California turkeys receive pardon from President Obama

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U.S. President Barack Obama pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey, named Apple, in a ceremony with daughters Sasha (2nd R) and Malia (R) and National Turkey Federation Chairman Yubert Envia (L) in the Rose Garden November 24, 2010 in Washington, DC.

We always try to catch up with California visitors to the nation’s Capitol. Today, we meet a Modesto native named Apple at the White House, on his way to Mount Vernon.

He’s about three feet high, white and fluffy, with a red and blue bill and wattle. As a lucky White House visitor, he got to meet the president. No handshake, but Mr. Obama did pat him on the head.

The President followed a 63-year-old custom, and granted Apple and his feathered understudy Cider a reprieve from oven duty this Thanksgiving. "For the record," the president said, recalling his own description of Democratic losses in the mid-term elections, "let me say it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November."

The pair of 45-pound toms came from a hatch of 20,000 chicks. Yubert Envia of Foster Farms, chair of the National Turkey Federation, says the birds are of the same large-breasted variety that end up on America’s Thanksgiving dinner tables. He says the patriotic bird was bred in California.

"It was actually developed in Sonoma, California," says Envia. "George Nicholas in 1953 had these bronze, broad-breasted turkeys and he came down to Stockton, California, picked up 20 Lancaster Whites, took them back to Sonoma, and started the breeding process and the selection process, and about three years later, he came out with this beautiful white turkey with a broad breast on it."

The president was flanked by the two first daughters, who declined their father’s invitation to pet the large white tom. The president asked the bird wrangler what the “whole wattle thing’s about.” He learned that the flappy flesh hanging from the beak is the poultry version of sweat glands.

The birds will live out their days in the same bucolic spot where George Washington chose to retire: Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Another pair of donated birds weren’t so lucky – they ended up as dinner at a local food bank.

As he left the Rose Garden, President Obama told the birds, “have a good life, man.”

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