SD turkeys in DC

It probably isn’t much news for the national media, but here in South Dakota, the local news outlets are all running stories about the two turkeys that were pardoned by President Trump in a Whitehouse ceremony. The light-hearted ceremony, held in the White House Rose Garden showed the two turkeys - a 39 pound bird named Peas and a 41-pounder named Carrots. Both were raised on a farm near Huron, South Dakota. I’m pretty sure that i have not previously paid any attention to where the turkeys at the Whitehouse have come from, which likely means that they didn’t come from where I was living at the time.

You might say that is because Montana, North Dakota and Idaho aren’t exactly known for their turkeys, but I know a little bit more about turkey production in North Dakota because my father-in-law raised turkeys commercially on their farm when he was a young man. We have black and white photos of him, skinny as a rail, standing in the midst of a field of turkeys. Talking with him about that experience when he was older revealed that it wasn’t his favorite job. The turkeys were a way to provide income for the farm in a time when grain prices were abysmal, the drought was severe, and his father was forced to cut back on work due to a heart attack. They raised the turkeys as a last-ditch survival attempt. It worked. They kept the farm. He held title to part of the property at the end of his life. The turkeys, however, were not beloved. He was not sad to see the last of them on the train in Minot, heading towards St. Paul where they would be processed for dinner tables in the city. Although he didn’t have to raise turkeys again, it did provide a great family story.

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t raising turkeys that weighed over 30 pounds. That 41 pound bird must e a sight to see.

Most readers know what follows. Each year several turkeys are shipped to the Whitehouse. In a tradition started by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, one or two turkeys are chosen to be “pardoned” by the President. Those birds get to live out their lives at a Virginia farm, after Whitehouse photographers take a series of pictures of the birds as if turkeys were allowed to roam freely within the Whitehouse. Other turkeys are processed and prepared for the Whitehouse Thanksgiving Dinner.

In light of the occasion, I would like to make a few observations.

In the first place, I am not opposed to eating turkeys. We eat turkey meat fairly often at our house. I am sure that turkeys are raised in a variety of different conditions, some better than others, but the bottom line is that turkey producers have to pamper their birds. Their profits are based on healthy birds. Turkeys are prone to all kinds of diseases and when one bird gets sick he illness spreads quickly. A producer can lose an entire flock if care is not taken. Of course the turkeys we eat are raised through generations of selective breading to produce huge amounts of breast meat. They don’t look very much like the wild birds at all, who can run after and sometimes fly for short distances. These farm birds become so overgrown that they become pretty sedentary compared to birds in the wild. Anyway, though I’m sure improvements can be made in the treatment of birds raised for food production, I think it is reasonable for the Whitehouse chefs to prepare turkeys for the Presidential family and guests to enjoy.

Having said that, despite what the media has been reporting, these are not the first turkeys that South Dakota has sent to Washington, DC. They may be the first to be pardoned by the president, but that leaves us in a strange position. South Dakotans have sent turkeys to the House of Representatives and to the US Senate for years. We have sent turkeys to work in previous administrations. These two birds, unlike some of the turkeys we have sent to Washington D.C., have not committed any crimes. They needed no pardon. In fact what they received wasn’t really a pardon. They received a resume from being butchered, which happens to most turkeys, but it is not technically true that they were pardoned. They had not previously been convicted of any crime. In recent years the human turkeys that South Dakota have sent to Washington, D.C., have not all been so innocent. William Janklow resigned as a member of the US House of Representatives after he was convicted of a felony charge of vehicular homicide after an automobile accident in which a man died when Janklow was driving far in excess of the speed limit. Automobile violations seem to top the list for the turkeys that South Dakota sends to Washington DC. The turkey who represents us in the US House of Representatives until the end of the year and who will be inaugurated as our next governor has made public apology for a string of tickets for speeding and other infractions over the past 21 years. She has compiled quite a record with the South Dakota Highway Patrol. She has not been pardoned for those violations of the law.

Fortunately for South Dakotans, some of the turkeys that we send to Washington, D.C., like Peas and Carrots, end up retiring in the D.C. area and don’t come back to South Dakota very often after tasting the political life of the nation’s capital. That is perfectly acceptable to those of use who live here. We’d probably welcome them as neighbors. We put up with a lot of neighbors who are turkeys. But it doesn’t bother us that some of them just decide to stay on back east and don’t come home to visit very often.

As for me, I’ve got a flock of wild turkeys for neighbors. They’re a bit messy and occasionally noisy, but that’s true of my other neighbors as well. All-in-all, I’m perfectly happy to live with a wide variety of different kinds of turkeys. And I don’t mind that once in a while we send a few turkeys to Washington D.C. We’ve got enough to share.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!