Every year a group of turkey toms go through an extensive selection
process that begins in April and ends with them receiving a permanent
reprieve from becoming dinner when they are pardoned by the President of
the United States. In the intervening months the turkeys live a life
like no other turkeys on earth.
These turkeys are stud toms and are already considered a cut above the others when they hatch from their shells. They are raised in air conditioned comfort among clean, pillow-soft piles of sawdust according to the National Turkey Federation (NTF). In August, when they have grown to be about 25 pounds apiece, 2,500 potential candidates are pared down to just 6.
The chairman of the NTF is charged with raising these birds and with selecting the final pair. These last few birds will have been selected for the quality of their plumage, their poise, and their plumpness. Once selected for their poultry pulchritude the birds are moved to a separate building where they are groomed and trained for their unusual future. From August to November the birds are socialized to be around humans so that they will stay calm during the ceremony with the President.
To that end, the birds are cared for by handlers who dress in long-sleeved dark blue overalls that simulate the clothing of government officials. The handlers expose them to chatter, hand-feed the birds, and pet them to prepare them for the event.
The first presidential turkey pardon occurred in 1947 with President Harry S. Truman. President George H.W. Bush is credited with popularizing the event.
After the ceremony the birds are retired to Frying Pan Park's Kidwell Farm in Herndon, Virginia, a short distance from the nation's capital. Due to the weight of the chosen birds, they rarely live until the next Thanksgiving. The birds are buried on the property.
This year's birds were selected from a poultry farm in Rockingham County, Virginia.
Sources: National Geographic, Washington Post