A Fowl Lesson

a duck

(Washing one of our ducks after it ran under a car and was covered with grease)

We have been loving the peace and quiet of country life and learning along the way. Adding farm animals has been a slow process, beginning with the purchase of ducklings while we were still living in town. We knew some of them would be used for meat, some layers, and hopefully some new ducklings. When we purchased the ducklings, we had a long talk with the kids, discussing why they should know the process of field to fridge and the importance of humanely raising and slaughtering animals in our care. As the ducks reached the age for market, I called around for local processing options. We were disappointed to discover nothing local. The closest shop was 90 minutes away, and the cost was more than twice that of a chicken. Chad decided on another option; we would butcher the ducks ourselves. After all, a few years before, we had processed two older chickens to prepare authentic Coq au Vin. Preparing chickens was fairly manageable. Why couldn’t we process ducks as well?

We started our adventure last Sunday morning. I insisted that they have a last meal, so they were happy ducks on the way to slaughter. After feeding, we wanted to put them in their pen, so they could be in a familiar place and be calm. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. I usually take a broom and slowly move them in the direction of their pen. With a few soft words and nudge of the broom, I rarely have problems. I didn’t consider that all the kids and a few friends were outside and joined in something similar to a cattle stampede. The ducks scattered in all directions, some hiding under cars, some running behind the garage, and none heading toward the pen!

The ducks eventually reached the safety of the duck house while Chad began preparing for step one, what I refer to as the “cone of death.” He attached a cone to a tree, and I brought out the first duck. I swear the duck was staring at me the entire time with a sad look on its face as it quietly, without protest approached the cone. I couldn’t watch “step one,” and Chad later agreed it was an entirely different experience butchering an animal that you raised.

Then my son, George, his friend, Zach, and I began the next step, immersing the ducks in a soapy hot water bath and plucking feathers. This did NOT go as planned. The feathers started coming off fine, smelling something close to wet dog. Then I started to remove the pin feathers. Pin feathers are more firmly attached and usually must be pulled individually. To my rolling stomach, I noticed each feather included a squirt of oil from the duck’s oil gland. At first I tried to ignore it and quickly pull as many as I could. Soon, I was fighting the urge to dry heave. The pin feathers seemed to multiply every time I turned the bird over! Thank goodness Chad stepped in and helped finish. Even writing this makes me sick to my stomach!

Chad finished the processing, which we now know was much more labor intensive compared to the chicken experience. Learning this lesson the hard way, we understand why ducks cost so much more to prepare. While we are still willing to prepare larger animals (like a whitetail from the fall harvest), Readers, learn from our experience, some products are better purchased at the grocery store!



  1. Have never done ducks, only chickens. I think I’m glad. We paid to have the turkeys done.

    1. You’ve got that right, Grandma Janice! We would like to try Heritage Turkeys next year. I hear they taste better than the standard grocery turkey (and we don’t have to process!!!) 🙂

    1. Thanks Paddy…we thought we waited too long. However, as I am the official duck feather plucker…I can honestly say that I am ready for retirement! Ready to move on to lambs!

  2. Tom & I tried doing chickens (25 of them) one year and between the blood, hot water & hot feather smell, I couldn’t eat chicken for a whole year, so good luck. It was fun to try, however.

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