President Biden kicked off the unofficial start of the holiday season on Monday by pardoning two lucky turkeys from being served on the White House Thanksgiving table this week.
The male turkeys, Liberty and his “wingman” Bell, hail from Willmar, Minn., and enjoy Honeycrisp apples, watching ice hockey and the Mall of America, according to the National Turkey Federation.
“Even though Liberty and Bell are from Minnesota, they’re named for the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. These birds have a new appreciation for the words ‘Let freedom ring,’” Biden quipped during a formal ceremony on the White House lawn.
Biden, who turned 81 on Monday, joked that he was unable to attend the first-ever White House turkey pardon — 76 years ago. “I was too young to make it up,” he said with a laugh.
Liberty and Bell have been staying in a room at the swanky Willard InterContinental hotel near the White House, as is customary in the quirky tradition. Following their trip to Washington, D.C., they’ll continue to ride the gravy train back to the University of Minnesota.
“They are headed to a quiet and comfortable roost at [the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences] and there they will serve as educational ambassadors,” Jeff Ettinger, the University of Minnesota’s interim president, said at a press conference Sunday. “They’ll be cared for by some of the world’s top poultry science experts, faculty and students and they’ll help instruct the next generation of agricultural students. Liberty and Bell will not be receiving honorary degrees, but we will continue to give them their royal treatment that they’ve been receiving here, minus the hotel amenities.”
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Unfortunately for Liberty and Bell, freedom won’t ring for long.
Broad-breasted white domestic turkeys like them are raised to be plump and flavorful until about 18 weeks, when they are considered grown enough to be prepared for human consumption.
Liberty and Bell, clocking in at 42.5 pounds and 42.1 pounds, respectively, were both hatched in July as part of a “presidential flock” and are around 20 weeks old, according to Steve Lykken, National Turkey Federation chairman.
Because domestic turkeys grow so large, they are susceptible to a whole host of health problems, which typically put their life span at less than a year. For example, two turkeys former President Barack Obama pardoned in 2012 — Cobbler and Gobbler — died within a year of their poultry pardons. The same fate befell Wishbone and Drumstick, who died just months after being pardoned by former President Donald Trump in 2017.
"[Americans] want a nice big breasted turkey and so they are fed a high protein diet and they get quite large," Dean Norton, the director in charge of livestock at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, told CNN. "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]."
Naturally brown wild turkeys typically weigh half as much as their commercially bred counterparts and generally live three to four years.
While Liberty and Bell have beaten the odds this Thanksgiving, it’s unlikely they’ll be around for next year’s festivities.