And then there were three...

25 February, 2013

Note: This post contains discussion and pictures of dead animals. Please do not read if you feel this may offend.

This weekend just gone I killed an animal for food. Actually more than one. I killed three of my six ducks for meat.

I say the word killed deliberately. I could tone it down and say culled, butchered, slaughtered, whatever. But the reality is that I killed them with my own two hands. And those of my grandmother, who showed me how to do the deed.

This was a difficult process, but I felt ready for it. I expected it to be difficult. If it had been easy I would have been disappointed.

When I first blogged about getting my ducks just a few short weeks ago I wrote about my intentions of raising some of them for meat, so I won't repeat my reasons for doing so here. Obviously I felt this was still something I wanted to do as I've followed through.

So on Saturday I got everything ready before my grandmother came over to my place. I had sharpened my knives, had water on the boil and the designated slaughter area was ready to go out of sight of the ducks pen. Earlier that morning I had captured the ducks I had decided not to keep and separated them from the keepers, so that they would be a little calmer than if I took them straight to slaughter. My grandmother did the first one while I watched. She very matter-of-fact-ly took the duck, held its wings and feet in one hand and then swung it around a couple of times. Apparently this makes the blood rush to  their heads so they are all woozy and disorientated. The she gave it a couple of whacks on the head, then I helped hold it still while she cut its throat. It shuddered and twitched for about 30 seconds and then we got started on plucking. This was a bigger job than I anticipated, but after a while and with a few dunks into the hot water most of the feathers were out. Then she showed me how to pull out the innards, to separate the edible from non-edible and we were done.

It surprised me that some parts of the process were easier than I expected and some parts were harder. Actually catching them in the first place was really hard as it was so final. Cutting their throats was also challenging and slightly gory. But the plucking and gutting was easy. By then it really was just meat to me.

Then we moved on to number two, which went much the same. Number three was the one I did all by myself. And here it is.

All up it took about 3 hours to go from three live animals to three carcasses. My grandmother took the hearts and stomachs to make soup with, whereas I had about 100g of liver, half a stomach (I'll give most things a go) and three whole ducks for which I had many plans. Two were butchered by removing the thighs and breasts and one was whole for roasting. The liver I turned into pate. The thighs and two breasts were made into confit, while the other two breasts are in the freezer. The carcasses plus the feet and necks of the butchered ducks made about 1.5L of duck stock, and afterwards I picked the bones clean and made a rough terrine with the pickings. I truly feel I've used each bird to its utmost, and feel that no part of these animals was wasted.

It was funny (not funny ha ha, but funny interesting) that I did the butchering yesterday just after I had lunch. My lunch included a beef patty (leftover from a recent burger night) and as I was eating it I had no qualms about consuming that animal flesh. Not 30 minutes later, as I was cutting up the ducks which the day before had been running around my backyard, it felt very different. It didn't feel bad, or wrong, just different. It's made me much more aware of using meat to its fullest and never taking it for granted.

I just hoped the birds' taste lived up to all the work. The first opportunity for tasting was the pate. It was delicious! I was very relieved.

The second opportunity for tasting was the whole bird which was roasted when my family came over for dinner. I also roasted a purchased organic duck for comparison.

The much larger duck on the bottom was about 1.8kg. I didn't weigh mine but I suspect it is around 1.2kg. Unfortunately I didn't get a pic after they were done roasting. We were too busy tucking in. And the verdict? The homegrown duck was tastier, but the commercial duck was more tender. On balance though, pretty much everyone preferred the homegrown.

So there it is. Now that I've had time to decompress the whole experience I'm glad I've done it. Some questions I've been asking myself:

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I still eat meat? Yes.

Would I do it again? Yes, but I wouldn't want to do it every day.

If my remaining ducks have little ducklings I would give it another go. I believe that animals that have been looked after well while they live and slaughtered as humanely as possible are on my table to stay. And if that includes those I've raised myself so much the better.


  1. Hi Bek,
    Thanks for sharing. Its getting to crunch time for our little cockeral. So it was an interesting read. Its lucky you had your grandmother there to lend some experience. My greatest fear is that my partner and I will 'stuff it up' and lead an animal to suffer more than it should. I have actually started to try and tame the rooster a bit- as at the moment half his stress will be me cathcing him. Your meat comparison was certainly interesting.

    1. No problem. Very true, I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have her to show me the ropes. I understand your concern, but in hindsight its pretty hard to go wrong with a sharp knife or an axe. I'd be interested to hear how the process goes, and the culinary outcomes of course!

  2. Really interesting to read about your experience. I remember watching my father kill chickens as a kid but always through my hands as I was both fascinated and horrified by the whole thing. Personally I'm not sure I could do as you did and slaughter the birds myself but there's a part of me that thinks anyone who eats meat (ie me) should really do it at least once. I think that awareness of what slaughtering entails and the respect for the meat that that brings is really important and something without posts like yours its all too easy to dismiss. Glad they tasted better!

    1. Its interesting, because my mother grew up with animals (sometimes what she thought of as pets) becoming food on the table and while she isn't squeamish and enthusiastically joined the taste test, I think her experiencing that as a child has made her not consider raising meat as an adult. If I had grown up experiencing this I'm not sure I'd be doing it now, or at least I'd be doing it with very different views. I do see your point about meat eaters being aware of the reality around how animals are slaughtered for food; perhaps viewing it instead of actually taking part would be reasonable. I do agree that when you only see the packaged product at the end of the line it's not the same. Deep thoughts indeed, but important I think.

  3. Oh thanks for sharing. My parents slaughtered our hens when I was really young. I vaguely remember watching when i was small. I never saw the killing part though. They stopped doing it as I grew. What a shame as I could have that skill now. I remember much preferring bought BBQ chicken though.
    Dad would take their heads off with an axe. Is that harder?

    1. Not a problem. I'm not sure if the axe method is harder, having never done it, but I guess it would be simpler. I have read though that there is some awareness by the animal after they get the chop, and for humanitarian reasons somehow stunning the animals before the chop or cutting of throats is considered more painless. Some people use a method of breaking/dislocating the neck but I think that requires a bit of experience and would be easier to make a mistake on. It's hard to stuff things up with an axe.

  4. Well done lass. Makes my rabbit ' dressing' look tame. I admire your attitude using as much as you can, would love to taste your pate. I will be taking on similar jobs with chickens eventually, thanks for your information.

    1. I look forward to hearing how you go with the chickens. I will have to post the recipe so you can taste it, maybe even with your own chicken livers.