While some states’ hunters may be in the midst of pursuing fall turkeys, two birds have earned a ticket to luxury living. The Burkel family farm in Badger, Minnesota will be presenting President Barrack Obama with two gobblers this year for the annual turkey pardoning ceremony on Wednesday, November 27.
According to the White House Historical Association, the tradition (officially known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation) may have begun during President Lincoln’s term. Instead of taking place shortly before Thanksgiving, as it has been for every year since 1989, a turkey was spared from the presidential table just before Christmas dinner when Lincoln’s youngest son Tad stepped in to save the bird. Other historians point to Harry S. Truman or John F. Kennedy as the ceremony’s founder, but these were recognized as spontaneous acts of turkey-related generosity, rather than an official “pardon.”
That honor belongs to President George H. W. Bush, who at his first White House Thanksgiving granted a bird a “presidential pardon.” Since then, every president for the last 24 years has pardoned their main course on Thanksgiving. Rather than being served alongside sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce, the turkeys were instead transported to farms where they lived out the rest of their natural lives.
Raising a turkey for the glamour of the White House takes some work, however, and the Burkel family shirked no expense to prepare their gobblers for the national stage.
“We play the radio during the day,” John Burkel told WDAZ. “[…] They’ve been listening to Vivaldi and John Mayer intermittently pretty much all summer.”
Burkel is also the current Chairman of the National Turkey Federation, which has been involved in the ceremony for years.
Burkel isolated a group of 80 turkeys from his farm’s flock and then narrowed the number to 20. Two of these birds—a primary and a backup—will be sent to the White House for a national reception. For now, the candidates are being trained to be accustomed to people, loud noises, and flashing lights.
“Now as we get closer we’re going to do a lot more table top exercises where you got to pick them up at this presentation and put them up on a table of course for the president to do the pardoning ceremony itself,” Burkel said. “There’s certain birds that will cooperate better than others. I already have a good idea which two are going but we’ll see as we go along here.”
After the ceremony, the two birds will be sent to a farm in Mount Vernon, Virginia that once belonged to George Washington.