Pardoned turkey and counterpart live out their days at Iowa State

Corn (left) and Cob (right) inside their indoor pen.

Jack Mcclellan

Iowa State is home to the National Turkey Federation’s 2020 Thanksgiving turkeys, Corn and Cob. An open house was held Saturday morning to give the public a chance to meet these special birds and learn about the process behind the production of turkey.

At the open house, there were staff and faculty members to greet people as they filtered in and out and to help teach people about the turkeys and the practices that shape the turkeys and their temperament. Assistant professor of animal science Dawn Koltes explained some of the background behind Corn and Cob’s rearing.

“They’re both Tom turkeys [male],” Koltes said. “Iowa is known for Tom production, and most of them are reared for secondary processing. So deli meats that you get on Subway or Jimmy John’s sandwiches here in Iowa most likely came from Iowa turkey.”

Also at the open house was a table with turkey cookbooks, some informational flyers and candy for kids to grab.

Corn and Cob were very well behaved during the open house, chirping and gobbling at people walking in and even responding to a looping video of Ron Kardel, the chairman of the National Turkey Federation and the owner of the farm that Corn and Cob stemmed from. 

Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, the National Turkey Federation presents the president with a live turkey from the home state of the current federation chairman. The Federation raises a new flock each year to be acclimated to loud noises and flash photography. The flock is narrowed down, and the two most well-behaved birds are selected to be presented to the president.

Corn, the taller of the two turkeys, was pardoned by President Donald Trump last Thanksgiving, while Cob is kept around to provide company for the pardoned bird.

Until 1989, the turkey of honor would be slaughtered and used for a Thanksgiving feast at the White House. On the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s proclamation of the national holiday, President George H.W. Bush pardoned the turkey, starting a tradition that continues to this day.

The 2020 National Thanksgiving Turkey, Corn, and his counterpart, Cob, have lived at Iowa State since their visit with the president in November 2020. Because the turkeys had been raised on the National Turkey Federation chairman’s own farm in Iowa, they were sent to Iowa State to live out the rest of their days in their comfortable pen, with plenty of stimulus and enrichment.

Corn and Cob are well taken care of at Iowa State, with a roomy indoor pen and an outdoor area to enjoy. A small turkey jungle gym, feeding equipment and a tasty red cabbage were all available to the birds to provide the stimulus to keep them happy.