Reporting from Washington — Last month, Walter "Gator" Pelletier, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and an executive at Butterball, approached Wes Pike, his go-to bird handler, with a secret mission: raising two well-mannered birds that wouldn't trash a room at the Willard hotel or go ballistic on President Obama during a pardoning ceremony in the White House Rose Garden today.
Pike, 54, accepted the challenge. From Butterball pens in Goldsboro, N.C., he picked 22 15-week-old toms from a flock of 52,000 poults and moved them to a safe barn across the road. There, the 4-pound birds were hand-fed corn, soybeans and a mix of grains and vitamins. The birds walked on a fresh bed of kiln-dried pine shavings and gobbled and clucked freely with humans, to better prepare them for the members of the first family, administration officials and reporters at the ceremony.
They listened to a constant loop of music provided by Disney ("more new-age Disney rock," Pike said) to acclimate them to the noises the lucky two would encounter as grand marshals riding a Thanksgiving Day float at Disneyland.
The now-40-pound broad-breasted white turkeys will fly first class on a United aircraft and live out their days in Frontierland's Big Thunder Ranch. (With life spans lasting usually a few months, Thanksgiving turkeys are bred for breast meat, not longevity.)