The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Two ways to pluck a duck

Ducks enjoying duckweed

I put it off and put it off and put it off, but eventually the time came to try our hands once again at killing (and plucking) ducks.  By waiting so long, I hoped that all of the ducks would be done molting (which was true for two of the three ducks we processed this week).  Plus, once September hits, the garden year is starting to wind down (although there's still plenty to do), so stealing a morning for poultry butchering seems more feasible.

Scalding a duck

You may recall that, last time around, I ended up skinning our duck rather than plucking.  Since then, I accumulated some tips from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous, the most important of which was --- try heating the scalding water all the way to boiling rather than stopping at the recommended temperature.  Sure enough, boiling water (and lack of pin feathers) changed duck plucking from utterly impossible to merely tedious.  We included a generous squirt of dish fluid in the water, roughed up the duck's feathers while dunking the duck, and then let the duck sit for several minutes in the hot liquid.  This was still insufficient to allow us to use a power plucker to remove feathers, but we did manage to kill, pluck, and dress that duck in 45 man-minutes --- not great by chicken standards, but feasible.

Dry plucking a duck

When the time came to move to duck two, though, I decided to try dry plucking.  Damp down quickly coated my fingers while plucking duck one, and the down was much more annoying to work around than wet chicken feathers.  So I pulled out handfuls of down before dunking the duck and found that the down was much more pleasant (if no faster) to remove when dry.  (This method would also have allowed me to save the down for stuffing, although I was too focused on experimenting with plucking techniques to do so this time around.)  The wing and tail feathers were too tough to remove dry, though, so I dunked the dunk in the boiling water before moving on to these larger feathers.  The result was a duck processed in 50 man-minutes, but resulting in a much cleaner carcass than I managed with duck one.

Duck three was the one with pin feathers, and I don't want to write about that pain and suffering here.  Ack!  I survived (and the duck, obviously, didn't).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, my conclusion is --- dry plucking is a little slower than wet plucking but is much more pleasant.  And, whatever it takes, wait until those ducks stop molting before butchering!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Too much work, which is why they probably suggest skinning instead of plucking. Plus you have the added benefit of not having all the fat from the duck in your diet.

Many years ago I cooked a duck for myself and my ex. He shook his head as I was doing it, which I thought was odd at the time, but he never said anything else. The roast duck was beautiful to look at: clear crisp skin, etc. But as I cut into the meat, I discovered that there wasn't enough meat for one person, let alone two. He smiled at me and said he knew that but refused to tell me anything about it. Needless to say I was mad as hell about him not warning me.

Comment by Nayan Thu Sep 4 09:37:00 2014

I don't know much on this subject, get that out of the way.. But is it possible that it's the breed that you have? I raise muscovy ducks and some mix breed ones. I've never had much of a problem plucking them. It's more work than with chickens, but not as hard a time as you're having. I know you research quite a bit, I don't, so maybe there is a duck breed problem?

Comment by T Thu Sep 4 10:39:24 2014

Why the added squirt of dish soap? I think the skin of the duck will surely absorb it . . .

I must have missed the reason in the last post, but I hate to think of you eating dish soap. There must be another way.

Comment by Terry Thu Sep 4 11:47:27 2014

T --- Muscovies are an entirely different species from other breeds of ducks, so I wonder if that has an impact on their pluckability? The book I read didn't actually say that any breeds were easier to pluck, but your data suggests otherwise....

Terry --- Don't worry; the dish soap gets washed off post plucking. It's meant to cut the oils on the duck feathers that make it so hard for water to penetrate the down.

Comment by anna Thu Sep 4 12:48:03 2014
plucking vs. skinning: It may depend on how you plan to cook the duck as well. I usually cut small slices, marinate in creamy Italian or some such marinade and grill. It is easier to freeze and store the strips as well as they take up much less space. Unless you want the carcass for soup or making broth, however, I usually do that as well and then freeze the extra liquid for later. So I usually skin. I use many of the flies for fly tying also, especially from the wild ducks.
Comment by Ed Thu Sep 4 19:03:53 2014
Hot water will open the pores of the skin---it will absorb some soap, most assuredly!
Comment by Terry Fri Sep 5 09:14:28 2014
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Comment by Pony Mon Jan 18 18:09:44 2016
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Comment by Pony Thu Jan 21 01:57:59 2016

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