Look out HokieBird, there’s about to be a new turkey in town.
The National Thanksgiving Turkey — and its alternate — that President Barack Obama will “pardon” next week as part of an annual White House ceremony will live out its days at Virginia Tech in Gobblers Rest, a newly built enclosure located inside the Livestock Judging Pavilion on Plantation Road.
The public will be able to visit the turkeys and learn about the university’s teaching, research, and outreach programs in animal and poultry sciences and veterinary medicine.
The National Turkey Federation began the tradition when it gave a live bird to President Harry S. Truman. More recent presidents have added the custom of “pardoning” both the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate.
In the past, the birds have moved to a farm or historical site, but this is the first time they will live at a university.
“Considering how Virginia Tech is not only home to the HokieBird but it is also where the modern turkey industry has its roots, it is apt that the pardoned turkeys will call Blacksburg home,” said Rami Dalloul, a poultry immunologist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences.
Dalloul will chaperone the birds as they go through a series of official ceremonies next week and will bring them back to Blacksburg after the White House event.
You can follow along on social media using #TurkeyPardon2016 to go behind the scenes at the White House ceremony and follow the turkeys on their journey.
The public can visit the turkeys on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Livestock Judging Pavilion, 445 Plantation Road, Blacksburg.
This year John Reicks, chairman of the National Turkey Federation, chose a farm family in Iowa to raise the presidential flock. Some of the birds visit local schools as an opportunity for children to learn about poultry and agriculture.
After two birds are chosen based on appearance and temperament, they head to Washington, D.C., where they stay at a hotel near the White House as part of a series of media events leading up to the presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey.
The event not only serves as the opening of the holiday season, but also reminds America of the history and importance of agriculture, from feeding the world to growing the economy.
The turkey industry has a long and storied history with Virginia Tech.
In 1922, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Charles Wampler sought advice from the head of the Department of Poultry Science, A.L. Dean. In the following years, Dean advised Wampler on turkey-raising techniques. Wampler is regarded as the father of the modern turkey industry, and founded the National Turkey Federation in 1940.
Poultry makes up the largest sector of the commonwealth’s agricultural portfolio with more $1 billion in annual cash receipts.
The Virginia Tech Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine help grow the state’s economy by conducting innovative research to benefit industry and educating the next generation of animal and poultry scientists and veterinarians.
Dalloul is a world-renowned poultry immunologist, who a few years ago sequenced the turkey genome, which opened the door to new levels of understanding of the birds as well as genetics. Mike Persia, an assistant professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist, works with industry to improve poultry management and production.
In other areas of campus, Biochemistry Professor Rich Helm is working with a new mass spectrometer to understand protein levels in turkeys and how they impact the growth and development of the birds. In the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Bill Pierson leads research on biosecurity and infection control in turkeys.
In 2012, alumnus Bob Evans, doctor of veterinary medicine, oversaw veterinary care for that year’s presidential flock and participated in the presentation of “Cobbler,” the National Thanksgiving Turkey, to President Obama.