Home In Disarray

January 5, 2015

The “Work” Salad

Duck confit salad
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I assume that we must all do something similar to this, but in the off chance that I am incorrect, here’s my rundown on the “work” salad.  The salad that consists of leftovers, stuff you dug out of the pantry, and random bits and pieces of tasty that have somehow gotten my attention.  Throw a can of tuna or leftover chicken breast over the top, and you have a full meal deal.  Here’s my salad for the day.  It was  huge, filling, and delicious.  As I assembled it, I just started entering the items that I added and their approximate measures to myfitnesspal.  It is an interesting way for me to determine where I could be “saving” calories, and what items I may want to add more of next time.  In this case, I had some duck confit (yes, from our ducks) in the fridge that needed to be used, and Craig won’t eat salads, so this came to the office for work salads.

work salad with duck confit

Yes. that’s a huge cottage cheese container from costco.  It makes a great salad bowl that I am not concerned with forgetting in my car for 3 days or leaving at work.

calorie breakdown of salad

I erred on the high side of everything for the salad.  Going over the calorie breakdown, I’d probably use half as many cranberries and half as many pepitas, and toss a couple of boiled egg whites only on top to boost the protein factor.

October 24, 2014

I have been harboring an enormous beast of a spider.

I have been harboring an enormous beast of a spider.
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This thing is terrifying.  I went to check on/top up the ducks’ food the other day, and came across SHELOB sitting in the deck box that I use to house their food and bedding material.  You may be laughing if you live in another part of the country, but I have never seen a spider that big in this part of our state.  I nearly died.  When I showed the photo to Craig later, he said “You let Helo get that close to it?”   No concern for my well-being.

enormous spider

Posted in: Ducks
August 20, 2014

We slaughtered 2 of the ducks – proceed with caution.

We slaughtered 2 of the ducks – proceed with caution.
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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.

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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.

poultry processing supplies

poultry processing supplies

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.

slaughtering a duck

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.

slaughtered ducks

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.

scalding a duck

hanging a duck to pluck

hanging a duck to pluck

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.

duck neck & esophagus

The neck and esophagus

The guts

The guts

the gizzard

The gizzard – full of stones, and some pumpkin I tossed in there the morning before.

The testicles

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.

breaking down a fresh duck

breaking down a fresh duck

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.

Posted in: Ducks, Misc
August 14, 2014

I found out what was digging all those &*$#@ holes in my duck pen!

I found out what was digging all those &*$#@ holes in my duck pen!
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A few weeks ago, I shared a couple photos of the tunnels that had been appearing in my duck pen.

A few days ago, I drained the stinky duck pond, and when I went to refill it, I decided to flood the tunnel.  But you know what?  That tunnel tool so much water!  I couldn’t get it full the the top.  There’s some volume in that bad boy.  Getting discouraged, I decided to at least make it an unattractive place to tunnel by locating some stinky dog poop and burying it several inches down from the entrance to the tunnel.  So I grabbed a shovel and went on the hunt.  Several seconds later, a large rodent sprinted from the corner of the yard near the duck pen towards our deck.  Boris, of mouse-hunting fame caught that M F-er before it made it under the deck.  A few pointed bites and it stopped moving.  A firm “LEAVE IT.” and he backed off to let me snap the neck with my shovel and pick it up for disposal.  I was so proud of him.  Once I got it out of the yard, I set it down for further inspection.  It appears to be a mother rat, as it had swollen udders (I assume I drowned the offspring in my tunnel flooding).  And that sucker was big.  Think of all the free duck food it’s been eating! I was so proud of Boris that I took a photo and texted it to Craig.  His response?  “WTF”

Anyway, Boris got extra treats and an invitation onto the bed that night.  You know, after I cleaned the blood off his lip.

Posted in: Ducks
August 1, 2014

Duckdate

Duckdate
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That was supposed to be a duck and update portmanteau, but I fear that I may have just created a new reality tv show.  The last time I shared photos of the ducks, they were creepy little dinosaurs, half covered in down, half in normal feathers, and growing rapidly. Things have since settled down and life is easier in Duckingham Palace.  Well, mostly. So we have 5 ducks.  2 of them are 2 weeks older than the other 3.

Duck crossing sign on duck pen

The lineup:
A L’Orange (male):  This one was initially my favorite.  He’s huge, ballsy, fairly friendly with me, and has this incredible iridescent black on his entire back.  But now he’s a jerk.  He is definitely the leader of the flock, but he’s like Lenin.  He rules with an iron fist.  I was feeding the ducks some scraps of lettuce the other night, and he bit one of the females on the back right between her wings and wouldn’t let go, even when she was squawking.  I had to flick him in the neck to get him to let go.  Jerk.

Black and white pied male muscovy duck

Black and white pied male muscovy duck

Black and white pied male muscovy duck

Ina (female):  She thinks that I am satan.  Every time I pick her up, she shakes.  So I’ve stopped picking her up, and I’m trying to gain her trust in more sneaky ways.  Primarily by luring her over to me when I am feeding snacks.  She is appreciably larger than the 3 younger ducks, so I assume that her and A L’Orange’s mother was much bigger than the mom of the 3 younger duckies.  As she gets older, the brown barring on her chest should smooth out to the blue color seen on the rest of her feathers.

blue muscovy female

blue muscovy female

Alison (female):  This one was my favorite the day that I brought them home, but then she quickly fell out of favor when she wouldn’t stop peeping.  Since then, she has really caught my eye.  She is reserved, gentle, and fairly polite.  Unfortunately, she lets the other ducks push her around and pick on her (she’s the one that the bully duck bit)  Her coloring is interesting.  It’s similar to Ina’s, but she has a pretty white apron thing going on.

female muscovies

female muscovies

And then there’s the twinsies, Confit and Martha (male & female):  They were both white/yellow when we first got them, but have since developed a really beautiful black and white barring.  Based on my research, after a molt, they will probably only retain the barring on their bellies, and the rest of their feathers will grow in as solid black.   The main way to tell the two apart is their size.  Confit (the male) is about 50% larger than the other 2 young-uns, and also a hair darker than Martha.

barred juvenile muscovies

barred juvenile muscovies

OK, so now that you know who is what and you’ve seen current photos of them, I can tell you the rest.

The rodent: I think I have some sort of rodent living in my pen.  I’ve seen a series of burrows tunneling OUT of the enclosure.  I keep filling them in with rocks and whatnot, and I haven’t been able to find a creature, but we shall see.  Hopefully lifting the feeder off the ground will help reduce the ease of food acquisition.  Either way, the ducks don’t seem bothered by it, I haven’t seen evidence of any damage to them, so at this point it’s just a small pest.

burrowing OUT of the duck pen
burrowing OUT of the duck pen

The pond:  Ooof.  The ducks make this thing so disgusting that even THEY won’t go in it after 3-4 days.  It’s a 125 gallon pond.  That’s a LOT of water to drain and refill every 3 days.  I have started only filling it to the bottom level and letting them use the stepback as a preening spot.  They seem to be enjoying it, and I prefer using less than half the water.

The sexes: I initially had a great deal of stress about determining who is male and who is female.  I have literally hours sunk into research.  And you know what?  None of it was helpful!  The only thing that I can effectively use is their voices once mature!  The females make a sort of twirring noise, kind of like a high pitched combination of a cat’s purr and a bird’s cheep.  It’s actually really cute.  They do it when they’re excited that I brought them some lettuce/weeds/kale to eat.  The males make a raspy hissy sound.  Kind of like I’d imagine a heavy smoker would sound like if they were panting. It’s less cute, but a good way to tell the difference.  Which brings me to my next point.

The slaughter: We are going to kill the males.  Based on a huge pile of drama on a facebook muscovy duck group in which I got called a “Sadistic Twat,” people are really upset at the idea of eating what has historically been a meat bird, which… whatever.  I took a poultry processing class  earlier this year to see if it was something that I could stomach. It is.  Shortly after the class, I was still processing my emotions about taking a life.  Months later, I have come to terms with reality.  I’m not vegan.  I’m not vegetarian.  I’m not interested in being either of those things.  What it comes down to, is that animals are going to die so that I can eat them.  Chickens from the grocery store have awful lives.  And their deaths?  Equally awful.  They’re full of fear.  It’s not a good situation for them.  So, by raising and eating at least a few of my own animals(happy, healthy, and respectfully harvested), I am effectively reducing the number of chickens that experience that. These ducks are livestock to me, not pets.  And males do not provide a service to me.  I prefer not to have siblings breeding, I am not prepared to hatch out ducklings just yet, and males don’t lay eggs.  They also rape female ducks.  There is no reason for me to keep them around, and there are a few really juicy and flavorful reasons to slaughter them.  So that’s what we are doing.  I have 2 males, and my coworker and I are going to respectfully slaughter them in a few weeks.  It’s going to be sad.  But it’s also part of the circle of life.  And depending on how this slaughter goes, we may see about raising several broiler chickens next spring for the freezer.

juvenile muscovies eating greens

Posted in: Ducks
July 21, 2014

I made a compost bin, and it cost me nothing!

I made a compost bin, and it cost me nothing!
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I will be the first to say that there are many things that I hate, but one of the top contenders is people billing things as stuff they’re totally not.  “Totally FREE DIY Compost Bin!!! – All it took was 16 pallets, my contractor husband, several sets of hinges and 14 hours of backbreaking labor!”  This was closer to “I have minimal carpentry skills, and some scrap lumber that I’ve been trying to come up with an occasion to burn, plus some random lengths of wire fencing I had hanging out around the yard from previous compost bin experiments.

So when we got the house, my mother in law had an old compost bin sitting around her work that she gifted to me.  It was the type that’s basically big flexible sleeve with some holes in it, and then a round cap for the top and bottom.  Theoretically that type of compost bin may work OK, but in my experience, you can not adequately stir it, it doesn’t get much aeration, and it’s very difficult to get the actual compost OUT of it.  I’ve made cylinders out of 2×4″ welded wire mesh.  Those worked about as well as the big cylinder, however using more narrow ones resulted in them toppling over on the relatively light slope we have in the area of the yard that I choose to compost.  Forsaking all of the bin methods, I most recently switched over to a “pile” which has bee fine, however it looks very messy, and the dogs start going through it trying to find high-value kitchen scraps, like watermelon rinds and corn cobs.  It’s not a pretty situation.  With the recent education I’ve had on just how messy ducks are, I learned that I would be needing additional capacity to get all of the poo-soaked bedding rotten enough to safely use in my vegetable beds.

compost bin

Knowing that I’d need a 2-stage setup –  one stage for “maturing” compost, and the other to have an active pile that is being added to regularly, I figured I’d just build a sided bin.  So I did some figuring, and looked around at the random pieces of welded wire mesh I’ve had cluttering the back yard, and figured out my dimensions.  The bin would be 3x3x6′, with a divider in the middle.  And I got to planning it.  It’s certainly not the most elegant solution, but for the first time ever, I didn’t have to go to the store for ANYTHING to make this operational.  We have a pile of 2x4s leftover from the duck pen project and from removing the pantry a year and a half ago, so I just used those for my 3′ sections, and used the 6′ pressure treated 2x4s leftover from the first iteration of raised bed trellises.  Besides the wire and lumber, the only other things I needed were screws and staples.  Staples I had leftover from the duck pen, and screws I have hundreds of.  Every time I have a project, I buy a box or three, and now we have hundreds of mismatched wood screws.

After monkeying with the bin a little, I have decided that I probably will want to get some U-channel or something similar to make an easily removable wall for the front to hold up the compost (this will also help keep the dogs from collecting treasures out of the bin). This will require a trip to Lowes, and probably some money also, but the compost bin is currently fully functional as-is.

compost bin

Here’s the materials list
3x – 6ft 2×4
12x – 3x 2×4
3x – 3x3ft wire mesh
1x  – 3×6′ wire mesh
30-40ish hammer-in staples
25-30 outdoor wood screws

*I started by making squares out of the 3ft 2x4s.  I made 3 squares, and then stapled the wire mesh into each of them.
*When they were done, I stapled the wire mesh into each of them and then set one aside.
*I screwed the 6ft lengths to 3 corners of the squares, then measured and stuck the third piece in as a divider, and screwed that in. Then it was just a matter of stapling the last 6ft piece of wire mesh on, moving the bin to its final location, and filling it with what had been in my existing heap.

compost bin
Since each of the sides is 3x3x3 (aka a cubic yard), doing the math on just how much magical soil I have to use will be pretty simple!
Posted in: Ducks, Garden, Projects
July 9, 2014

I would like to give you a short update on these ducks of mine.

I would like to give you a short update on these ducks of mine.
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I am not calling them ducklings, because they no longer are.  They are terrifying tiny dinosaur creatures.  The 2 larger ones are pretty much the size of a corgi.  Now here is where I am running into a problem.  I have 5 ducks.  2 large ones, 3 small ones (2 week age difference, in case you didn’t get the memo).  The 2 big ones are exactly the same size.  Of the 3 smaller ones, 1 of them is much larger than the other 2.  I have identified that one as a male (previously Katniss, now Confit) and have altogether stopped trying to get it to like me.  The less friendly that duck is, the easier it will be to slaughter it.  This seems like a logical way to approach the situation.

The brown barred one doesn’t trust me one bit.  Doesn’t stop her from eating my kale.

I have recently read that female muscovy ducks develop their flight feathers sooner than males, and also continue being a bit more talkative (peeping, twirring, etc) than males, who as they mature develop a raspy voice and stop making high pitched noises.  Both of the larger ducks have developed their flight feathers at approximately the same rate, so this leaves me believing that they are the same sex.  Here is the problem.  One of the bigger ducks, the black and white one (which will be Ina if it’s a girl, and L’Orange if it’s a boy) is awesome.  It’s fearless, bites at the dogs through the fence, lets me pick it up, and is overall super chill.  She happily sits on my lap and stays there, whether or not she’s getting snacks of kale from me.  I REALLY like that duck.  In fact, it would be safe to say, I’d rather slaughter the 4 others before just slaughtering her.  BUT.  If she’s a boy, there will be rape in her(his) future, and that’s not an acceptable behavior anywhere on our property, so it’ll be over. 🙁  The big brown one, I would be totally OK with removing from the flock.  She(he?) is TERRIFIED of me.  I’m not entirely sure why, but whenever I pick her up, she shakes.  It’s awful for her.  So we are working on trust, but so far, we aren’t there.

The one about to eat this kale is Ina.  She's my favorite

As far as the 2 remaining non-male little ones?  Their names are Alison and Martha, BTW.  They are still cute and ridiculous. They don’t seem to hate me, but also don’t love getting picked up.  We have a need for some quality time, but I believe we will be able to bond somewhat.  You know, unless they end up being males and turn into dinner.  The ones that were previously yellow have developed black and white barring patterns, so I don’t think we will have any primarily white ducks.  I was hoping to end up with at least one, but that’s OK.  I am excited to see them all feathering out and turning into adults.  This only more firmly cements my desire to own only adult dogs and not deal with any of the drama of baby animals versus adult animals.

ducks sitting on my lap

And a video, of Ina loving some clean water in the pond.

Posted in: Ducks