Clyde to receive governor’s pardon

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 15, 2003

Even during one of Alabama’s toughest financial crunches in history, its governor has found it in his heart, and within the state’s belt to take time out and issue a heartfelt pardon.

It’s a tradition that has been carried out for 54 years, and all because of Bill Bates, owner/operator of Bates Turkey Farm, located just east of I-65 in Fort Deposit, or as Bates puts it – Logan, Ala.

Bates Turkey farm &uot;hatched&uot; – literally, in June of 1923. It began the day his great aunt, Mamie Bates, gave his father nine turkey eggs as a wedding present. Since that time, the Bates family – four generations of them – have operated the farm with one purpose in mind – to produce the finest turkeys to ever grace a table.

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&uot;In 1969 we opened Bates House of Turkey in Greenville,&uot; Bates said. &uot;From a turkey sandwich to a complete old-fashioned roast turkey dinner, our restaurant is sure to please the entire family.&uot;

But the work is not only done by the younger generations in the Bates family. Bill Bates, 80, is very much an active part of the day-to-day operation of the farm.

&uot;Right now we have more than a thousand turkeys here,&uot; he said while out on the farm. &uot;This is the busiest time of the year for us, although since we are the only turkey distributor in the southeastern portion of the United States besides a farm in North Carolina, we pretty well stay busy all year long.&uot;

The turkeys on Bates Turkey Farm grow from hatched to fully mature and market-ready in 13 weeks, according to Bates.

&uot;The secret to our turkeys is the non-stressed way in which they are raised,&uot; he said. &uot;They grow here naturally,&uot; he said, &uot;Just like Mother Nature meant for them to grow. They are content in a stress-free environment under the cool shade of pecan trees, feasting on the best natural grains, oats and corn.&uot;

Bates was quick to point out that his turkeys do not get any growth hormones, antibiotics, feed additives or preservatives.

&uot;Just strictly natural feeds,&uot; he said.

But back to the part about pardoning a turkey.

Bates said in 1949, when the turkey industry was just starting to organize in Alabama, he came up with a way to promote it. No stranger to politics, having spent his entire life in active support of the Republican Party, Bates contacted the Governor of Alabama and pitched the idea.

&uot;The governor at the time was ‘Big Jim’ Folsom,&uot; Bates said. &uot;And he loved the idea. He was the first Alabama governor to ever pardon a turkey.&uot;

When walking into the front vestibule of the Bates Turkey Farm offices, one can easily see that this is in fact an annual tradition. The walls are covered with pictures of every turkey being pardoned by a governor since 1949.

&uot;Gov. Bob Riley will be the ninth Alabama governor to have pardoned one of my turkeys leading up to Thanksgiving,&uot; Bates said. &uot;Of course we have already said that ‘Big Jim’ was the first – he was followed by Gordon Person, John Patterson, Lt. Gov. Albert Brewer (whom Bates said stood in for the ailing Lurleen B. Wallace, who at the time was away taking treatments for cancer), George C. Wallace, Fob James, Guy Hunt and Don Siegelman.&uot;

Each year the turkey has been called &uot;Clyde,&uot; although Bates would not say how that name came about.

&uot;We keep our ‘Clydes’ separate from the rest of the turkeys,&uot; he said. &uot;Of course, there really is not a market for a 60-lb. turkey anyway, and that is how much Clyde will weigh when he is pardoned.&uot;

Walking back through the farm, one will notice an occasional loud boom, likened to that of a firing cannon.

&uot;Oh, I don’t really even notice that anymore,&uot; he said. &uot;We are all just used to them.&uot;

&uot;Them&uot; as Bates refers to it, are propane-fired cannons, which he said go off every few minutes, scaring away dogs and coyotes.

&uot;A coyote will tear up an entire flock like this (as he motions to 500 turkeys in the field) in minutes flat,&uot; he said. &uot;This keeps them run off.&uot;

Bates admitted that being a turkey farmer has his down sides though.

&uot;This has been a poor year for pecans,&uot; he said. &uot;The rains caused many pecans to become poor and un-developed, just as mine are. Sure, there are the seedling pecans, but try and open one of them up – they are as hard as a rock!&uot;

Bates said he could easily have helped toughen-up his pecan crop by using sprays and fertilizers, but that would not be possible with the turkeys beneath them.

&uot;We have the best turkeys in the world here in Logan,&uot; he said. &uot;And we wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that turkey crop for anything.

&uot;You see, our turkeys are ‘self-basted’ by nature,&uot; he continued. &uot;We take the extra time needed to grow our turkeys to a supreme finish, allowing nature to build its own layer of fat, just beneath the skin. This is proof that there have been no artificial oils injected in our turkeys.&uot;

Bates said the best way to cook a Bates turkey is &uot;slowly.&uot;

&uot;Slow cooking and frequent basting is the secret,&uot; he said.

Another interesting aspect of Bates Turkey Farm is that they have only white-colored turkeys.

&uot;The very first turkey – the one pardoned by Big Jim Folsom in 1949, was bronze in color,&uot; he said as he pointed to a picture on his wall. &uot;After that, we cross-mated turkeys seven times, each time picking out the birds with the most white flakes in their feathers, until we had an absolutely white turkey.&uot;

Bates will be in Montgomery, at the Governor’s Mansion, on Wednesday, Nov.19, to meet with Gov. Riley at 10:30 a.m. for the &uot;Pardoning&uot; ceremony.

&uot;This is Governor Riley’s first year in office, and this will be his first turkey pardoning,&uot; Bates said with a smile. &uot;I hope he has many, many more to come.&uot;