CHARLOTTE, NC — At the end of a winding dirt road, past gnarled oaks and a small but mighty herd of cattle, lies a long, red-roofed barn, the permanent home of North Carolina’s newest Thanksgiving celebrity.
Chocolate and Chip, the two North Carolina-raised turkeys pardoned by President Joe Biden this week, landed in their forever home at the NC state’s Talley Turkey Education Unit on Wednesday.
After escaping the annual festival slaughter, the “Wingmates” will spend their days under the care of students and staff at the NC State School of Agricultural Sciences.
Peter Ferket, interim director of the department of poultry science, said he’s thrilled to be bringing attention to North Carolina this Thanksgiving season. The turkeys were both raised in Monroe by National Turkey Federation Chairman Ronnie Parker at Circle S Ranch.
In addition to Chocolate and Chip, North Carolina is also part of the official Christmas celebrations in Washington, DC. A North Carolina Christmas tree was welcomed at the US Capitol last week before the President and First Lady visited Cherry Point ahead of the holidays.
“North Carolina really deserves a national spotlight,” Ferket said with a smile.
At the White House pardon ceremony Monday, Biden told the crowd that Chocolate weighed 46 pounds and Chip weighed 47 pounds.
While the two turkeys are of comparable weight, Chocolate’s abundance of feathers towers over the enclosure, while Chip has a more subtle plumage.
As Chip’s name suggests, he has a single triangular brown feather protruding on his chest that resembles a chocolate chip.
Both Chocolate and Chip are male, but in situations where two males live in close proximity to each other, one becomes the dominant alpha-like character. For this duo, Chocolate is the dominant character, causing him to naturally puff out with pride.
Chocolate also revealed he wasn’t afraid of the media cameras, who attended the celebration to welcome him and Chip back to the state. Hungry for attention, he paced around his pen, eager to show off his tail feathers while Chip hovered nearby, hungry for the occasional close-up.
Whenever Chocolate felt Chip was attracting too much attention, he’d let photographers know and snuggled until all eyes were on him.
The feathered and fidgety duo settled into their new enclosures, their vibrant red tresses wiggling with every step, a stark contrast to their ice-pale faces.
Flies buzzed about the room, but were often drowned out by the sound of people’s protective plastic boots crackling with every step, a university precaution for the health of the birds.
“Why NC State?” Agricultural Sciences School Dean John Dole asked the crowd.
Simply put, Dole said, NC State has an extensive and serious farming program. Across all aspects of farming, Dole boasted that NC State employs more than 2,000 people and has “comprehensive programs for turkeys, chickens and eggs.”
“We are excited about this opportunity to train students,” said Dole.
NC State is also a suitable home for the flightless couple, as the university produces a third of all poultry students in the United States, Dole said.
As a result of the high level of training, Dole said these turkeys will live a life of luxury for their remaining days.
Both turkeys live in an indoor pen filled with sawdust, feed and water and are cared for daily by the staff.
Parker, the owner of Circle S Ranch who has been raising Chocolate and Chip since its inception, said he was honored to be invited to the White House for the annual event.
For the past six weeks, Parker has been teaching the turkeys to sit quietly on a table and preparing them for the presidential pardon ceremony.
“The turkeys behaved very well,” Parker said.
As Chocolate took his seat on the pardon table, Parked said the bird was “as happy as it could be.”
Happy in their new home, Chocolate and Chip will live out their lives helping educate the next generation of poultry farmers in NC state.
“This is the farm of the future,” said Dole. “Chocolate and Chip will come here and help educate our students about the importance of farming.
“They are certainly great ambassadors for our university.”