I’ve been debating all day whether to blog about our experience butchering the ducks this afternoon. I decided that I want a record of this event for myself and my family regardless of whether anyone wants to read it. So this is your warning. If you do not want to hear about the experience, stop reading here. I will not post any pictures of the process, rather I’ll do my best to describe the day in words. Have you decided if you want to keep reading? I’ll give you a long blank space and a picture of my ducks to give you a moment to decide…
This morning we sat down with the children and explained that today was the day we were going to get the ducks ready to eat. I felt pretty anxious about it all morning, not because of the actual killing, but because I wanted to make sure the kids were ok with it. Addison understood everything fully, and this was a lot for a suburban, almost-five-year-old to process. But I have to say, my kids were amazing about the whole thing, Both Addison and Doc said they were a little sad that we wouldn’t have them anymore. But once I explained that this is how people get meat to eat, they felt better about it. And Addison asked if she could keep a few of the prettiest feathers. Of course we said yes. We are going to add them to a dream catcher her Mimi gave her.
As I stated above, I’m not going to share any pictures of the processing. If you are interested, or if you are planning to butcher your own poultry in the future, there is an amazing tutorial that very clearly shows the whole process in pictures. By clicking this link you will see pictures of actual poultry being processed by some very cool homesteaders. You have been warned.
Well, on with our day. Once the kids went down for naps, we got right to work. I had no idea how long this was going to take, but I wanted the bulk of it to be completed without little people roaming around. I set my canner on the stove to get some water up to 150 degrees, and then I went outside to help Wyatt.
Typically, when you butcher poultry, you place them in a cone that is nailed to a tree or a piece of wood. The cone keeps the birds still while you decapitate them. All poultry continue to move around once their heads are removed (it’s just leftover nervous impulses), and the cone helps control that a bit. Well, we don’t have a tree (sad, right??) so we didn’t make a cone. Instead we put an old baby t-shirt on the bird to hold it’s wings in. I helped Wyatt slip the shirt over the white duck first. Then I just took a step back and watched. I had no idea what to expect.
Wyatt laid the duck on a cutting board on the lawn. He held the body in place with his foot and held the neck out straight. With one whack of the ax, it was done. I silently prayed that it would be quick and painless, and I thanked the duck for giving her life for us. It was far less traumatic than I thought it would be. After the head was removed, he took the duck over to an area he had set up to let it bleed out. Basically you hang the bird upside down by its feet (we did this over a big plastic tote to contain the mess). It only takes a few minutes. Then we repeated the process with the second duck. I held this one still while he did the hard part.
By this time, the water was just about up to 150 degrees. Why the water? Well, you place the birds in hot soapy water to make them easier to pluck. I’m not exactly sure how this helps, but I imagine the hot water opens the pores just like when you wash your face. Anyhow, whatever the reason, it totally works. The swishing of the ducks was my job. Each one stayed in the water for about 3 minutes. But they don’t just float there…you have to “agitate” them so the soapy water penetrates all the way through the feathers to the skin. So I swished ducks in my canner on my back patio. I tell ya guys, if someone would have told me ten years ago I’d be butchering ducks in Las Vegas, I would have thought them crazy. But here we are.
Anyway, once the ducks had their hot water baths, it was time to pluck. It was a little weird for me at first, but after a few minutes it was really no big deal. We hung them back up over the plastic tote and sat in the shade plucking away. It’s incredible how many feathers they have! Once the first one was relatively clean, Wyatt took it over to the cutting board to clean the insides. I didn’t actually see much of that part (which is fine with me). I was still busy plucking. Once the first one was gutted, I took it in to the kitchen sink to finish plucking the pin feathers. They are TOUGH to get out. Pin feathers are short little stubby feathers that are just growing in. They are hard to grab on to, and it seems like there are a million of them. I did the best I could, but there was no way to get the bird completely feather-free without some help from a mechanical device.
As I was working at the kitchen sink, the big kids woke up. Addison asked me if the ducks were dead. I said yes, and she said she was sad. Then she looked at the sink and said, “Mom, what’s that? Is that our duck?” I told her it was. I asked her if she wanted to see it, and she said yes. I told her it was going to look almost exactly like the chicken I cooked in the crock pot the other day. I held it up, and she was fine. It looked like food to her at that point. And that was pretty much the end of it. We gave her the flight feathers we saved, and she was happy to have them.
Now we get to decide how to prepare them. Our awesome friends are going to smoke the big one tomorrow and then join us for dinner. And I am going to roast the other one in my new oven (which comes MONDAY!!!!!!) I haven’t found a recipe yet, but I’m excited to try it.
Now that I’ve had a few child-free moments to reflect on all of this, I am thankful for a couple things as a result of this experience. First, I am SO thankful that my hubs is willing and ABLE to do stuff like this. He is a hunter, so this really was no big deal for him. As we were plucking the birds, he said, “No big deal, right? Just like cleaning a fish.” I told him I’d never cleaned a fish before either. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and said, “Wow. This is a big step for you then.” He’s right. It IS a big step.
The second thing I’m thankful for is that I don’t HAVE to do this every time I want to eat meat. It makes me appreciate so much more the work that is done on family farms and homesteads. I GET IT now why meat grown and processed in places other than feedlots is more expensive. This was a LOT of work, people! And it was not glamorous!
Would I do this again? ABSOLUTELY. Am I proud of myself and my family? Yep. I know this is a hard thing to read about, and if you made it this far, thanks for hanging in there. I feel changed for the better by this whole experience. Now we are one step closer to cultivating our suburban desert homestead.
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