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Two lucky Minnesota turkeys will survive Thanksgiving, thanks to presidential pardon

By Michael Yoshida

One of the turkeys headed for a presidential pardoning ceremony at the White House sits on display at a send-off at Badger (Minn

BADGER, Minn. — Hundreds in this town of 400 in Roseau County turned out to send a pair of turkeys off to the nation’s capital.

“Oh great turn out; it’s been fun,” said the turkeys’ owner, farmer John Burkel.

He, too, will travel to Washington, D.C., along with his daughter, Andrea, a senior at Badger High School, and the rest of her class.

One of the turkeys will be pardoned by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on Wednesday. The other turkey is the alternate.

“It’s awesome to see so many people from the community come out and support us,” said senior Katelyn Howell.

“It was pretty neat to everyone here,” said senior Kaitlyn Emery. “It’s amazing how much support we’ve gotten.”

Ironically, while the two Thanksgiving birds will travel to Washington by truck starting Sunday, the humans will fly there from Grand Forks International Airport starting Saturday.

Luckiest birds

Like lottery winners, the chosen turkeys are among the luckiest of the lucky. Out of a flock some 12,000, Burkel picked 80 to work with initially before winnowing them down to 20, then six then three semifinalists.

He got the honor of choosing the turkeys because he’s the chairman of the National Turkey Federation this year. Minnesota is No. 1 in turkey production in the United States with 250 turkey farmers raising about 47 million turkeys annually, according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

Burkel said the chosen turkeys have to be ready for all the lights and cameras at the White House ceremony. He said the he even plays music in their pen to get them used to the sound.

“We play the radio during the day,” he 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 they be 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.

After the pardoning, the turkeys will be driven to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, the White House said. Both the pardoned turkey and the alternate will be part of a Christmas display until Jan. 6 when they go to Morven Park’s Turkey Hill, a historic turkey farm in Leesburg, Va., where they’ll live out the rest of their life.

On the Web: To learn more about the turkeys, go to

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