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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Christopher Smith
"Turkey Guy"
November 17, 2004

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith

President's Remarks
Welcome to "Ask the White House" and happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you didn't get a chance to see the live broadcast from this morning's ceremony, click the link to the right and watch the video. It was a great event and we were happy that the Vice President joined the President in today's ceremony. Once again, the public voted online for the names of the turkeys to be pardoned, which were announced by the President earlier today. The winning pair of names was "Biscuits and Gravy" - another great showing from rural America. Runner-up was "Patience and Fortitude." My condolences to those supporting "Gobble and Peck" and others. Enough with the names....let me answer some questions.

Marianne, from Lancaster, PA writes:
Howe are the 2 turkeys, chosen as hatchlings, picked to be raised as possible White House turkeys to be pardoned? THANK YOU Marianne

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Hi, Marianne! Thanks for the question. Approximately 30 turkeys were removed from a normal commercial production flock and were raised separately on the Foltz farm in Mathias, WV. The birds are commercial turkeys used in normal industry production, and they were raised using the same techniques as other commercial birds. They were fed a regular diet of corn and soybean meal and were provided a continuous supply of fresh water.

A few minor modifications were made to prepare the birds for the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. The birds are periodically hand fed and given additional interaction with people in an effort to acclimate them to the environment they will experience during the Rose Garden ceremony. Mr. Foltz’s children — Kolby, Kollin and Korey — have done most of the work “socializing” the turkeys. Mr. O’Carroll, in consultation with Mr. Foltz, chose the two turkeys for the ceremony (an alternate is chosen in case the National Thanksgiving Turkey becomes ill or otherwise cannot participate). The selection of the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate was made within two or three days of the presentation.

Brian "Hungry Man" Dixey, from Salem, MA writes:
Christopher, Which President first pardoned a turkey for Thanksgiving?


Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Although President Harry Truman is thought to be the first to “pardon” a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947, the Truman Library has been unable to find any documentation or records to substantiate. Nevertheless, that story began a White House tradition that continues to this day.

Hoyt, from Darlington, SC writes:
What is the best oil to fry a turkey in?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Since I’m from Georgia, Hoyt, I’d have to say peanut oil! However, not everyone can eat peanuts, so vegetable oil is a good alternative.

Britt Elementary School, from Snellville GA writes:
How long do they live? Are they boys or girls? How old are they before they are considered an adult? How much did the largest turkey weigh that has been pardoned in the past?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Thank you, those are all good questions. The average life span of a domestic turkey is approximately 18-24 months. This year’s turkeys, Biscuits and Gravy, were both males, also referred to as toms. Female turkeys are hens. Baby turkeys are called poults.

Regarding the largest turkey pardoned, our recordkeeping on this has been inconsistent throughout the changing Administrations, but sources tell me that in 1997 the Thanksgiving Turkey weighed in at over 60 pounds. I understand President George H. W. Bush may have also pardoned one that topped 60 pounds.

This year’s turkey, Biscuits, weighed in at 44 pounds.

Duane, from Savannah, Tennessee writes:
What is the historical precedent behind "pardoning the bird?" Have any presidents refused not to participate in this tradition? what becomes of the birds who are pardoned?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
This year marks the 57th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation.

Though live Thanksgiving turkeys have been presented intermittently to presidents since the Lincoln administration, the current ceremony dates to 1947, when the first National Thanksgiving Turkey was presented to President Harry Truman.

While I’m not aware of any President “refusing” to participate in this White House tradition, there have been several instances where the Vice President or First Lady presided instead. Richard Nixon was the first Vice President to accept the National Thanksgiving Turkey in 1954, while President Eisenhower was recovering from a heart attack. In 1957, First Lady Maime Eisenhower accepted turkey on behalf of her husband. And in 1977, Vice President Walter Mondale accepted the turkey for President Jimmy Carter.

Dave, from Virginia writes:
What about a Turkey with more flavor? Wild Turkey population is growing rapidly through the efforst of groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation and their efforst and those of other sportsments groups are going a long way to restoring wild turkey habitat across the country.

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
While I can’t speak to everyone’s taste for turkey, I know there are a growing number of folks hunting America’s largest game bird. Thanks to good work of groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, North America’s turkey population has increased from about 30,000 wild turkeys in 1930 to more than 6.4 million wild turkeys today. The President has had several meetings with the wildlife groups and even hosted them at his ranch in Crawford this past April. As a practicing conservationist, President Bush has stated his support for their efforts to help preserve our nation’s wildlife habitat and hunting heritage.

Paul, from Camillus, NY writes:
Does the turkey being pardoned belong to a political party? If so, which

one? If the turkey belongs to a political party out of favor with the Administration, is the turkey still pardoned? If the turkey belongs to a

political party in favor with the Administration, and is pardoned, what position is the turkey appointed to?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Thanks for the questions, Paul. While these are not party animals, it appears that Biscuits and Gravy did get a lot of support from the red states.

Jan, from Sedro Woolley , Wa writes:
What is better to buy a hen or tom turkey? Which is more moist? Thank you.

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
For the most part, there is no discernible difference in the quality of meat. However, the larger toms are often used for deli meat, ground meat, and sausage.

Robbie, from Henrietta, NC writes:
What state has the most turkeys in the United States?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
In 2003, the largest turkey producing states were, in order, Minnesota, North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, and Virginia. Others include California, Indiana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio.

Jim, from Bethesda writes:
Does the First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, pardon the sheep used to make haggis on Burns' Day?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
You got me, Jim. Perhaps can ask the First Minister’s “Sheep Guy.”

Joan, from Lincoln Middle School Santa Monica CA writes:
Dear "Turkey Guy"Our 3rd period U.S. HIstory class would like to know how much the National Turkeys weigh and how they arrive at the White House for their special day. Thank you

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
This year’s Thanksgiving Turkey, Biscuits, weighed 44 pounds. His running mate, Gravy, was approximately 49 pounds.

Biscuits and Gravy were well treated here in Washington, DC. Today, they arrived in a nice Chevrolet 1500 HD pickup truck where they were met by the Secret Service. After clearing security, they were taken to the Rose Garden.

Cheryl, from Lincoln, NE writes:
What are the turkey's career plans, now that it's taking the career-limiting move of avoiding the White House Thanksgiving dinner?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Thanks, Cheryl. Lots of folks have asked, “What happens next???” After the President pardoned Biscuits and Gravy, they piled back into the pickup truck in which they arrived and were taken to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia, where they will spend the rest of their natural lives. Frying Pan Park is a 1930s-era replica farm operated by the County Parks Department, which is open to the general public.

Candi, from Virginia writes:
How do you stuff your turkey?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
While I can’t say that I’ve had a lot of experience preparing turkeys, my grandmother actually recommends cooking the stuffing separately from the turkey for two reasons: first, it helps avoid any food safety concerns about undercooking the stuffing, and second, it keeps the turkey from being overcooked while the stuffing reaches a safe temperature.

As a matter of interest, her stuffing stock is made by boiling the turkey’s neck, liver, and gizzards. It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes!!!

Betsy, from Moultrie, GA writes:
Dear Mr. Christopher Smith: What is it like being the "Turkey Guy"? Is it a stressful job?

How does Barney, the famous First Dog, act during our President's pardoning of the turkeys?

Both of us are Georgia natives, and one of our U. S. Senators, Saxby Chambliss, is a Moultrie native like I am except I live out in the country.

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Hello, Georgia! Being the Turkey Guy has been a great experience- just hope the name doesn’t stick around too much longer than this Thanksgiving season. The job is often stressful, but I’m fortunate that it enables me to do a lot of other interesting things besides coordinating the ceremonial pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.

As for Barney, the pardoning of the turkeys is a great consternation. He prefers they be smoked, fried, or roasted.

Kristie, from Kansas City writes:
Christopher "Turkey Guy", Where are the turkeys kept before they are pardoned?

Thank you, Kristie Bray

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Hello, Kansas City!!! You’ll be happy to know the turkeys are provided some really great accommodations at the Hotel Washington right next to the White House. I’ve heard they’re given a real VIP welcome and dine on the finest American corn and soybean meal to be had.

Dolly, from Jacksonville, FL writes:
Could you please tell me if the turkey pardoned from last year is still alive? Where was it sent to live out its days? Who is in charge of selecting which turkey will be chosen to appear with President Bush?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
They’re probably in the sunset of their lives at the Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. This is the same place to which the birds have been retired since 1990. The birds are approximately 22 weeks old when they participate in the White House ceremony. Their average life span is 18-24 months.

George, from Goffstown, New Hampshire writes:
Chrisopher, Why were we not allowed a write-in option for voting the name for the National Thanksgiving Turkey?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Sorry if you feel disenfranchised, George. Perhaps you can talk with your local or state board of elections.

Pat, from Franklin Springs, GA writes:
Dear Turkey Guy,Does eating turkey make you sleepy?

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Overeating in general can make your feel drowsy. It requires a lot of energy to digest the mammoth quantities of food most people put away on Thanksgiving Day. There is, however, an amino acid called tryptophan that can exert a calming effect. Other foods with tryptophan include cheese and pork loin.

Lane, from Amarillo writes:
Hello, Christopher, I would like to know if any Presidents have ever been pecked by an unruly turkey. If so who was it? Thank you.

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
The only incident I am aware of occurred in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan was in office. Apparently, upon receiving the bird, the turkey flapped its wings in the President’s face. Despite the rigorous process of selecting a turkey, even the finalists can be a little unpredictable.

Christopher "Turkey Guy" Smith
Thanks for your time and Happy Thanksgiving.

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