How Does A Turkey Get Chosen For A Presidential Pardon?

Two fortunate fowl will get a pardon from President Donald Trump this year and avoid the Thanksgiving table.

By Gina Pace

Getting a presidential pardon all comes down to personality and good looks.

And in the case of two turkey hopefuls from South Dakota, nice feathers help, too.

As two yet-to-be-named hopefuls travel to Washington, D.C. to receive reprieve from ending up on a Thanksgiving table, Oxygen.com caught up with Jeff Sveen, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Dakota Provisions and the National Turkey Federation to find out a bit about what life is like for the fortunate fowl.

Turkeys come from the home state of the chairman of the National Turkey Federation that year, and this is the first time South Dakota has had the championship. The state produces about 5 million turkeys a year, Sveen said.

The “Presidential Flock” is a group of 50 birds that are hatched in July, and they are prepared early-on for a taste of fame — they are acclimated to crowds, lights and learn how to stand on a table, crucial prep for the pardoning ceremony with the President. 

They also got used to the limelight by interacting with children and families in Huron, South Dakota.

The 50 are then narrowed to the best-looking and behaved final two, who were sent off with a parade on Wednesday, and then travel 1,400 miles this weekend via SUV with comfortable bedding to the nation’s capital. 

The 40-pound birds are scheduled to arrive Sunday at a five-star hotel, the Willard InterContinental Hotel, where they'll be staying until the pardoning ceremony.

The turkeys, temporarily named Jeff and Ruben (after Sveen and Turkey farmer Ruben Waldner, who requested the privilege of raising the birds), will be "interviewed" at a press day on Monday. White House representatives will also select and announce the birds' official names, which will be chosen from a list of more than 600 suggestions from South Dakota residents. A couple of Sveen’s favorites include Cranberry and Stuffing, and Mount and Rushmore (the monument is about a four-hour drive from where the birds grew up, and a South Dakota point of pride).

Presenting turkeys to the president is a tradition that began in 1947 to President Harry S. Truman, but President George H.W. Bush was the first to pardon one in 1989.

President Donald Trump will likely pardon the turkeys during a Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday. From there, the birds will be brought to Gobbler's Rest, an agricultural outreach and educational facility at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, where they can live out the rest of their years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

[Photo: Turkeys from the Presidential Flock. Credit: National Turkey Federation]

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