Lessons of Duck Day

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.

There’s one more important lesson we took away, not just from processing ducks, but from raising ducks: Don’t raise ducks.

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.

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  1. Good info! We are thinking about doing ducks next year, and haven’t quite made up our minds yet. As for the messy factor, I find pigs to be waaay easier to have around than any of our poultry. 🙂

    “unable to engage with people” actually encourages me a bit to try ducks, as an animal that isn’t particularly friendly would be easier for us to process. I’m gonna be a little sad when our pigs go to butcher.

  2. On the plucking: Even if you don’t raise ducks again, I know there’s a chance you’ll hunt them, so my suggestion is to pluck all the outer feathers, then dip the down-covered duck in a big pot of not-boiling water with a couple chunks of paraffin wax melted in it. Take it out, cool it in a tub of cold water, then peel off the wax. This works MUCH better than dry plucking or scalding. (One of these days, Hank and I are going to post a video on this process.)

    And boy, those look like some serious fat ducks – enjoy the dinners!!!

  3. I love this. For the record, plucking turkeys sucks too, but doesn’t sound nearly as catchy. You will have to let us know how they taste! Maybe that pro will turn out to be worth 5 cons?

  4. It seems ducks can count twice as high as chickens can.

    That is an impressive looking carcase for the turnaround time – was it 10 weeks or so? Besides smoking, what other recipes have you got planned for your concentration of duck?

  5. Rae — Glad to hear you say that about pigs. Goes in the plus column. As for the advantages of having livestock that doesn’t engage with you, I do see it. But our ducks’ fear of us made going into their pen an unsatisfying experience. We were trying to provide for them and they just ran away quacking. Yes, it makes it easier to kill them, but we only had to do that once. We had to feed them and water them and lock them up at night every single day. The downside outweighed the up, I think.

    NorCal — I read about that trick, and we were thisclose to trying it. I hope this year to have some ducks to try it on, come duck season.

    Dianne — Isn’t she, though? How many people’s Moms would help slaughter ducks?

    Elspeth — I got a little experience turkey plucking last November, and I thought it wasn’t much fun at the time. Now that I’ve done ducks, though, I’ll take turkeys any day. They’re bigger, but they don’t have the thick feathery underbrush.

    I will most certainly report back on taste.

    Jen — Turnaround was 9 weeks. And I think we could have taken them a week sooner. We weighed them about 10 days before we killed them, and then again day of, and they didn’t seem to put on much in that time. They were 7-8 pounds live, about 4-4.5 pounds dressed.

    As for the menu, we haven’t thought much beyond smoking yet. Four are going in the freezer, to give us time to figure it out.

  6. Pigs are better. They require some serious fencing and eat a lot and poop a lot, so they need to be cleaned up after daily. But the pounds/hours of labor are well worth it. Plus the pigs do engage with people and are a kick to watch cleaning out the slop trough.

  7. The guy who processed my geese said they were AWFUL to process. Then the stupid things dressed out at @5 pounds each. At 15 weeks. They hated us, much like your ducks felt about you.My Pekins are reasonably friendly, but the geese were awful. Had two Africans and 1 Toulouse. Huge waste of time and money. They refused to eat bagged feed and we don’t have much grass. Guessing that is why they were so scrawny.

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