Maybe you love meat but feel squeamish about how it gets to your dinner plate - or at least you think you do. Maybe you're just curious about how an animal transits from walking around to lying in a roasting pan, a delicious golden-brown. Either way, this column's for you.
It's the final installment of a series I started in May to track the tale of two dinners from Pemberton Valley, one a white Muscovy duck raised by Jennie Helmer at Helmers' Organic Farm, the other a Queensland blue squash grown by Sarah McMillan at Rootdown Organics. Last week we covered the surprisingly successful ending of the squash; this week - the final chapter of the Muscovy duck.
The last time we checked in with the duck, he'd grown from a small puffball of down to become a sleek white bird close to his mother's size. By August, he was a rambunctious teenager splashing around the duck pond and sunbathing with his siblings, and jumping up to pluck berries from a mountain ash tree - a favourite treat.
Now here's the last chapter in our duck's saga from farmyard to tabletop.
ALL IS CALM
The day ducks, or any animals, are killed and processed on the Helmer farm, a quiet calm descends over it.
Usually a Muscovy duck is killed and processed before six or seven months of age. That's when the meat starts becoming tougher and gamier and the large, coloured pinfeathers develop, which are harder to pluck.
So it was that on Sept. 28 our duck was killed, along with the other ducks in his set, at about four months of age. It was an ideal time - he'd put on a few more pounds since August on his healthy diet of organic grains from In Season Farms in Abbotsford, foraged greens and lots of fresh water.
"We decide the week ahead and try to find a day when we're all around because it's a fair amount of work," says Jennie. "There were nine of us and it took us about five hours to do nine ducks, so it's quite time-consuming, really."
A few people come year after year to help the Helmers. They don't necessarily have their own ducks or chickens - some are simply interested in the process.
The day before, things are made ready. Tables are lined up in the barn and covered with plastic; the best, sharpest knives are brought out (these from Ming Wo in Vancouver); and garbage cans are lined with bags.
"I can't do any of the killing because I am responsible for taking care of them all summer so when it came time on that day, I think I went and dug carrots while mom and Anna did most of it," says Jennie.