WASHINGTON -- The Thanksgiving turkey officially pardoned by President Obama on Wednesday morning isn't your run-of- the-mill bird. It's actually been bred specifically for the purpose.
Born on July 7, it and 34 other turkeys were plucked at five weeks old from a Minnesota commercial turkey flock. From then on, the turkeys were trained for an hour every weekday by members of FFA, a youth organization promoting agriculture education.
Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, explained the unusual process on Tuesday at the W Washington D.C. hotel, where the turkey and its alternate have been holed up.
"They were talking to them, they were playing music, they were making noise, they had some flash bulbs, bright lights. Just to help prepare them, get them ready for the ceremony that's going to happen tomorrow at the White House."
The turkey and its alternate, said Olson, are the "cream of the crop" chosen for their attractive feathering, muscling, red and blue head coloring and a healthy fanning of feathers when they strut.
Don't think this is a new practice, however. The turkeys used in presidential pardoning ceremonies have been trained in this manner for the past several years, with one group of trainers passing their techniques on to the next. Many of the methods are similar to those used at county fairs across the country, which have a long history of showing turkeys in competition.
Following the ceremony, the birds are headed to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens (although Wild Turkey Bourbon is trying to steal them away). The remaining turkeys in FFA's specially-trained flock won't be so lucky: They're headed to the slaughterhouse and their meat will be donated to the local food shelter.