BISMARCK — For Lilly, Gov. Doug Burgum's pardon couldn't have come soon enough.

The turkey was likely bound for a dining room table with Thanksgiving just three days away. Burgum saved her from that fate with the raising of his right hand on Monday, Nov. 25 in Bismarck's state capitol.

"Lilly, may you live long and have lots of gobbling without being gobbled," Burgum said.

The playful pardon comes as part of an annual ceremony that originated at the White House in Washington. President Ulysses S. Grant began receiving turkeys in the 1870s, but the recurring tradition of staying a turkey's execution prior to Thanksgiving officially began in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.

Dave Rude, the president of the North Dakota Turkey Federation, presented the 18-week-old, organically raised bird to Burgum and state Department of Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring in the department's sixth-floor office. Lilly came from Rude's turkey farm in Tolna, N.D. She was selected for the pardon over her less fortunate brothers and sisters because of her pretty plumage, Rude said.

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Dave Rude (left), the President of the North Dakota Turkey Federation, stands with state Department of Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Gov. Doug Burgum at a turkey-pardoning ceremony in Bismarck on Nov. 25, 2019. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
Dave Rude (left), the President of the North Dakota Turkey Federation, stands with state Department of Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Gov. Doug Burgum at a turkey-pardoning ceremony in Bismarck on Nov. 25, 2019. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

After receiving her pardon, Lilly promptly defecated on the table, which was strategically covered in a plastic sheet.

There's a charitable aspect to the tradition as the federation will donate two dozen frozen turkeys to the Abused Adult Resource Center and Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café, both located in Bismarck.

Despite its prominence in American agriculture, North Dakota is not a top turkey producer at about 1 million heads per year. Neighboring Minnesota leads the country with more than 40 million a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.