We’ve had chickens for a while now, and recently acquired some ducks. I’ll do a post on their behavioural differences later, but this post is going to concentrate on some of the more explicit differences between the birds which are now in my freezer. So vegetarians, look away.
One more time if you missed it: This post is pretty graphic and involves killing things to be eaten.
Our quarter acre in Canberra has felt (and smelt) more and more like a farm this year, managing up to 9 chickens and 5 ducks. Cranking up the numbers has illustrated something I suspected but had not really experienced; that farming necessarily involves death.
Actually I have had some experience of that, when I was about 10, breeding mice and selling them to pet shops. Things that breed frequently die frequently and I had to come to terms with the carnage as part of the game, but also realise that mice do some pretty gross things.
And so it has been with chooks. We’ve lost a couple to illness and dealt with an outbreak of mutual, consentual, vampirism, a problem I thought I would never have to solve.
It sounds terrible, but once you realise that death is a necessary part of farming it makes taking the next step, and one we were very keen on learning about, much easier to take. Killing your own animals for food.
Five free ducks appeared on a local bulletin board; a breeder near-by had a ridiculously successful breeding season and had given away 30 already. Of indeterminant breed, but suspected Saxony, we put them in a small pen behind the chook house and fattened them on chook food and regular free-ranging from 10 to about 14 weeks of age.
The timing was a mistake as a young duck (drakes too, I’m refering to both sexes throughout) is much easier to pluck than an older one. Apparently at 6-weeks their metabolism changes from putting on fat and muscle to growing their serious new coat of feathers. That means they are difficult to pluck as the tough, water-proof outer feathers are lined by ‘pin-feathers’, short feathers which have only just broken the skin. Much like plucking a short hair and pulling out the follicle. Pekin ducks (for Chinese cooking) are almost always killed at 6 weeks to avoid this.
The ducks were physically hard to kill too. Tim’s preferred method for chooks is breaking their neck while holding the feet. Two fingers under the skull tension the neck away from the feet, then pull the head back and slip the vertebrae and usually sever the carotid artery. For reasons beyond me this action was really tough with a duck, requiring a burst of strength, and sadly, a couple of attempts on one bird. Sorry mate. The last duck though I made sure of it and, ah, pulled the head all the way off.
It takes a bit of set up, so killing a few birds at once makes more sense. A big pot of hot water on a fire, a wheelbarrow under a tree branch for plucking, then a plastic table and bucket for gutting, trimming and cleaning. Water is used to scald the feather insertion points and make them come out easier. So, it’s worth keeping the head on so the water doesn’t get crook and bloody. Next time for ducks I’ll put the bird between my legs and wring the neck with both hands. Should be more frequently successful and very fast.
The Process – Ducks or Chickens
In an ideal system then, the run of process is this:
Kill the bird, preferably by breaking the neck. Make it fast. We kept ours in pillow cases, which keeps them very calm, then make the time from picking them to death as short as possible.
Dunk in hot water. Try and wet feathers through.
Hang in a tree and pluck feathers into wheelbarrow.
Move to the cleaning table – cut the head off first.
Then cut the neck and retain. Chook necks are good for some Asian dishes.
Open top of chest cavity a little to remove the large muscle of the crop and any other tubes you find in there.
Cut the knee on the inside, fold back then separate completely with a sharp knife. Takes some practice but this should leave a nice neat drumstick leg.
Cut a square around the cloaca, trying not to puncture the bowel. Then open the cavity and slide your hand in under the rib cage, over the large mass inside and pull the whole lot out. Keep the livers if you’re keen.
Clean up any daggy bits or any tubes and things that make it look dodgy.
Bind the feet and put in individual bags for the freezer.
How Chickens are Different
They’re much easier to kill and hardly put up a fuss.
Rubbing removes most of the feathers easily, with some plucking necessary for wing feathers.
Chooks don’t have any wretched pin feathers.
Lastly, they’re a better weight at that age too.
A quick and dirty post, but I just wanted to get the details down. I’ll do a more detailed post of the whole process later when I take some pics. For now, here’s a photo of some experiments with removing the pin feathers. Yes, that’s an oxy-acetylene torch.