-- While many Americans dream of retirement on a California beach or Florida golf course, for two turkeys fortunate enough to escape the fate of their brethren on Thanksgiving, the rolling hills of southwest Virginia will do just fine.
Tater and Tot, the turkeys pardoned by President Obama this Thanksgiving Eve, will live out their twilight years at “Gobbler’s Rest,” a custom enclosure on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. There, the turkeys will be cared for by students and veterinarians in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“Virginia Tech is world-renowned for its poultry department,” said Jordan Fifer, a university spokesman. “The students, faculty and alumni are definitely excited.”
Incidentally, Virginia Tech’s mascot is the “HokieBird” an anthropomorphized maroon and orange fowl that resembles a turkey. The bird traces its origin to the early 1900s when the school’s teams were nicknamed the “Gobblers” and a local fan trained a succession of turkeys to roam the sidelines of their football field.
Today, turkey legs are a staple at the concession stands of Lane Stadium, home to Virginia Tech’s football team, but President Obama’s decree precludes such a fate from befalling Tater and Tot.
Though the first official presidential turkey pardon took place in 1989, the ritual originated in 1947 when President Harry S. Truman was presented a bird from the National Turkey Federation.
Throughout President Obama’s term, he has extended an additional reprieve each year to a second turkey, though only one is named the official National Thanksgiving Turkey.
Last year’s birds, Honest and Abe, currently reside at Morven Park, the historic estate of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg, Virginia. Pardoned turkeys have lived in a fenced-off pen there since 2013.
Honest and Abe -- joined by a third bird which took part in a bell ringing at the New York Stock Exchange -- “are doing great,” said Morven Park Executive Director Stephanie Kenyon who noted the public is welcome to visit the turkeys, which have a life expectancy of three to four years, year round.
The grounds’ turkey-rearing roots run deep -- following his tenure as governor in 1922, Davis built Morven Park into one of the largest turkey farms on the east coast, raising more than 30,000 birds on the property’s 1,000 acres. Today, the park features Davis’ mansion, converted into a museum; athletic fields; an equestrian center and hiking trails.
“Ultimately, we’re not a poultry operation,” said Kenyon, explaining the decision of the National Turkey Federation to send this year’s birds to Blacksburg. “We have a number of Virginia Tech alums on staff who were happy to hear they were chosen.”
In years past, turkeys retired to locations as varied as Disney World, Disneyland, Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Va. and George Washington's Mount Vernon.