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How to butcher a duck for the first time

I’m going to tell you how to butcher a duck for the first time alone on the farm because taking a life is not easy. When we decided to embark on this wild journey, we both knew that there would be life and death, we just didn’t know how much.

Eventually, we found it was hard to have to decide when death happens – like having to decide when a duck’s time is up. We’ve raised ducks for years, and I butchered them alone. You can, too.

A detailed guide to butchering a duck for the first time ever and alone on the farm.

The hardest part, in the beginning, wasn’t being able to always decide when death happened. Part of becoming a homesteader and furthering your life towards self-sustainability is often culling your livestock. You’re capable of doing it and I’m going to walk you through it, step by step.

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butcher a duck alone

My agreement with my husband on butchering animals

At the beginning of this, we decided we would only ever anything as a team. That worked just fine until I started working full-time at the farm.

Eventually, I realized it was time to send some of the ducks to freezer camp and I, too, started to Google “How to Process a Duck for the First Time ALONE”. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to start butchering ducks all by myself, but I was dedicated.

Reasons to butcher a duck

We had three drakes that singled out the fourth drake and would attack him. They eventually singled out a hen and were plucking her feathers to the point of bloodshed and culling ducks came into the realm of possibility.

Our hens also stopped laying eggs so I separated the 3 drakes and just knew that eventually, they would have to be dinner.

Well, I got away with putting it off for months until finally, I realized I’m doing them a disservice by separating them.

Duck jail ain’t no fun, friends, and I needed to learn how to process a duck at home, alone.

How I prepared mentally

I mentally prepared myself for a few days, went and bought a hatchet, sharpened my poultry sheers, watched too many youtube videos and I did it. Thinking about how to kill a duck for the first time is quite a daunting task.

I was culling ducks two days ago and I did it all by myself. I think most homesteaders would agree with me that the part where you actually take the life of an animal is the hardest part.

After that, you just have to make sure you don’t poke any innards that might spoil your meat. I won’t lie… I was scared and nervous and felt slightly guilty. But all in all, I did very well.

I culled my first duck in 30 minutes from plucking to cleaning and I did not poke any innards. We now have two ducks in the freezer ready for the table and boy howdy that is a good feeling to know where that meat was and how it was raised!

I’ll explain the process I used to “do the deed” (how to slaughter a duck) below so if you would rather not read about the culling of an animal, I’m giving you an out!

When to butcher a duck

A duck is typically at butcher age when you can’t feel pin feathers anymore. This can be anywhere from 8 or 12 weeks of age, some breeds up to 20 weeks. Younger ducks have more downy feathers, soft feathers.

The older your duck gets, the more difficult they’ll be to pluck, often resulting in skinning a duck that’s older instead of plucking. In this case, most people start around the ribcage and harvest just the breast of the duck meat. This can be a wasteful method for many reasons.

When skinning a duck, you’re losing the skin and fat that many people want when raising ducks for meat. By butchering your ducks closer to the ideal age according to your breed, they’ll be easier to pluck and you’ll reap the benefits of the skin because you won’t need to skin them.

Please note
Our animals live the happiest lives they can live before their time comes. When they reach their last day, we strive to ensure their final moments aren’t horror and pain. That is our mission: to raise happy, humane food for ourselves and our future children, including vegetables, fruit, herbs, and meat.

How to cull a duck (all alone)

Preparation before butchering a duck

  1. First I boiled a pot of water. This is optional, but if you didn’t already know, you can dunk your bird after you kill it to loosen the feathers for plucking. Be sure the water is around 153˚ and don’t leave the bird in the pot for too long or you’ll start scorching the fat. We don’t want that.
  2. Prepare your station. I got 3 bowls: One for the innards I fed my dog, one for the parts I didn’t feed to my dog, and one for a water/bleach mixture. I use the water/bleach mixture to dunk my hands if they were nasty or needed to be disinfected, along with my knives/sheers.
  3. BE SURE TO SHARPEN ALL UTENSILS BEING USED! This is SO EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! Take it from someone who has not properly sharpened their tools first – it will change EVERYTHING.
  4. Have two buckets nearby. One to drain the bird after decapitation (we’re talking blood) and another to throw feathers, head, etc. in. If you’re doing multiple birds, you’ll also want a cooler of ice to place the finished birds as you move on to the next so your duck meat doesn’t spoil..
  5. Get an empty feed bag and cut a hole in one of the corners, just large enough for your duck head and neck to be in. I read about this way somewhere because it makes it easier to contain the bird. It also seems to help calm the bird and gives you some promise for a clean cut. (which is good for first the bird and also for you)
  6. OPTIONAL: Turn on music. It’s my personal way of staying calm so that I don’t give negative, scared, uptight energy to my already mad-at-me-for-touching-it bird.

Step by step directions for how to butchering a duck

  1. CATCH YOUR BIRD – BE SURE YOU DO SO IN THE NICEST WAY POSSIBLE! That is what the animal deserves and you can bruise the meat.
  2. Slide your bird into the bag as gently as you can, guiding its head through the hole. I suggest holding your bird for a moment, giving him/her the chance to calm down. After all, how would you like being shoved into a bag?
  3. SO NOW IS THE HARD PART: Lay your bird down on its stomach. (I have a setup where I have two nails with a tie-on one end. The ducks head goes in-between those two nails. I LIGHTLY place the tie over the neck so that I can properly aim.)
  4. Hold the body of your bagged bird and swing your hatchet/ax down as hard and accurately as you can. Some folks using a killing cone, and that’s completely acceptable if it works for you. I did not feel confident with that method, but you might!
  5. Quickly discard the head and flip the bird upside down into the bucket to bleed out. If you miss, or don’t get a clean cut, quickly swing again. Don’t wait or wonder why you’ve decided to do this alone. The duck needs you now more than ever. Don’t let the duck suffer.
  6. OKAY. NOW THAT THE HARD PART IS DONE. Bring your bird to the pot of hot water and bunk it just for a minute. Older birds may need slightly longer, but be careful not to cook your bird before you’ve even plucked it. Plucking the bird is a pain in the rear but do the best you can.
  7. Place feathers in discard bucket, rinse your duck and transfer the bird to the butcher table. Start by cutting the wings and legs at the joints. and place them in the discard bucket
  8. Place the duck on the stomach and make a cut right above the tail. Carefully cut around to the belly of the bird, being sure not to slice too deep and cute open the intestines and what not. Do not ever poke with your knife. Pinch the skin and GENTLY slice. OR you can carefully use your poultry sheers
  9. When you’ve cut through the fat/skin of the bird, slightly slip your fingers in and open the bird up. Then, once you can see the insides, make a small cut up the belly (maybe an inch), tip the bird over your bowl, and pull out the innards. This is really weird and gross the first (and second, and third…) time you do it but you’ve come this far so don’t stop now.
  10. YOU CAN KEEP the lungs, kidneys, heart, spleen, liver, small intestine, large intestine, and bladder to feed to your pup or your chickens.
  11.   NOW THAT THAT IS DONE WITH. Make sure everything is out of your bird. Rinse, check, repeat. All innards need to be outwards now. Pull or cut out the neck and throat, pull out any feathers you missed, rinse one last time and place your bird in the cooler of ice
  12. Transfer the innards you choosing to discard to your discard bucket and start on your next bird, if there is one. If not, start cleaning up!

Then you’re done. Great job! You did it! We did it! We’re becoming homesteaders! One day we’ll feed our families the most delicious food from our own yards and life will be as life should be and death will be there, too.

But life is always the bigger picture, Y’all! Now I know I will get better at this process, as will you. If you have any suggestions for me, I’ll take them gratefully!

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9 Comments

  1. Duck confit says:

    Sometimes there are things we just need to do and get done. I think it’s more of a disservice to ourselves and our kids to NOT kill and clean our own food sometimes. I had to work up to culling birds, and I’m surprised I didn’t do it sooner because the drake I had back then a few yrs ago killed my precious 4 week old hand raised/hatched heirloom gosling (by drowning it in the water bowl trying to mate with her) and shed imprinted on us strongly…. But I just got rid of the loud obnoxious fkock stressing pekin drake bc I just want layer ducks anyway. Was not easy.

    1. Duck confit says:

      Meant to say also: this kind of a post is good because society kind of has a way of surrounding you with ads and already killed and clean meat such that we aren’t even thinking of what we’re eating as having been alive and walking around at one time.. for many of us who weren’t raised on a farm or anything like that it’s hard to know where to start even .. technical of course but even more with the more sensitive aspects as you delve into here. Perhaps with the respect that comes from harvesting our own will come greater respect for the meat and environment itself…. Because meat is not something sustainable if eaten constantly, and diy harvest and rearing makes that point pretty obvious.

  2. Your line, “life will be as life should be and death will be there, too,” has helped me change my entire perspective on our homestead. I’ve now butchered my first three ducks, alone, and will be regularly raising chickens for meat in the future. Thank you for so eloquently putting such a difficult concept.

  3. Callie Varney says:

    “The innards should now be outwards.”
    That line cracked me up!!
    First time duck butcherer here, thank you for the easy to understand instructions!!

    1. Hi Callie! I’m so glad I could give you a laugh and also help you navigate butchering a duck for the first time! I’m 4 years into homesteading and I still watch Youtube videos and read instructions before butchering animals. Best of luck to you! I bet you’ll do GREAT!

  4. I’m preparing to do this for my small Pekin flock. I’ve got a 1:1 ratio of drakes to hens and it isn’t working out for one of the hens. Do I need to purchase a flaying knife? Or will the shears and hatchet be enough?

    1. Hi Joshua! Sorry to hear about your hen. I would suggest using a knife in addition to the shears and hatchet. The hatchet will just be to dispatch the duck. You’ll find that the shears won’t always be 100% convenient when cleaning and dressing. You probably even have a knife in your kitchen that would work this once. I would say to check your kitchen before buying anything. When we started butchering on our homestead I used some fish filet knives I had on hand. I hope that helps! Good luck!

  5. We too killed two of our birds (chickens) in our own backyard. We happened to be living in a subdivision at the time…if only the neighbors knew what was going on that day. Yikes! It was definitely a learning experience but I’m so glad that we did it. It feels good to know where your food is coming from. I’m not sure I could have (mentally) done it all by myself the first time, though. GOOD FOR YOU! Glad I found your blog. Keep up the good work!

    1. thegreenacrehomestead says:

      I recently culled a rooster and it didn’t go as well. Culling is definitely the hardest part of homesteading for me, especially since I didn’t grow up around it. I had to take about 4 days to mentally prepare! And, I agree! It really does feel great to know where your food is coming from. If you subscribe to my mailing list, I send two emails a month and I include more of the personal, real-time things that are happening here on my homestead. I’m glad you found my blog, too, and I look forward to hearing from you again!