Presidential turkeys to rule the roost at Tech’s Gobbler’s Rest

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Photo by Marty Gordon
The arrival of the presidential turkeys, Bread and Butter, at Gobbler’s Rest created quite a media stir.

By Marty Gordon

Bread and Butter will be missing from Thanksgiving tables this year thanks to President Donald Trump. In what has become a traditional, lighthearted ritual of Thanksgiving, the president pardoned the duo on Tuesday and sent them on their way to arrive in Blacksburg Wednesday morning.

The public can meet the newcomers on Sunday, Dec. 1, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Livestock Judging Pavilion, 445 Plantation Road, Blacksburg.

They joined Peas and Carrots, who were pardoned last year by the president. This is the fourth consecutive year the presidential turkeys were ushered into retirement and safety at Virginia Tech and Gobblers Rest.

Wednesday, Blacksburg’s newest residents met members of the media.

Bread seems to be the more outgoing of the two birds as he chased reporters around the Tech barn. He is only four months old, stands 32 inches tall, weighs in at 45 pounds and has a wingspan of 32 inches, which he showed off several times during a photo session.

Bread, it seems, loves Bluegrass music, according to information associated with his pen. He also seems to have a weakness for college basketball and cold Cheerwine.

His gobble style is “loquacious,” and his favorite pastime is leaf peeping, whatever that is. His long-term goal, other than survival, is to master aerial yoga.

Butter, the wing man, likes to snack on sweet potato fries and is in training for a personal best in the Turkey Trot. He was born, or hatched, on the same day as Bread and boasts a weight of 47 pounds with a 36-inch wingspan. His favorite type of music is bagpipes. He has provided no information as to why that is so.

His gobble style is described as “rowdy,” and he should fit it well in Southwest Virginia as his favorite sport is NASCAR. His favorite pastime is visiting the outer banks.

Rami Dalloul, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a world-renowned poultry immunologist who a few years ago sequenced the turkey genome, said Tech has a long tradition of supporting the turkey industry through research and outreach, so it’s fitting that the presidential turkeys becoming part of the Hokie Nation.”

The previous lucky birds — Wishbone and Drumstick, and Tater and Tot — have died due to natural causes, which is to be expected.

Abraham Lincoln is on record as the first president to have pardoned a turkey in 1863, but for the most part, the tradition of issuing a Thanksgiving pardon to a turkey is credited to President Ronald Reagan, who sent a bird to a farm in 1982. The birds’ home in Blacksburg started with then-President Obama, and they have been residents of the New River Valley ever since.

Photo courtesy of VT
Before heading to Blacksburg, Bread and Butter met their cousin, Hokie Bird, and spent two nights in a suite at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The 2019 national Thanksgiving turkeys were raised under the supervision of National Turkey Federation Chairman Kerry Doughty, former president and CEO of Butterball LLC; and Butterball contract grower Wellie Jackson of North Carolina.

“We are extremely grateful for Virginia Tech’s continued hospitality in welcoming the national Thanksgiving turkey and its alternate to Blacksburg,” Doughty said. “With a mascot like the Hokie Bird and the excellent care of the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences provides the birds, we know they will feel right at home at Gobblers Rest.”

The ritual calls for two birds to be chosen based on appearance and temperament. They were then taken to Washington, D.C., where they stayed at a hotel near the White House as part of a series of media events leading up to the official presentation as the national Thanksgiving turkeys. One is chosen to take part in the Rose Garden ceremony and the other is its “wingman.”

The event not only serves as the opening of the holiday season, but it also reminds America of the history and role of agriculture, from feeding the world to growing the economy.

The presentation of the national Thanksgiving turkey started in 1947 when the National Turkey Federation’s first chairman, Virginian Charlie Wampler Sr., presented a live turkey to President Harry S. Truman.

Years before, in 1922, Wampler was a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent who sought advice from the head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Poultry Science, A.L. Dean, on how to raise turkeys. In the following years, Wampler went on to create a growing business while Dean advised Wampler on turkey-raising techniques. Wampler is regarded as the father of the modern turkey industry. He founded the National Turkey Federation in 1940.

Today, poultry makes up the largest sector of Virginia’s agricultural portfolio with more $1.1 billion in annual cash receipts. The industry contributes more than $13 billion in economic activity in the commonwealth, according to the Virginia Poultry Federation.