Douglas County team raising turkey destined for presidential pardon
The flock has been chosen and now the waiting game begins for Carl and Sharlene Wittenburg.
The Wittenburgs, who live on a hobby farm off Gene's Barn Road east of Alexandria, are waiting for their official invitation from President Donald Trump to bring their turkeys to the White House for the annual Thanksgiving pardon.
The invitation is sent out in the fall, typically in October, but it could come earlier, according to Lara Durben, communications and assistant executive director with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Midwest Poultry Federation.
"It is truly at the discretion of the White House," she said in an email to the Echo Press.
Earlier this year, Carl was elected as the chairman of the National Turkey Federation and in doing so, he gets the honor of providing the turkeys for the presidential pardon.
And for the Wittenburgs, turkeys have been their life — their family — as both Carl and Sharlene grew up in the turkey industry. They both grew up on turkey farms. And although their home, with their small turkey flock, is in Douglas County, they own and operate large turkey farms in Wyndmere, North Dakota.
In addition, Carl, along with his business partner, Jeff Stauffenecker, own Protein Alliance, which is a global meat brokerage and trading company in Brooten. Protein Alliance provides a diverse product line of proteins, with the core protein being turkey.
Carl and Sharlene are both honored to be a part of the annual Thanksgiving pardon.
"To get to be a part of this turkey event, a 70-year tradition, that's pretty great," said Carl. He added that last year, they were invited to the White House for Thanksgiving to be a part of the event, but just as spectators. They both enjoyed the event thoroughly.
For this year's presidential event, however, it's not all about the Wittenburgs. Carl and Sharlene have teamed up with the Douglas County 4-H program and are working with a group of young ladies who are a part of the science, technology, engineering and math program.
The 4-H'ers are Kerryn Lund and Christina Kuismi, who attend school in Brandon-Evansville, and Kodi Bundermann, Kayla Egenes and Katie Kent, who attend Alexandria Area High School. The students had to interview for the opportunity to be a part of the turkey project, including traveling to Washington, D.C., for the Thanksgiving pardon.
Bundermann, who shows livestock at the Douglas County Fair, said she has a love of animals and that although she's never shown turkeys, she thought it would be an interesting project and good way for her to hone her communication skills when it comes to working with the media. Kent and Lund said they were looking forward to learning something new and get more comfortable speaking publicly.
Although they participate in helping out with turkey chores from time to time Bundermann said one of the main duties is to go out to the Wittenburgs and "play" with the turkeys.
"We need to get them comfortable with being around people." she said.
So far, the members of the presidential 4-H turkey team said they have learned a lot about the turkeys. Here are few things they shared:
• The turkeys are extremely curious and love to peck at shiny objects.
• They all have their own personalities.
• They make a cat-like purring sound when held and are petted, and will fall asleep easily.
• They are loud.
• The white ones are "super chill" and the bronze ones are little more aggressive.
• They don't stink that bad.
The 4-H team will not only help in raising the chosen turkeys, but they will perform outreach about agriculture, 4-H and the turkey industry throughout the state.
The Wittenburgs received a flock of 80 turkeys June 29. From that flock they will choose two turkeys for the White House. The turkeys were a mixture of broad-breasted white and broad-breasted bronze. Carl and Sharlene plan on bringing one of each to the White House. Carl noted that the last time a bronze turkey was brought to the White House was in 1969.
As of Aug. 31, the flock had been whittled down to 56.
The field will get narrowed down to about 15 at the beginning of November and by Nov. 15, the chosen two will be selected, Carl said.
The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association is coordinating the overall project and after Labor Day, will update its website with information, videos and photos of the presidential turkey journey. In addition, there will be a Presidential Turkey Blog, as well as connections on other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, according to Durben.
Here are the links to follow along the presidential turkey journey:
Twitter: @MinnesotaTurkey and @PrezTurkey
The Wittenburgs and the 4-H Team will be at the Douglas County Corn and Soybean Growers Association Plot Day on Thursday, Sept. 7, at Pioneer Park in Brandon. The event starts off with a social at 5:30 p.m. The 4-H Turkey Talk will start at 6 p.m. and the meal, provided by the Douglas County Pork Producers, will begin at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit the association's website at www.douglascountycornandsoybean.org.