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Willmar, Minn. company raising presidential hopeful turkey

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WILLMAR -- Willmar Poultry Company is raising the tom turkey that will be pardoned by President Barack Obama, and four Willmar High School students are helping train the bird for its big day in the limelight.

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In a news release from Willmar Poultry, company chief executive Rick Huisinga said that if invited by the White House, he would present the turkey to the president and his family.

According to Willmar Poultry, the 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey eggs were laid at a Willmar Poultry Company farm in early June. They hatched at the company's hatchery in Willmar on July 7. In September, a small number of male turkeys, or toms, from that hatch were selected and moved to a facility specially designed for them. One of those toms will ultimately be selected as the National Thanksgiving Turkey, and one will be his alternate.

The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and Willmar Poultry are working in tandem on the project and see it as a great opportunity to highlight Minnesota's turkey industry and its farmers.

"We don't get this opportunity every year, and I'd like to make sure that people all over the country know how significant turkey is to Minnesota and Kandiyohi County specifically," Huisinga said.

The turkeys are being raised using normal feeding and other production techniques. The one exception is that the birds are provided increased interaction with people so that they will be prepared for the White House ceremony.

Four FFA students from Willmar High School were selected to help with the birds' care and to provide that interaction. The teens visit the birds for an hour each day to check their feed and water, and to clean the pens when necessary.

In addition, they sit amongst the birds to acclimate them to movement and sounds not normally found in a turkey barn, such as music, clapping and human conversation. They also pet the birds as part of the taming routine.

In the coming weeks, the students will begin picking up the birds and placing them on a table in simulation of the White House ceremony.

The Turkey Growers Association is maintaining a special section on its website for the project at www.minnesotaturkey.com/presidentialturkey.

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