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Food and Drink

No blubber duckie

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First, the ducks that are going to be killed are separated from the other animals - even the dogs are tied up. It's all part of the love and respect the Helmers show their animals.

"We don't want the ducks that are alive to see what's happening with the ducks that are being killed," she says. "They're very calm, so mom picks them up, opens their mouth and runs a sharp knife into the top of their head through the soft palette. It stuns them right away. Then she cuts their throat and holds them over a bucket until they bleed out."

The birds are killed instantly with no pain and no struggle, so "there is no wing flapping or chopping off the heads and throwing them onto the ground. Otherwise you're dealing with broken bones, and it's not very nice."

It usually takes a couple of minutes for the duck to bleed out, then it's passed to the next table, where someone is waiting to cut off the head, the lower legs and the wing tips that don't contain meat. These parts along with the blood and feathers - everything that isn't eaten - are later collected and buried deeply in the compost, where they decompose. (Blood is a big part of replenishing nutrients in the soil. Commercial blood meal can be used, but that brings blood from other farms onto your land.)

Now the duck body looks much like one you'd buy at a store, except it's still covered in white feathers. This stage - plucking - takes the longest by far, and several people are on standby to start immediately since it's much easier to do when the animal is still warm.

"Everything is quite clean, if you can imagine, because once you cut the legs and wings off there are no bloody bits. Even the down itself and the feathers are all very clean," says Jennie.

It takes two people about half an hour to pluck one duck, then it's passed to the next table, which is run by Jennie's sister, Anna. A certain skill is needed here to pull out all the innards without rupturing anything and making a mess. Edible organs like the heart and liver are set aside. Surprisingly, there are no unpleasant smells.

When the birds are all plucked and cleaned, they're rinsed and placed into freezer bags, ready for the freezer or fresh eating.

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