I raised and slaughtered my own ducks. And I would totally do it again.
I'm not saying that it wasn't difficult, because I was definitely stressed when the time came to butcher a few of the beautiful Welsh Harlequins I'd raised from ducklings. I thought I might cry or be too freaked to do the actual killing. But I'm a meat eater. And I care about the welfare of animals. Actually, I love animals. It's a confusing predicament, but not an impossible one. Now, I'm about to get all high-horsey on you because this is such an important issue to me, but the only way I know of to reconcile my carnivorous lifestyle with my love for animals is to see that the animals I eat experience the happiest, most natural existence right up until the moment their lives end. Equally important to me is that they never know what's coming. I could have taken my ducks to a poultry processing facility at the farm I've volunteered at, but all I could envision was my sweet duckles being stressed, confused and frightened during the transport to the farm. That's a real problem with the concept of "humane" meat. Sure, the animals can be given a natural, even pampered existence right up until the moment they're forced into a trailer or truck, panicked and scared half to death, and transported to a slaughterhouse where they can smell, hear or even see the horror that is about to befall them. Now if that ain't suffering, well then it's worse: sheer terror. I couldn't finagle any way around that awfulness if I chose to butcher my ducks off site, so I resolved to kill them at home. I wanted them to be happy happy duck duck, just eating and swimming and pooping, and then *bink*…duckmeat. With the help of two most excellent girlfriends, the process went as smoothly as it possibly could have. I feel relieved that it's done, and what I'll describe as "in tune" with the knowledge that I would gladly raise ducks for meat in the future.
Emotions and ideology aside, the economics of small scale poultry farming look really good. I borrowed a 250 watt heat lamp, a waterer and feeder from a neighbor. I purchased a kiddie pool at Walmart for $11. I bought a bag of pine shavings for $6. But those are all things you don't absolutely have to buy. If your house is warm, you can brood ducklings in a box with a light bulb. They can eat and drink from various containers, and you can use dry leaves, newspaper, burlap, etcetera as bedding. You will have to buy feed. I'm raising ducks primarily for egg production, so I feed them a bit differently than I would meat ducks, but here are the figures: eleven Welsh Harlequin ducks (which can be fattened up to six pounds) were raised to slaughter age in eight weeks on one and a half sacks of game bird crumbles, about 40 pounds of oats, and one bag of grit while free ranging on 1/8th of an acre. I cut their feed with oats to prevent them from growing too fast because that's undesirable for an egg laying flock. So let's just imagine that I fed them pure game bird crumbles. Even if I stuffed them with three full sacks of feed, at a cost of $36 here in the Hudson Valley, plus $2.99 for a bag of grit, that's a total cost of under $40 for eleven ducks. Assuming you have a securely fenced yard and a safe house for them at night, and you butcher them yourself, that's a cost of $3.64 per duck. Where are you going to get even the cruddiest eating duck for three dollars and sixty four cents? So worth it, on so many levels.
I usually let the ducks out around 6 am. Not today. I don't want them to see what's happening on the far side of our house this morning.
We'll do two at a time. Mary and Monica carry the ducks to the compost area.
Mary brought over two killing cones, which I mounted on the shed directly over the compost pile. The ducks are inserted head first and are very calm in this position.
Their throats are slit, taking care not to cut their windpipes so they don't suffocate. That may sound silly to you, but it seems to reduce suffering.
The ducks quickly bleed out and are ready to be scalded in preparation for plucking.
I heated a big pot of water to 160 degrees.
Each duck was scalded very briefly to loosen the feathers.
It only took ten seconds or so to loosen the wing feathers - so I'd say the scalder was a bit on the hot side.
Ready to pluck.
Monica dips her duck in cool water before plucking.
Peeling the feet.
I put down some cardboard for easy cleanup.
We were in no hurry, and took a few minutes to pluck each duck.
The heads were removed.
The feet were removed.
An opening was cut near the tail.
Innards were pulled out.
We removed necks as well.
I'll keep the feet, necks, hearts and gizzards for stock. The livers looked pale to me, so I composted them with the rest of the innards, feathers, and heads.
They're small because we didn't fatten them up as meat birds. We're raising ducks primarity for egg production. These are the drakes.
After everything was cleaned up, I let the remaining seven ducks out of their house. They seemed utterly oblivious to the reduction in their flock and went about their usual activities of eating, swimming, and napping in the shade.