The Truth About Presidentially Pardoned Turkeys

thanksgiving pardoned turkey

Presidentially pardoned turkeys seemingly live the life.

After the two best looking and best behaved turkeys have been chosen from the specially hatched “presidential flock,” the birds are flown to Washington D.C, put up in a fancy hotel (no, seriously, they get a room at the Willard Intercontinental), and paraded in front of a bunch of journalists and White House staffers oohing and aahing and taking video to be splashed on every television in the U.S.

But once their 15 minutes are up, those two birds, not unlike their elderly human counterparts, are shipped off to the retirement home and left to spend the rest of their short lives in relative obscurity at petting zoos or, most recently, college campuses like Virginia Tech and Iowa State University.

This year, animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, is hoping to change that tradition by petitioning President Biden to allow 2021’s pardoned turkeys to spend their remaining days at the sanctuary’s New York-based headquarters.

According to Farm Sanctuary, the turkeys that are sent to these universities with poultry science programs are “likely not cared for as individuals with unique personalities, emotions, needs, and preferences.”

Their petition continues on to say that by allowing the pardoned turkeys to retire to their farms, the birds will “have the opportunity to dust bathe, feel the grass beneath their feet, enjoy a robust social life, and receive personalized care.”

However, due to commercial breeding techniques, even if their petition is successful, the likelihood that the turkeys would have a long life at Farm Sanctuary is still pretty low.

Josh Balk, the vice president of farm animal protection for The Humane Society, told Politico,

“Hundreds of millions of turkeys are genetically manipulated to be unnaturally obese, which causes a tremendous amount of leg deformities, joint pain, and heart problems.”

For reference, Corn and Cob, the two 2020 turkeys up for reprieve, each weighed over 40 lbs by the time they reached the presidential spotlight. The average wild turkey weighs anywhere from 5 to 25 pounds depending on the sex.

The genetic manipulation of these turkeys to make them suitable for our dinner tables is the exact reason why the birds that get “saved” from the slaughterhouse will likely be dead within months of their pardon whether they’re being cared for at a university or at Farm Sanctuary.

Unfortunately, these turkeys just aren’t meant for much more than killing, cooking, and eating.

Rami Dalloul, an Associate Professor of Poultry Immunology at Virginia Tech, explained,

“We take really good care of [the turkeys]…[but] they don’t have long life expectancy because they’re commercial birds. When birds live for a year, that’s a very big deal.”

Tater, the last pardoned turkey of the Obama administration, “exceeded all expectations” by living for two years on Virginia Tech’s campus after its 2016 pardon.

Previous administrations have been petitioned by Farm Sanctuary for the pardoned turkeys with no luck. However, the star power backing the 2021 plea, including famous vegans Billie Eilish and Joaquin Phoenix, have brought much more attention to the sanctuary’s letter this year with write-ups from publications like People and Huffpost.

But, as of the writing of this article, there’s still been no official word from the Biden administration on the fates of the soon-to-be pardoned turkeys.

While Farm Sanctuary and the list of celebrities supporting their plea to President Biden may have their hearts in the right place, at the end of the day, Farm Sanctuary has no proof that their way of caring for the turkeys is any better or guarantees a higher life expectancy than what the birds are already experiencing at their current retirement homes.

If you are interested in learning more about Farm Sanctuary or reading through their full petition, you can check them out at


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Jodi Matovich
Jodi Matovich is a Pittsburgh based writer and blogger who has something to say about just about everything. With a loud and hearty laugh, she tries to find the humor in any situation life throws her way...though it doesn't stop her from dropping a few expletives in the process!