This week, two Iowa-raised turkeys will end their adventure with an official presidential pardon from the Thanksgiving dinner table. Two turkeys selected from a group of 25 on the Domino farm in northwest Iowa, will travel to Washington, D.C., to be pardoned by President Barack Obama before Thanksgiving.
The turkeys, which will be named by Obama this week, will end their adventure after the pardoning by making their home as a sort of mascot for the poultry science department at Virginia Tech.
John Reicks, the chairman of the National Turkey Federation from Chicago, asked Chris and Nicole Domino from Early in Sac County to raise the turkeys for the official pardon this year.
Reicks said the family was selected through his working relationship with the Iowa Turkey Federation. After an on-farm interview with the Domino family, the family was selected to raise the birds for the national pardon.
"They exceeded my expectations by far," Reicks said. "They’re a great family … they have great barns that are clean, and they’ve really represented Iowa well."
The road to the White House Rose Garden, where the pardoning will take place, was an interesting journey for the Domino family, they said last week at a school presentation at Ridge View Middle School in Early.
Returning to the farm
The Domino family has been raising turkeys for nearly nine years. Chris Domino’s dad added turkey barns to the family’s operation when Chris wanted to return to the farm after college and an off-farm job.
The Domino family received the group of 25 turkeys for the national pardon and began raising them in August at six weeks old. The experience was unique for the Domino family, who raise approximately 186,000 turkeys per year on their farm.
Chris said raising the presidential flock, like the rest of the turkeys on their farm, was a family affair. Except the presidential turkeys, he said, were treated as pets.
Because the turkeys have to be calm around the president, the media and others who attend the national pardoning event, the Domino family had to work closely with the turkeys to get them trained and ready for the event.
The National Turkey Federation built a special building on the Domino farm for the 25 turkeys that were raised for the presidential pardon.
The Domino’s five daughters helped care for the birds, as they do with the rest of the turkeys on their farm, he said.
The 25 turkeys were hand-fed, bathed and enjoyed listening to soft rock music from the local radio station to get them accustomed to noises and voices. After whittling the flock down from 25 to 10, the turkeys went through podium practice so they would be ready to make their debut at the pardoning event. But before that, two turkeys from the flock went on a tour of four nearby schools last week.
Teaching about turkeys
"I don’t think there’s many people out there that know much about turkeys and what it takes to rise them," Chris Domino said. "These visits give kids an idea about what it takes to raise turkeys. Getting to see part of the presidential flock, that doesn’t happen too often around here."
The turkeys traveled in pet carriers adorned with the official seal of the national turkey of the United States. Then, they were released onto a tarp containing wood shavings that they were comfortable with from the Domino’s farm.
The Iowa Turkey Federation and the family had to keep a tight seal on the names of the farmers who are raising the presidential turkey due to biosecurity.
"Biosecurity is big," Domino said. "After high-path avian influenza, we really tightened biosecurity on our farm."
And just like the rest of the turkeys they raise on the farm, Domino said biosecurity was extremely important. Like the other barns on the Domino’s family farm, each member of the family had special boots to wear inside the presidential turkey barn.
The family worked with their veterinarian, Dr. Terry Olson, to make sure that the turkeys were healthy and growing.
Thirteen-year-old Adrian Domino told her peers at Ridge View Middle School last week how she listens to the turkeys and watches the turkeys for any signs of illness, not just in the presidential barn, but in the other barns on the family’s turkey farm.
After traveling to Washington, D.C., in a van, the turkeys this week had their own suite at the Willard Hotel, just blocks away from the White House.
They’ll even have their own personal chef.
An honor for Iowa
Gretta Irwin, the director of the Iowa Turkey Federation, said raising the presidential turkeys was a unique honor.
The Dominos are the sixth Iowa farmers to supply the National Thanksgiving Turkey, Irwin said.
They are the first northwest Iowa farm to get the honor. Over the years, a few Iowa turkey growers from other areas of the states have raised presidential turkeys.
"It’s a neat honor and opportunity for the family to do this. This is a tradition that helps celebrate our history, recognizes the importance of turkeys, recognizes the importance of farmers and recognizes the bountiful food that we have here in the United States," Irwin said.
The tradition began with the first presentation by the National Turkey Federation to President Harry Truman in 1947.