAFP via Getty Images
Corn and Cob, a pair of turkeys that will be pardoned by US President Donald Trump, walk inside their hotel room at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in WashingtonAFP via Getty Images

What happens to the turkey after its been pardoned?

After a heated vote, Corn was declared this year’s winner, but fortunately the second bird is also always spared from the chop as runner-up and first alternate.

The White House says that following the ceremony the birds are retired for some “much-deserved rest and relaxation” and neither bird makes an appearance on the White House thanksgiving dining table.

Both birds from this year’s pardoning ceremony will retire to a new home on the campus of Iowa State University.

The turkeys are said to spend the rest of their days in comfort with fresh bedding, a heater, food and water, and an indoor pavilion.

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Birds in previous years have been sent to a variety of locations including Virginia Tech’s Gobblers Rest exhibit in Blacksburg to a farm named Frying Pan Farm Park in Virginia.

Some birds during the Barack Obama and George W Bush administrations were even sent to Disneyland to greet crowds in the theme park and be paraded down Main Street.

Sadly the spared turkeys do not tend to live very long after their pardoning. As the animals are farm-raised and bred to be eaten, they grow larger and faster than they would in the wild and do not have a long lifespan.

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