The white-feathered guest of honor at Gov. Mark Dayton's annual Thanksgiving-week celebration of Minnesota's nation-leading turkey industry weighed in at 30 pounds, and had a light pink head and neck that flushed bright scarlet as photographers and TV cameras started circling.
"I hate to tell you, buddy, but it gets worse," Dayton wisecracked near the end of Monday's short news conference at the Capitol.
Unlike a similarly lighthearted turkey pardon performed every late November by the president of the United States, the Minnesota governor's annual turkey event decidedly does not end with freedom for the bird.
"He'll be processed and donated," Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, said of the 16-week-old male turkey from a farm near Melrose.
The yearly news conference is a chance for the state's governor to tout Minnesota's turkey economy and celebrate an annual donation by the Turkey Growers to Hunger Solutions Minnesota. Despite the turkey's grim immediate future, the mood was upbeat this year.
"We are very thankful for the success we've had in rebounding from the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak," said Robert Orsten, president of the Turkey Growers and a farmer near Willmar. "Fortunately, this year has been avian flu-free."
That's an important distinction for Minnesota, where 450 turkey farmers raise an estimated 46 million birds a year. Dayton's office said that generates $807 million in economic activity every year, supporting some 26,000 jobs.
Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith stroked the turkey's head and neck for few minutes. It stayed calm, despite a pile of Jennie-O, Northern Pride and Turkey Valley Farms products right next to it. The photo op finished, Smith gamely wrapped her arms around the big bird, picked it up and put it back in its cage.