Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Muscovy Ducks - From hatching to plate.

The ten Muscovies hatched by Elvis back in early May reached 25 weeks old this week, which was very bad news for them.
They were reared for meat and I was determined not to keep putting off the date of their dispatch. If you leave birds too long, the meat goes tough. Ducks can, in fact, be dispatched as early as 9 weeks old, though ours were way to small at this age. Goodness knows how you'd have to keep them to get them to any sort of weight by this age. From then till 16 weeks they grow pin feathers which make plucking virtually impossible. But from 16 weeks onwards they are fair game. Kept free range as ours are, they really reach ideal weight anytime from 24 weeks of age.

We could send them off to a fairly local butcher to turn them into tasty duck joints, but it costs about £4 per bird plus the petrol there and back twice. I don't really look forward to dispatch day and it is a lot of work, but it is part of this hobby / lifestyle.

But there was a slight problem. For the young ducks had grown as large as their parents and I was no longer sure which was which! The adult drake was fine, a large grey and white beast, and one of the adult ducks was the only all white bird. But the other duck was black and white, one of four black and white girls.
I began to think that I SHOULD HAVE PUT A RING ON HER!

But my problem was solved by this blog. For I went back to the photos of when the Muscovies arrived and was able to match the precise pattern from the photo to one of the ducks.
One of those looks like the picture!

So on Friday night we put the three adults into the big chicken house and then herded the other ten up the garden and into one of the stables so that catching them the next day would be easier and less stressful for all concerned.

Three of the Ixworth chickens were ready to go too, though when I went to separate them off only two were obviously bigger than the next batch. I decided to leave the third for a while.

So Saturday morning came. I wasn't looking forward to it. No-one enjoys killing animals, but I strongly believe that people are too distanced from their food these days. Hence the waste, the fussiness and the lack of any food ethics. Convenience is a much over-rated quality.

It didn't take long to dispatch a dozen birds, though the male Muscovies were more difficult with their thick necks.

Next step was plucking. A while ago I purchased a plucking attachment to go on the drill.

The birds need scolding in water at a fairly precise temperature - we have a large pot specifically for this. If the temperature is too cool or the scolding time too short, then the feathers do not come out easily. Conversely, too hot or too long and the skin breaks when the feathers come out.

You can scold birds even if you're not using the plucking device. It makes plucking much easier but it is hard to keep the skin perfect. But this was the first time we had used the rubber finger attachment. A little experimentation was needed. One drill went too fast, one was shaking itself to pieces in the vice. We ended up using the cordless drill hand-held. I held the drill as firmly as possible and Sue offered up the birds. Feathers flew everywhere!

Where we had scolded a little too much we reverted to hand plucking.
We hand plucked the chickens too, for they were our first birds specifically bred for meat and we wanted them to be special.

We don't bother with hanging chickens or ducks. We know they are not old and don't find they need it. Besides, with the weather as it is at the moment there are still far too many flies around.
Next step was the butchery. The chickens and the male ducks were to stay whole, for roasting. Sue has become the expert at gutting and preparing these.
There is not much more on a duck than the breasts and legs and we don't have the freezer space for all the empty carcass space, so I processed the female Muscovies, taking off the breasts and the legs. I've got quite good at this and can do it leaving virtually no meat on the bone. Any scraps which were left were greatly enjoyed by Arthur, who relished playing the traditional farm dog role. Boris, on the other hand, was not interested in the least, turning his nose up at the scraps.

It took both of us much of the day, but we eventually finished processing the dozen birds. From hatching the eggs to butchering the birds it's a long process. It'll probably work out no cheaper than a good chicken from the supermarket, and that's definitely without factoring in our time. To tell the truth I don't even work it out. As for taste, there is no comparison between a cheap supermarket chicken, whichever misleading terminology they use to describe its rearing, and a properly free bird. Sue and I both find that supermarket chicken tastes of not very much, maybe even a bit bleachy. But to be honest the chickens we've eaten recently of our own have been tough as old boots, rubber boots. But that is because we postponed eating them for too long and they were not bred for purpose.

Today's chickens were not huge, but certainly did not disgrace themselves either. But the one we roasted up tasted very nice indeed. It was juicy and tender and actually tasted like a chicken should.

If we really searched and paid a proper price for a chicken, we could probably find chicken to buy of a similar quality. But we have done this all ourselves and there is something very special and very honest about that.

Finally, luckiest fowl of the day were the turkeys, for I had been planning on dispatching one of these too. They have reached a very good size and make for quite an imposing flock now. However, we just ran out of time. Besides, they do need to be hung for about a week and Sue was due to be away then.
As I put the finishing touches to this post the weather is just turning cold so it won't be long until we are making the difficult choice of which turkey goes first!

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