Duck Smiting

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Some people call it “harvesting.” Others – more directly – “butchering.” We call it smiting. As in, smite the ducks. As in what the pharaoh did to his various enemies. We do this to add some levity to what is a serious thing.

And – of course – the ducks are far from being our enemies.

They are our food. And we are thankful for the food they provide. We just smote two of our ducks the other day and they are now handsomely resplendent in the ‘fridge, awaiting their even more handsome and resplendent appearance on the dinner table.

Duck (and chicken) smiting is not for everyone. It wasn’t easy for me, either. I don’t think it should be easy. And not just because it is the taking of life, a serious thing. A thing that – hopefully – makes you think.

I think it is too easy to just go to the store and pick up “meat” – as I have, many times – and not have to think that it was once a living being. To be able to disconnect what you eat from what it was – and what it means.

I knew the ducks I smote. I raised them. Fed them and watered them, every day, for months. I got to know them and they got to know me. It was not easy to end their lives. I know where the meat that is now in the ‘fridge came from and what it took to get it there.

This makes me more appreciative of it – and of them. The “meat” did not just fall from the sky, like manna. It is hard work to raise your own food. To care for the living creatures we are responsible for.

Italics to emphasis an important thing, I think.

I know our birds had a good life and – much more important to me – that they did not have a bad life. That their lives were not a serial torment from the moment they emerged from their shells. That – instead of living in a cramped and filthy pen – they lived free to roam (and swim). To eat what came naturally.

To feel the sun.

And when the time came for their lives to end, they were ended quickly and as painlessly as possible. They were not roughly stuffed into cramped cages with their fellows, to be trucked to a distant assembly-line abattoir for “processing,” as the euphemism styles it. They were smote within a minute or so of being picked up. And “smote” is just a euphemism, too. What we actually do is scoop up a bird (one at a time) and (very quickly) sit down with it on the grass, the bird between my legs to hold it still. With my left hand holding the bird’s head, I use my right to quickly slice its throat. Unconsciousness is probably nearly instantaneous.

And then, it’s over.

The hard part. Once dead, the birds we knew are meat. But also more than just meat. They are a bounty for which we are grateful in a profound and serious way that never attends the purchase of something wrapped in plastic that is just meat. There is a communion of sorts involved and while the birds may not have wished to be a party to it, we thank them for it, as hunters often do after taking a deer. It invites reflection about the nature of things and our place in it – as well as theirs.

That life requires death – and death gives life.

I also know that what we eat hasn’t been injected with anything. Is truly “natural” – and not just a marketing logo on a package. And I know how it tastes – which (if you haven’t tasted it) is a taste that is nothing like the taste of store-bought meat, which has been through god-knows-what and is the end result of a chain-of-events you’d probably rather not know about.

I know, also, that I didn’t just spend $100-plus on a couple of store-bought ducks. That being the going rate, last time I checked. And I know that raising them wasn’t free, either – certainly not in terms of the time it took. But I know that we will have meat this winter – because our birds don’t come from the store. Neither do the eggs we eat every day. If the store hasn’t got any eggs – or meat – or we can’t afford to buy eggs or meat from the store – we’ll still have eggs and meat, right here.

And that is worth a great deal more than whatever it would have cost us to buy a couple of ducks at the store.

. . .

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Helps answer two questions; why everybody is fat, and why nobody blesses their meal anymore.

    When the blood, sweat and sacrifice that went into most everybody’s daily meal was so obvious and right in front of you, the meal was eaten more slowly, savored, enjoyed for what it was and the fact that it may not be there tomorrow.

    Instead we now “consume” a veritable avalanche of all manner of Frankenfoods by the mega-calorie, and wonder why half the nation is five hundred pounds.

    In that light it also explains why so few ask for a meal’s blessing anymore.

    Seems almost sacrilegious to ask for a blessing of a Big Mac.

    Too bad I didn’t know you needed a rooster…my daughter and I were down in your neck of the woods on a trip to Dollywood and Cass Mountain Rail Road in WV. I have a couple I could spare, a young Rhode Island red and an older Brahma.

    • Hi AF,

      I’m not specifically religious, but agree with your observations regarding blessings – and being thankful for them. Taking things for granted is always a bad idea as it leads to not appreciating what you have and forgetting that you might not have it tomorrow. Thanks for bringing up this important point. And – no worries about the rooster!

      • Amen, Eric! And funny- the spirit of the world seems to be the exact opposite of thankfulness and appreciation- It seems more now than ever, disregard,entitlement, and wanting more no matter how much one has, have become the universal mantras.

  2. Catching up on my Eric reading. When I was little and would visit one side of the family, we all went to church. Sometimes grandmother would stay home and get Sunday dinner ready. She would kill a few chickens and we would come home to the best fried chicken in the world. So, in a few hours, while we were gone, she killed, dressed and had food on the table that had been running around not long before.
    On the other side of the family, my grandaddy would go out behind the shop buildings and grab some chickens, lay them on a short log standing up, chop their head off, they would get up and run around. I was amazed to see them running around headless. I didn’t think anything about it. I’m sure a few hours later we had fried chicken.

    • Hi Elaine!

      It’s an experience – and one I think that’s healthy and grounding. I felt good – as well as satisfied – after last night’s meal. Next time, I plan to try my hand at Pekin Duck!

      PS: I’ll be on David Knight’s show in about 15 minutes….

  3. We did the chicken, cow, thing in addition to hunting deer. (Wife got the biggest trophy….. but she was using my rifle that day. Do I get any points?)

    Four of us processed 25 chickens one day. Never again! It consolidates the unpleasant activity, but drags it out too long to compensate.

    We felt the same about all our eating stock being well off as opposed to commercial stocks. Our cows had names, we petted them, we took good care of them, then they became steaks and such. We warned the kids not to name the first one, thinking it might be rough when he showed up on the table. But soon it was “Cow did this” or “Cow did that” so he became Cow. I guess they were well prepared for the inevitable, since there were no repercussions at dinner times. I always felt one of my acquaintances was a real ass, and asking for trouble, when he would tell his kids that the chicken they were eating was made in factories and was not real chicken like those in the cartoons. Kind of like Santa and the Easter Bunny?

    We considered rabbits several times, but I am not a fan of lean, and furry things are kind of sympathetic companions. We knew a missionary to Chile who said many families had Guinea Pigs. They had two purposes: the kids had pets that were easy to care for; and they made wonderful Sunday dinners. He claimed the “pig” part was appropriate as they did taste like roast pork.

    I have opined that everyone, on turning 18, should have to tour a slaughter house. Then the decision to become carnivore or vegan would have a basis beyond that of seeing that “factory meat”, neatly wrapped in a foam tray. The realization that something has to die (even veggies, for that matter) for us to live has been long lost, at least in the Western World.

  4. Mr. Rogers said he couldn’t eat anything that had a mother. I kinda understand.

    Many years ago, my son wanted to go hog hunting in south Alabama. I told him if you kill it, you cut it. By then he’d field dressed deer but for some reason the thought of gutting / cutting a hog bothered him.

    • Rule was, “you kill it, you clean it & eat it”*

      *Obvious exceptions applied: Vermin, especially the entire class rodentia. Also anything that was diseased/rabid/etc.

      The idea was, that life was to be respected and killing was not supposed to be wasteful or wanton, it had to have a purpose. “For food” was a valid purpose. “For protection”— I.e. if attacked—was also valid. “For sport” i.e., solely to put antlers on the wall, was frowned upon and “for fun” was unconscionable.

      That’s not exactly what you’ll get in hunter ed, but that was how we looked at it.

  5. I hear ya, Eric.

    I smited (“smit”?) some “excess” roosters a few years back. From now on, I will just be content to eat eggs, ’cause killing things ain’t for me.

    I used to trap and shoot pesky raccoons and possums- but now I just disorient them by driving around in circles and then release them on the far corner of my property. I’ll never forget the last raccoon I shot… It wouldn’t have been so bad if he just would’ve died immediately- but after four .357 magnums to the head, his legs were still running in place as he layed there on his side (Damn…I’m getting a tear in my eye just thinking about it).

    Before that, I tried poisoning a possum with antifreeze, thinking it’d be more humane. It wasn’t. The poor thing died alright…but boy, what a horrible lingering death. I feel like Dr. Mengele….. From now on, I’ll confine my smiting to two-legged creatures who want to harm me, only.

  6. I know our birds had a good life and – much more important to me – that they did not have a bad life.

    PETA people don’t like domesticated animals. They don’t understand that there’s inter-species give and take here. Outside of the pen they’re prey to any number of predators, from foxes and coyotes (if you’re in their neighorhood) to the apex predator house cat. By feeding and protecting the birds you let them relax, something that wouldn’t happen in nature. They had an unnaturally long life. And when their time is over, the end was quick. And they never knew it was coming. I’ll bet the other ducks just continued on their way while the deed was performed. Imagine the ruckus if a fox got into the pen!

    The city folk in Colorado felt it necessary to reintroduce wolves into the state. As expected sheep and cattle are being attacked and killed. I serously doubt the wolves watched the YouTube video on how best to slaughter a calf (and it is calves and lambs since they’re weaker and easy to attack), so it is going to be a long, painful and messy affair. For sure there’s going to be a lot of leftovers for the crows and magpies to pick at.

  7. When we cull our flock of ducks or chickens it’s always a little odd to think we raised them from egg to table as I’m raising the hatchet. I do find I have a much deeper appreciation for the food on the table I’ve raised it myself as opposed to six pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs brought home from the big box. Prior to 2020 I’d never cleaned anything more than a fish, so there was a bit of a learning curve. I waste very little of a home grown chicken or duck. From organ meats to the carcass for broth, and rendered duck fat the (inedible) parts are composted. Hopefully next year I can get enough row crops going to feed all my birds with minimal if not zero store bought feed. Also water collection as ducks use a lot of water for bathing, drinking etc. I do free range so there isn’t as much expense as there could be.

    There is lot of work involved, so the birds are far from “free,” but the value of growing your own and knowing precisely what sort of environment they grew up in has its own value. I think a lie many have been sold is the only value system that exists are one’s and zeros in your account.

  8. As you said they lived a good life free from the stress of commercially raised livestock. At some point I’ll probably get chickens and have the same sad chore to perform.

    One question I’ve got though is a few weeks or so back you mentioned on the Bryan Hyde Show that some of your ducks had crossbred. Just wondering when we get to see pictures of them?

  9. I hunted for about 45 years (too old now). At first it was just a challenge, and a sport. I soon made the spiritual connection. If you are going to eat other creatures, you have a responsibility to participate in the death of at least some of those creatures. To get blood on your hands. To smell the odor of dissecting an animal. To experience the animal’s death, personally. The regret, and the appreciation. Thanked my game, and gave them a kiss before putting them in the bag, or loading them in the truck. As I told my ex-wife when she first saw me to that with a deer, “it keeps the deer god happy”. If they have one.
    Upon further reflection, a bullet is a game animal’s friend. Death in the wild is most often starving to death, or being eaten alive. Sometimes both at once.

  10. Butchered plenty of chickens, always some upland game out there, butcher a deer, over the years that’s what you do. Don’t really eat wild goose. Let them fly with the cranes and wild ducks. Winter is coming, avian populations are migrating south. They know what is going to happen.

    The North American continent from the south of Mexico to the northern end of Canada has an estimated 20 billion birds.

    Don’t hunt and raise chickens so much anymore, too old and lazy. Maybe next spring a few chickens in the yard to butcher at six weeks for a few. Nothing like spring chicken.

    You need a chicken plucker if you want to butcher a hundred at a time.

    Buy pork roast at the store, then grind half of it and make sausage at home, add your favorite spices. The first half is going to be pork roast with mashed potatoes and gravy.

    As for fish, Icelandic cod is the choice to make. Haddock is another good choice. A 600 pound blue fin tuna out in the middle of the ocean will eat squid, shellfish, and fish. Going to have an accumulation of mercury from ocean waters, don’t eat too much tuna.

    Grill the chicken thighs on the grill, add your own barbecue sauce. I use a store brand hickory, add more ketchup, add more mustard, then add Frank’s hot sauce to the mix.

    You’ll have a good barbecue sauce for grilling. You can’t go wrong.

    You can go the raw state route with molasses, other spices, salt, pepper, garlic, ketchup, mustard, some vinegar, and be sure to add more Frank’s hot sauce.

    Add the barbecue sauce after 25 minutes of grilling the chicken.

    At my locale, the summer of 2022 did not reach a high temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit on any given day during June, July, August, and September. An indication of a cooling trend.

    The hottest summer day I have ever seen was in August of 1988, the temp in the shade was 108 degrees F. Has never been hotter since then. In August of 2007, the temp was 102-104 degrees for a few days.

    It is dry and there has been little precipitation for a good 120 days now. The creek is full of water, so it is not drought conditions yet.

    Those grocery store shelves will be empty in about three days if the trucks don’t arrive on time.

    Freewheelin’ Franklin says to keep on trucking.

  11. My wife bought four Rock Cornish chicks. Ugly birds missing feathers but they grow fast and eat accordingly. They mostly sit in front of the feeder and eat; ready to eat after just a few months. Anyway, I think they’re too fat to fly into the coop, so I told my wife we’ll butcher the worst off (it could barely waddle). I hung it upside down and cut the artery, sprayed a bit. The wife did the plucking & butchering. Anyway, she won’t do another unless we’re out of food – too much work removing the feathers, even with the boiling water.

    One other got eaten while a chick, another could no longer walk and just lay in the dirt all day and just died. Winter’s coming, and I don’t know what my wife’s going to do with that last one.

  12. As a kid I helped my neighbors with their chicken slaughter, which they did by hanging them all by their feet on the fence, then grabbing the head and cutting it off completely. That’s not a good method, because without their (admittedly tiny) cranium functioning, they don’t drain the blood as well.

    During Escape & Evasion training, I was put in charge of a faux “fire team” of five college freshmen. I was given a #10 can, some potatoes, some rice, some carrots, and a live chicken; it was my responsibility to make sure they all ate.

    I assigned some to peel and chop the potatoes and carrots, another to start a fire, and one to fetch water. None volunteered for the chicken slaughter, so I used the method helot mentioned above: grabbed the chicken by the legs, gave it three big overhand swings, stepped on the head, and pulled. Then I threw my steel pot over it, because the proverbial “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is very true.

    I skinned it instead of plucking, because this was to simulate an emergency scenario. I cut it into the major parts, everything went into the boiling #10 can over the fire, along with rice and veggies. It wasn’t quality fare, but it was nutritious.

    Both kosher and halal slaughter call for severing the carotid, trachea, and esophagus with one swipe of a very sharp knife. Do not sever the spine.

    I’ve read that some today prefer the cone, and slice only the arteries to reduce panic; the animal breathes normally while bleeding out peacefully.

  13. Butchering, is the hardest part. I imagine that’s why I see ads on Craigslist so often for free or super-cheap city chickens.

    I’ve never actually butchered a chicken. Or, a duck.

    I read some bits online and took some sloppy notes for when the time comes. …It’s kind of, I guess you could say, ‘shocking’ to me to find out videos of the process are banned by YouTube (as far as I know) …as if it were pornography or some such and our natural relation to the world is illegal, or forbidden, etc.

    It sure would be easier to remember how to do it if I could see it done, as opposed to reading the step by step.

    I learned the first step from my dairy farmer Grandpa: head goes under the boot, press down a bit, then pull & toss.

    I’ve been thinking the ‘cone method’ might be a more frugal way. The blood, if collected, is supposed to be a great garden fertilizer. Or, so I’ve read.

    I know about the scalding bucket of water for plucking the feathers, it’s just the in-between part I’m not experienced with.

    Rabbits, squirrels, fish & frogs seem easy in comparison for some reason

    Anyway, when you wrote, “That – instead of living in a cramped and filthy pen – they lived free to roam (and swim). To eat what came naturally” I kinda felt bad.

    You see, my rooster, he’s kind of rough on the hens, so much so, I think some of them are permanently bald on their backs. So, I put The Menace into a large cage.
    Perhaps, I just need a nicer rooster, Idk?

    A neighbor told me a rooster might be stressing on hens & lead to lower egg production. Yeesh, ‘stressing’ sure was an understatement.

    [The majority of city-slickers I know, or have known, would likely be absolutely creeped out/repulsed by this thread. Anti-human?]

    • Hi helot,

      We named our chicks (raised them since birth). We probably should not have done that.
      The problem is you bond with them. Unfortunately, we have four roos and three pullets. Fortunately, one of the roos has no interest in the hens, so he gets to hang out with them. The other three are horny little bastards. We separate the girls and boys during the day and allow them in the coop at night. Everyone is perched in the evening, so it is difficult for any hanky panky to take place.

      We can’t bring ourselves to kill them. The pullets are laying eggs and started when we isolated the girls from the boys. Apparently, the pullets were under a great deal of stress with the roos in the run with them. The question is what does one do with four roos? We either have to get rid of them or eat them. We know if we give them away someone else is going to eat them. I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Although if our alpha roo attacks me one more time like he did last Saturday (he is known as Asshole Ed) he may be the first to grace our tabletop.

        • If you were right down the road, I would be more than happy to. 🙂 Unfortunately, most of the roos are Silkies and they are not meat birds, just small little fluffy cotton ball looking things, but the daughter loves them. Asshole Ed is a Barred Rock. He is actually a large, gorgeous bird, but don’t get near his girls or his coop. I was actually thinking about showing him…if I don’t choke him first.

          • Our rooster is a huge Barred Rock, also. He just got worse & worse about attacking: me, a feed bucket, or anything (or anyone else!) which came near him.

            Amazingly, he really is intimidating. He could easily take out an eye if you’re bending over & not paying enough attention.

            I suspect it’ll only be a matter of time before you get attacked hard by yours.

            I shoulda called him Earl.

            The Dixie Chicks song, “Earl had to die” plays when I walk by his cage as he tries attacking me through the wire:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI7nWklQwrg

            I cannot imagine trying to separate a rooster from his hens on a daily basis. At a minimum, the opportunity cost is too great.

            • One of my neighbors used to have this rooster…. She’d have to carry a shovel every time she went to the coop, to fend him off (And she was a big lady!).

              • Hi Nunz,

                The Barred Rock roos are vicious. Fortunately, we one have one of them. The Silkie roos are pretty calm birds except when they are torturing the pullets. The problem I have now is one of the hens have attached herself to him. She won’t free range without him there, she won’t eat unless he is next to her, etc. Who would have thought chickens would be so complex?

    • Thanks, Philo!

      Also: Have you had any issues posting comments lately? MY computer guy has been making some adjustments to weed out the endless spam… thanks in advance for any heads up in this regard.

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