Leg bands are essential if you plan to breed your birds, or just to keep track of who is who in the coop. They’re good for marking clans, generations, new arrivals… and for separating the sheep from the goats, as it were.
While the spiral leg bands you can get from the feed store work fine, you still have to refit your chicks with larger sizes as they grow. A cheaper option, requiring only nominally more maintenance, is to use colored wire ties, a.k.a. zip ties. They can be had in bulk online at sites like eBay and Amazon. My local Harbor Freight store had some heavy duty ones, and it’s quite possible your local hardware store has some, too.
The only real difference we’ve found is that since the spiral leg bands do have a little room to expand as the bird’s leg grows in girth, you have a little more time in which to change the bands as the birds outgrow them – although they will eventually get painfully tight. The zip ties do not stretch or expand at all, and must be clipped off and replaced with a larger size before the bird outgrows them, to avoid ugly, unnecessary, often-bloody injury to the constricted leg. (I figure if I’m not inspecting my birds often enough to notice that a leg band is getting tight, I’ve got bigger problems.)
We have three different breeds of chicken that we have bred or have plans to breed (White Chanteclers, Icelandics, and Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes), and have found it useful to have a large variety of colors and sizes of zip ties.
Amazon currently sells a pack of 500 count 6″ zip ties in eight assorted colors for $9.99, which works out to not quite $0.02 ea.
Even cheaper, on eBay I bought a pack of 500 count 4″ zip ties in five colors for a grand total of under $6.00, including shipping from Hong Kong (didn’t take too long to get here, either, considering the distance – I don’t know how sellers like this do it, but I hope they’re making a profit from the volume if nothing else).
I also got some of these from Harbor Freight. They’re beefy 8″ ties, and “on sale” at $2 for a pack of a hundred, they’re nothing if not cheap:
The tool of choice for removing these, and for clipping off the excess length when applying them, is a pair of side cutters, a.k.a. “dykes”, like this:
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.
Acquired two free, young Rouen drakes (ducks), whose advances were roundly rejected by the immature laying ducks. The lady who dropped them off had hatched them, but apparently she had a roughly 1:1 ratio of drakes to females, and the latter group were feeling roundly harassed. We thought she was bringing two drakes and a duck (female) but she was only getting rid of her drakes. This is fine, as our 10 straight-run Rouens are due to make their way to the freezer any day now, so a free drake past the ideal slaughter age means one more at prime in the freezer. We will probably find another home for the second free drake. At the moment they are a little shy of people, so I had to try to capture them while running past, hence the blurry images. My second son did manage to catch one and bond with it, sort of.
Mrs. D. and I spent the morning removing a circle of railroad ties from the front lawn and putting them in a neat stack next to the shed. They were part of a landscaping plan that pre-dated our presence here, but they looked a mess and required a whole lot of unnecessary weed-whacking. With a little smoothing of the bumps, it will now be possible to cut it all with the mower. Found a huge colony of large red ants under some of the ties, which reminds me that I need to order or formulate some orange oil/molasses hormicide for when the biting critters are close enough to the house to create a hazard.
Took the kids to the movies in the afternoon.