I just want to preface this post with notes that it will probably be upsetting to many people. If you don’t want to read a vivid recollection of a less-than-perfect slaughter (or see photos of slaughter), please do not read further. If you are planning on judging me, please do the same. If you want an honest recollection of what happened, please continue on after the break.
We did it. We slaughtered 2 of the ducks. I went into this process with an idealized version of what I would go through emotionally. When I took the poultry processing class in January, I was a little upset by the actual killing portion of the process. I spent some time digesting it in my head, initially feeling like I’d be fine to do everything but the throat-slitting, and then as I spent more time thinking about it, believing that it would be more respectful to my ducks if I were the one to be on the knife. When the time came, I felt emotionally prepared for the slaughter. I was nervous, but resigned to the fact that the ducks we were slaughtering were male, and regardless of who slaughtered them, someone was going to (you just can’t have that type of male:female ratio in a flock). So I prepared. A lot. I made a list (I’m an exceptionally good list-maker, and it helps me to deal with nervous energy). I sharpened a paring knife that I know holds its edge well. Craig and I discussed the paring knife situation. He believed that a razor blade would be more painless. Not having a special razor skinning knife, we decided that a brand new blade and a set of vice grips would be our best/least painful option (this did not end up being the case, continue reading). I prepared all of the things that I would need for the ordeal, and when the time came, we got down to it. A couple of friends came over to help/support me through the ordeal.
The plan was that we’d wrap the duck in a towel, hold it facing down over a bucket, and then I would cut on both sides of the throat and allow it to bleed out. Then we’d proceed onto the other bird, get that done, and then move onto the rest of the processing job.
So we went to it. I cut both sides of his throat, and we let him bleed out. But every time we thought the body would have stopped moving, it didn’t. I am sure that he passed out fairly quickly as there was a great deal of blood loss, but we simply weren’t prepared for just how violent the thrashing would be. After 30 seconds or so, blood drainage had slowed significantly, but there was still post-death thrashing. I decided to remove the head entirely. Unfortunately, the razor blade/vice grip contraption kept rotating and I couldn’t get a good cut in. And I didn’t have the very sharp paring knife there next to me, so a friend had to run to the shelf to grab it for me to facilitate the head removal. I was on the verge of tears. It was really terrible. After the head came off, it continued moving a little (the tongue was wiggling) and the wings continued thrashing for a while. The duck was indisputably dead (obviously, no head) but there was some serious movement. We were all pretty upset. My helper decided that she couldn’t hold duck #2, so I was very lucky in that my other friend (who was just there to watch and support me) stepped up and was willing to hold the second duck. We took a break. I sat in the shade, had part of a cocktail, and calmed down a little. Then we rediscussed the game plan, and decided that taking the head off almost immediately would be the way that it needed to go. So my friend held the duck (wrapped a little tighter than last time), we got it calmed down a little, and I slit both sides of its throat, let it bleed for 3 seconds, then quickly made one final cut, snapped it’s head back, and removed it entirely. Under 5 seconds and the duck was definitely dead. But for another 1-2 minutes (it felt like forever, I’m not entirely sure just how long this lasted, honestly) the body kept moving in exactly the same way that the first duck’s body kept moving. It brought us all a little solace to know that the first duck died nearly as quickly as the second one.
After that, I needed another few minutes to process/calm down. Then was time to scald/pluck them. We dunked them in 152 degree water, that had been mixed with dawn dish soap. The dish soap is necessary with ducks to cut through the oils in their feathers so it gets down to the skin and the feathers release. I luckily had a very large, 15 gallon pot that I use for beer making that came in very handy in this endeavor.
And boy did we pluck! Ducks have a great many small feathers that are very difficult to remove. The pin feathers weren’t unbearable, and we got all of those, but the downy stuff on the black parts of the duck looks like stubble under the skin (if you’re very pale with dark hair, you’ll understand) and there was no removing it, short of duck wax. We got the breasts very clean, but everything else got clean “enough”, as it’ll either be confit (which we will unfortunately have to remove the skin from) or be stock, which will be thoroughly strained, so there will be no feathers in the final product.
The rest of the process involves cutting off the feet and neck, then very carefully removing the guts. I don’t have a ton of the specific detail photos, but I’ll share a few that I do have.
The neck and esophagus
The gizzard – full of stones, and some pumpkin I tossed in there the morning before.
Once they were cleaned, I broke them down to breasts, legs, back, & wings. We gave the liver, gizzard, and heart to the dogs. Breasts got vac packed, legs got vac packed together, and the back, wings, and feet got vac packed together for making stock.
After this, I began drinking. I was upset and needed to put it out of my mind. Once people had left and I had a little time with my thoughts, I cried. I felt guilty that the death of the first duck took longer than it needed to. I felt sad that such charming animals had died at my hand. And I felt sad that it had upset Craig as well. It was a bad night. I had trouble sleeping. I woke up the next morning, hungover and still bummed. I was very sad all morning. Over the course of the day, my outlook improved. I started thinking about the positive things that I had done. I gave those ducks a great life. They were happy, clean(for ducks), secure, and well-fed. Compared to a CAFO situation, their death was still minimally violent and traumatic. They went with love. And they had someone who cared enough about them to cry for their deaths. I’m not quite ready to cook or eat them. That’s going to take a few weeks. But they will be prepared with the utmost respect and care when I do.
It’s possible that one of the remaining 3 is a male. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to bring myself to slaughter it. Based on my reading, ducks take appreciably longer to “die” than chickens. Combined with the personality factor and general hilarity they provide, I don’t think these are going to be meat birds, except in extreme circumstances. Someone locally had some interest in having me help slaughter a couple of roosters that she has (roosters are prohibited in our town). I told her I’ll help with everything but the actual death part. Depending on how that ends up going, we still may raise a few cornish x chickens for the freezer this coming spring, but I’m still not confident that I am willing to handle killing them myself. I do have another friend who has expressed that he may be willing to cut their throats for me (or Craig has offered to shoot them in the head with a .22), but I am going to need a few months to process this emotionally and determine whether I can handle it. And I realize how silly it seems that I am sad about the death of my ducks, when I do not feel sad when purchasing a chicken at the grocery store, that had an awful life and incredibly traumatic death. I still haven’t worked through the logic in that.