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Badger farmer to pick turkeys for White House pardoning ceremony

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Candidates for the national Thanksgiving turkey pardon at the White House strut their stuff at the Burkel family farm in Badger,BADGER, Minn. — An area turkey and his alternate will head to the White House for the national Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony this year.

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But it’s up to the Burkel family to decide which two.

John Burkel, a turkey farmer here, is the National Turkey Federation’s 2013 chairman.

“We took 80 turkeys out of that flock we placed in July, and we worked with that 80 to start with for about three or four weeks,” Burkel said. “And once we got into August we pulled 20 of those 80 and figured that’s the 20 that are going to be in our little star search.”

Now the Burkels are down to six. Two will make the trip to Washington, but only one will be pardoned on Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving.

Burkel said it’s taken months of preparation to get to this point. “You want to socialize them as soon as you can. Get them used to interaction with people as they grow.”

The turkeys also need to be ready for all the lights and cameras and even music.

“We play the radio during the day,” Burkel said. “Play some, whatever they want to listen to. They’ve been listening to Vivaldi and John Mayer intermittently pretty much all summer.”

It’s also important that the chosen birds are comfortable with the presidential touch.

“Now, as we get closer, we’re going to do a lot more table top exercises where you got to pick them up at this presentation and put them up on a table, of course, for the president to do the pardoning ceremony itself,” Burkel said. “There’s certain birds that will cooperate better than others. I already have a good idea which two are going but we’ll see as we go along here.”

After the ceremony, he said, both turkeys will go to George Washington’s farm in Mount Vernon where they will live out their natural life.

The downer is that turkeys, bred to be delicious, don’t live very long. They’re prone to heart disease, respiratory conditions and strained joints, according to US News and World Report. The turkeys pardoned in 2010 didn’t make it to Thanksgiving 2011.

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