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Where pardoned turkeys go to die

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CNN Updated: November 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Mt. Vernon, Virginia -- Along a pastoral lane at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate sits a sizable wooden pen built specifically to house the two turkeys that will be "pardoned" at the White House on Wednesday.

The well-appointed pen includes a small coop to protect them from weather and foxes, and an area for them to strut their stuff for camera-toting tourists.

But there is one thing that is missing: other turkeys. That's because all the turkeys ever pardoned at the White House are dead, including the six already given a pass from the roasting pan by President Barack Obama in previous years.

"The bird is bred for the table, not for longevity," said Dean Norton, the director at Mount Vernon in charge of livestock. "Some of [the pardoned turkeys] have been pretty short lived."

Compared to domesticated animals, turkeys bred for consumption are usually plump and slaughtered after a period of months, and wouldn't be expected to live much longer on their own. So, a pardon really can extend their lives a lot, relatively speaking.

The two turkeys pardoned in 2012 - Cobbler and Gobbler - died within a year of their White House appearance, despite what a spokeswoman at Mount Vernon said was diligent veterinary care.

Gobbler died on February 5, 2013, of natural causes. Cobbler lived a bit longer, dying on August 22, 2013, after he fell ill and had to be euthanized. Both are buried at Mount Vernon.

In the two years prior, three of the four pardoned turkeys died less than five months after their pardon.

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