Difficult Ducks

This week I was invited to Skylight Farm in Snohomish to help with processing ducks. The flock was straight run, meaning the ducklings were not sexed in advance, so you don’t know how many males and females are in the clutch. Well, there were too many drakes in the flock, stressing out the hens. It was not worth feeding the extra boys through a winter, and so, culling had to be done.

We rented poultry processing equipment from King Conservation District, which allowed for “faster” work. Well, perhaps it was our choice to work on this project on the coldest day of the year, perhaps it was the fact that waterfowl have very oily feathers that are difficult to pull,  and another hitch; these drakes were older, making the plucking very challenging.

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In the picture above, you see the killing cones, a dunking tank for scalding, and a plucker. We preheated a lot of water on jet burners, to get things up to temperature faster in the large dunking tank. That part of the processing equipment was a great help, allowing us to put many birds in to loosen the down and quills before plucking. We made a mistake the first round, letting the birds cool off too much before dunking and defeathering them.

We had one ill-tempered rooster to process, which went very well. The plucker machine made short work of that bird. However, the drakes would not shed, and instead, began bruising from all the jostling of the plucker. It is not good to keep the carcasses in too long. The chicken was stripped in seconds. After 2 minutes, (the max recommended in a plucking machine) the ducks were still mostly feathered. We had to accept hand plucking, which was not easy in freezing temperatures, holding wet ducks, slippery with oil slick feathers. What comedy we made of the entire situation!

Did I mention the hot water pipes and outdoor spigots were frozen that morning to begin with? All our hydrology needs were only met after spending the morning with heat lamps in tight spaces, coaxing ice back into water. Needless to say, we earned the fabulous duck dinners to come.

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Sometimes you just have to laugh, then make sure you warm up, stay hydrated, and eat. I’m grateful for the ducks, the cold, and the warmth of working with neighbors to produce our own food. It felt so good to learn side by side with others who believe in ethical harvest. There might be more effort, but that’s what I’m willing to pay for consuming holistically.

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