What Happens To The Turkeys After Being Pardoned By The President?

The Independent writes that each year around the Thanksgiving holiday, the president engages in a tradition that involves pardoning a turkey. In other words, the turkey is spared from becoming a meal. In November 2022, CNN reported that President Joe Biden pardoned two turkeys named Chocolate and Chip (pictured above). He decided to keep the ceremony — which was held on the South Lawn of the White House — brief because, in his words, "nobody likes it when the turkey gets cold." According to the Obama White House Archives, it's believed that Abraham Lincoln may have been the first president to pardon a turkey. However, it took years for this custom to catch on.

The White House Historical Association explains that turkeys were commonly gifted to presidents in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Then in 1947, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) gave then-President Harry Truman a turkey (via CNN). Although he did not pardon the animal, Truman did start the annual turkey presentation ceremony that still occurs to this day. That said, NewsNation states that President John F. Kennedy officially pardoned the first turkey in 1963. Instead of using the word "pardon," he said, "Let's keep him going."

From then on, the White House Historical Association notes that turkeys gifted to President Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan were all spared from the dinner table and unofficially pardoned. Per the Obama White House Archives, President George H.W. Bush made the now well-known turkey pardon ceremony an official tradition in 1989.

The pardoned turkeys retire at various places

Instead of being sent to the chopping block, NewsNation notes that the pardoned turkeys find new homes all over the country, where they can freely live out the rest of their lives. The White House Historical Association states that the turkeys that were unofficially pardoned during the Nixon, Carter, and Regan administrations were sent to different farms. Per the Obama White House Archives, the turkey that was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush was delivered to Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia. In 2015, Honest and Abe, two turkeys that were pardoned by President Obama, found a new home in Morven Park, Virginia (via Inside Edition).

WAMU reports that many pardoned turkeys, including Bread and Butter, which were pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2019, ended up at Gobbler's Rest at Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Rami Dalloul, a professor at the institution, stated, "We joke around campus that they get free room and board, as well as free education." The turkeys that were pardoned in 2016 and 2017 by Obama and Trump, respectively, were also sent here (per Inside Edition). According to NewsNation, some pardoned turkeys have found themselves in Disneyland and Disneyworld. Others, like Corn and Cob, which were pardoned in 2020, were sent to Iowa State University (per The Independent). As for Chocolate and Chip, CNN writes that their new residence will be at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The animals don't live long lives

NewsNation reports that up until 2013, some pardoned turkeys were sent to Mount Vernon, George Washington's historical home. However, the turkeys were kept hidden as they were not "historically accurate" (per FOX59). Although the turkeys might have survived Thanksgiving, FOX59 notes that they will likely die soon after their pardoning. Dean Norton, the director of Horticulture at Mount Vernon, noted, "The bird is bred for the table, not for longevity." He added, "Some of [the pardoned turkeys] have been pretty short-lived." In fact, Peace, as well as Cobbler and Gobbler — turkeys that were pardoned in 2011 and 2012, respectively — died months after arriving at Mount Vernon.

According to The Independent, the pardoned turkeys do not have long lives because they are farm raised. Norton explained (via FOX59), "[Americans] want a nice big breasted turkey and so they are fed high protein diet and they get quite large. The organs, though, that are in this bird are meant for a smaller bird. They just can't handle the extra weight, so they end up living not as long [as wild turkeys]." In 2019, Rami Dalloul from Virginia Tech had the same sentiment and said (per WAMU), "These guys, if they get to a year old or so, they're lucky."