Our Rouens are about eight weeks old. We intended to butcher them at seven weeks, due to the rapid drop thereafter in the ratio of feed to weight gain, as discussed on page 209 of Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks by Dave Holderread (2nd ed.). Supposedly seven weeks is also a sweet spot in feather development that allows for easier plucking.
We singled out two Rouen ducks to keep for breeding, freed them to run with the layer ducks, and penned up the remaining eight Rouens. The four-month-old drakes ran free with the rest of the layer flock.
We dove headlong into the meat duck endeavor with only minimal research. We also were too busy to butcher them last week, so we figured better a little late than a lot late, and so Wednesday was the day. We figured we’d go through the process with two drakes, and then proceed with the remaining six if all went well.
I dispatched them with a sharpened hatchet, and Mrs. D scalded them in my stainless brew kettle on a propane burner on the back deck. The idea of putting detergent on anything I plan to eat gives me the creepy-crawlies (ingestion of detergent is implicated in declining male fertility rates, among other problems), but everything I read said adding a little dish soap to your scalding water makes plucking waterfowl much easier, so we bit the bullet and aimed a squirt of at-least-scent-and-dye-free dish soap in the scalding water.
Plucking by hand was fiddly and a bit time-consuming, as expected, but with three of us on one bird it went fairly quickly. I weighed the mostly plucked carcasses, and they both came in at 3 lbs. 11 oz. This was considerably less than we had hoped for. Dressed, they weighed just under 3 pounds each. Given that Rouens are a meat breed (second in size only to Pekins, I had read), this was disappointing. So we stopped to re-think, and do a bit more research.
Apparently the time windows for ease of plucking happen just before a molt, when new feathers come in. This happens at different ages with different types of ducks, and I understand the first window can be observed when the bird has gained all of its adolescent feathers at somewhere between six and ten weeks, and before the adult, breed-specific feathering starts to come in. Our four-month-old Rouen drakes already have iridescent green heads, so that is presumably after the pre-molt window we’re looking for.
In an entry entitled Raising Meat Ducks at Purely Poultry, Tyler Danke suggests butchering Rouens at an age when you like the flavor that the meat has developed, and not worrying about plucking every last feather if you are planning to eat them yourself, since a few stray feathers just get roasted off in the oven anyway. He butchers his drakes at 4 months, but mentions that some people prefer to wait 12 or even 18 months for richer flavor.
Murray McMurray Hatchery suggests, “[Rouens] can be dressed at 10-12 weeks or 5-6 months when well feathered and matured.”
As an experiment, and since we have a surplus of drakes, we decided to go ahead and butcher one of the 4-month-olds. His plucked weight was almost 5 pounds, but dressed, he still weighed just under 3 pounds, just like his juniors. He was marginally larger, and his guts were much more developed, particularly the kidneys, but it’s like that whole extra pound was in the innards, and not the meat.
These are free-range ducks, and we don’t expect them to put on weight like factory-farmed birds, but we were expecting a little more meat for the dinner table. Of course, our initial experiment won’t really be complete until we sit down for dinner tomorrow. Mrs. D. has been basting two of the ducks with honey and vinegar, in preparation for roasting.
If you have raised Rouens for meat before, at what age did you butcher your ducks, and how happy were you with the dressed weight and the flavor? Please leave a comment on this post, or send me an email. I’m also soliciting input about this at The Survival Podcast Forum and Backyard Chickens.
Sharpening knives in preparation for butchering.
The sharperner is a Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. Knives are a Shun DM0700 Classic 3-1/2-Inch Paring Knife and its bigger brother, the Shun DM0701 Classic 6 Inch Utility Knife. I primarily used the latter for dressing the ducks.