I know that death is a part of my life when going from killing sick chickens to killing healthy ducks feels like a step into the light.
There’s a difference between killing a sick animal because you don’t want to it to suffer or contaminate the rest of your flock, and killing a healthy animal because it’s reached market weight and you’re going to eat it. We kill all animals with great care, but there’s less sadness when it’s a death we planned, a death that has an upside, a death that sustains our life.
Our six ducks went to the Cone of Silence this past Sunday, and I wasn’t sad. Not just because I wasn’t overly fond of the ducks, but because this is why we got them. We raised them successfully. They had, to all appearances, lived a decent and duck-appropriate life. They had that life only because they would be killed for meat.
The day went off without a hitch. Or without a major hitch, at any rate. There was the usual over- and under-scalding, the occasional perforation of bowel, and the constant misplacing of the poultry shears, but that’s all par for the course. What matters is that the ducks died as peaceful a death as we could give them, and all six of them are now chilling in the refrigerator.
This was our first experience with duck processing, though, and it was inevitable that we learned a thing or two. Here, in no particular order, are the lessons of Duck Day:
1. Ducks have more feathers than you can possibly imagine. They have big feathers and small feathers, wing feathers and tail feathers, down feathers and pin feathers. And not a single solitary one of those feathers is inclined to leave its duck of origin. Kevin rigged a beam to hang the birds from as we defeathered them, but there was no avoiding the central truth of duck processing: Plucking ducks sucks.
2. Ducks can only count to two. When their flockmates disappeared, one by one, the remaining ducks were unperturbed. They suspected nothing. There was no distress until the last duck was left alone. If you’re killing a flock, do the last two together, if you can.
3. Be nice to your mother. That way, she’ll be willing to help you on Duck Day, in return for a duck dinner that you probably would have made for her anyway. And, while you’re at it, be nice to your father. Although he’s too squeamish to participate, no matter what the incentive, and doesn’t even like duck, he might buy lunch.
4. Processing ducks takes longer than you think. It took us all day. Three of us went from 9:00 to 5:00, for six lousy ducks. Granted, we took a long lunch break (thanks, Dad!), but that still seems like an awfully long time.
5. Get the smokehouse built before you process the ducks. If you don’t, it becomes a race against time. The ducks are resting in the fridge, and we’d like to smoke two of them before they have to go in the freezer. As I write, the smokehouse is mostly finished, but we still need the pipe to the firebox, the door, and the racks for it to be functional. The battening and the roof shingles aren’t on either, but the smokehouse is functional without them.
Ducks are stupid, messy, and xenophobic. They’re unable to engage with people, unpleasant to clean up after, and a bitch to pluck. They know only food, water, and fear. And each other. Although they’re definitely cute, and they ought to taste good, those are the only two pluses to weigh against a sea of minuses.
Our six Pekin ducks were an experiment, this year’s new species. And although I’m very glad to have six ducks in the refrigerator, plucked and cleaned, I’m thinking pigs are sounding better and better.