The Turkeys the President Pardons Have a Better Fate Than Those in the Slaughterhouse

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Nov. 20 2023, Updated 4:16 p.m. ET

On the White House lawn, President Biden behind a podium gestures towards a white turkey with a "Happy Thanksgiving 2023" sign nearby
Source: Getty Images

President Joe Biden pardons the national Thanksgiving turkey, Liberty, during a pardoning ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 20, 2023.

The Gist:

  • In honor of Thanksgiving 2023, President Biden pardoned turkeys Liberty and Bell.
  • Being pardoned does not mean these turkeys get to live their best lives.
  • The 2023 turkeys are being sent to live at a new location after the ceremony.
  • The turkey industry is incredibly inhumane and environmentally damaging.
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Every Thanksgiving, the U.S. president gathers a crowd outside of the White House to “pardon” a turkey or two, sparing them from sharing the same fate as the 46 million turkeys killed for U.S. Thanksgiving celebrations each fall. But are their lives actually spared, or will President Biden be sitting down to eat them on Thursday evening? Dun dun dun...

Read on to find out exactly what happens to the turkeys the president pardons for Thanksgiving.

What happens to the turkey the president pardons?

President Obama, flanked by two other men, pardons a white turkey at the White House
Source: Getty Images

Though imperfect, the turkeys pardoned by the president have a far better fate than most turkeys raised in the U.S. — and a pretty suite life (pun definitely intended) in the days leading up to the ceremony, too.

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Before the presidential ceremony, the two turkeys (usually one is an alternate, but sometimes both get pardoned) get to spend a few days sharing a luxurious room at the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. Yes, jumping on the plush beds is allowed.

The birds are typically introduced to the public during a press conference ahead of the official turkey pardoning ceremony. Then, after the president pardons the turkeys, they are off to a new forever home.

Since 2016, the pardoned turkeys typically head from the ceremony to their permanent retirement home at Gobblers Rest. The enclosure is located at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where the pardoned turkeys are bedding, heat, food, water, and outdoor access for the rest of their lives, according to WAMU. In the past, pardoned turkeys have been sent to retire everywhere from Disney World to a farm in New Jersey, as per Inside Edition.

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White turkey on White House lawn
Source: Getty Images

But in 2022, the two pardoned turkeys were sent to retire at a new location: North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

At the university, they were set to live in a 100-square-foot, climate-controlled pen "under the expert care of university poultry specialists and students." The school is also working on a "biosecure mobile coop" that will be used to transport the turkeys to the North Carolina State Fair and other events "for public viewing and educational outreach."

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Even the department's interim head Peter Ferket described the facility as a "retirement home" for the two turkeys, unfortunately, they will not truly be treated to a retirement. They may have been spared from being slaughtered, but they will be used to teach people about "the importance of the poultry industry" — which profits upon breeding and killing turkeys and chickens, and has an immense environmental impact.

And in 2023, the pardoned turkeys — more on them in a moment — will be sent to live at the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and National Resource Sciences, as reported by ABC News. It's likely that they will be used there similarly to the ways Chocolate and Chip have been used in North Carolina.

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How long do the pardoned turkeys live?

Though living at a university — where they are studied by students and taken to state fairs and other events — is not as serene as a farmed animal sanctuary, we're glad that pardoned turkeys get to live out the rest of their lives without fear of winding up in a slaughterhouse. Unfortunately, the remainder of their lives is not very long.

As Rami Dalloul, a poultry immunologist and Virginia Tech professor, explained on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Thanksgiving turkeys have been bred to grow very big very fast to make them ideal for human consumption, and they are generally slaughtered at around 14 weeks of age, when they weigh between 12 and 15 pounds.

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The turkeys used for the presidential pardon are already a bit older and heavier than that, and typically only live for a few years before they pass away, Dalloul added, even though a turkey’s lifespan in the wild can be up to 15 years.

What turkeys did Biden pardon in 2023?

On Monday, Nov. 20, 2022, three days ahead of Thanksgiving, Biden pardoned two turkeys: Liberty and Bell.

“These birds have a new appreciation for the word, ‘Let freedom ring,’” Biden stated at the ceremony, as per CNN. “That’s a big bird, man. I’m impressed.”

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The two turkeys, who each weigh around 42 pounds (despite being only 4 months old), were born in July and spent the first few months of their lives in Minnesota. They rode were then driven all the way to Washington, D.C. a stretch Cadillac Escalade, according to the National Turkey Federation.

The National Turkey Federation — whose website is — is a trade association representing the turkey industry, where turkeys are bred, hatched, fattened up, abused, and killed just a few weeks later for their meat.

An event like the presidential turkey pardon helps the National Turkey Federation seem like a wholesome organization, when in actuality, the turkey industry is incredibly cruel, environmentally destructive, and profit-driven.

If the pardoning ceremony has inspired you to skip the turkey this Thanksgiving, you may consider joining a few celebrities and symbolically adopting a turkey instead. And check out our recommendations of plant-based turkey roasts, meatless Thanksgiving dishes, and vegan Thanksgiving side dishes.

This article, originally published on Nov. 24, 2020, has been updated to reflect the 2023 turkey pardoning.

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