Craig Miller has been raising turkeys on his farm near Harrisonburg, Va., for 26 years. On Wednesday, one of Miller’s toms is to briefly achieve national celebrity at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Miller said. “I take it as an honor.”
Miller also raises about 129,000 other turkeys a year for, well, non-pardoning purposes, he says. But in planning for the presidential festivities, he has been carefully raising this year’s presidential turkeys from a flock of 40 eggs that hatched in July.
Other members of that specific flock have toured petting zoos and schools around Virginia. But according to the National Turkey Federation, the two turkeys that will make it to the White House — the one to be pardoned and a backup — do not attend these public events for “biosecurity reasons.”
At about 18 weeks old, each tom weighs roughly 40 pounds, which Miller says is typical for male turkeys.
The presidential turkeys are almost always male, even though the turkeys most Americans carve up on Thanksgiving are female. Miller says this may be because the toms’ white plumage makes for a better photo opp.
“They get pretty,” he said. “They strut. They’re more photogenic, you might say.”
Presidents have been officially pardoning turkeys since 1989. And though it’s a tongue-in-cheek event, this year there’s even a Change.org petition asking the president to abolish the turkey pardoning ceremony, which the petition says “makes no sense and lacks compassion.”
The gobbling duo arrived in the nation’s capital on Monday and are staying in a room at the posh W Hotel until their clemency hearing on Wednesday, upon Obama’s return from his Asia trip.
The White House has dubbed them Gobbler and Cobbler, and is soliciting Facebook votes to see which one should be officially spared.
While only one turkey will be “pardoned” for cameras, both will go from the White House Rose Garden ceremony to nearby Mount Vernon, home of the nation’s first president, where they will live out their days with their feathered brethren.
Emma Roller is an intern on NPR’s Washington Desk.