Ducks In Depth

Realizations From Killing and Eating An Animal We Raised Ourselves

Tyrant Farms - Welsh Harlequin ducks

A few years ago, we didn’t put too much thought into the meat we’d buy at the grocery store. Sure, we’d try to pick the packages with labels like “organic” or “pasture-raised,” but the full connection to the reality that those little lumps of pink flesh were recently living, feeling, breathing animals with unique personalities just wasn’t fully there in our minds.

How could it be?

The way we used to source our meat had the same desensitizing effect that many people in our society have developed towards violence. Those aren’t “real” animals we’re buying and eating, they’re cheap chunks of protein. Likewise, that’s not a “real” person being injured or murdered, that’s just some other video game character, TV actor or unfortunate person being talked about on the nightly news.

None of it is real. None of it matters. None of it is connected to ME. And ME is all that matters in the game called “life on earth.” Or so we believe.

“I don’t care how you do it, just feed me cheaply.” “I don’t care who or what has to die or suffer in the process, just give me a constant stream of cheap calories and entertainment.” This is what we tell the market to deliver, and the market delivers it to us with ruthless, devastating efficiency. To make sure we don’t notice what we’re responsible for, the market hides the externalities created by our cheap decisions in foreign sweat shops, polluted ecosystems, and welfare costs that “somebody else” has to pay for. It’s not my fault, and if you try to tell me it is, then I’ll choose to change the channel to something more emotionally soothing or distracting.

A Conscious Life

Today, Larry, one of our Welsh Harlequin ducks, had the only bad two minutes of his entire life. We raised him since he was just a couple of weeks old, feeding him the best possible food; letting him forage daily for insects, worms and fresh organic produce in our garden; providing a pool with clean, fresh water that he swam in daily; putting him up and taking him out of his protected coop (aka the “Quacker Box“) each night and morning so no predators could get to him while he slept; and petting him and feeding him special treats almost daily.

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We should also add that Larry was a bit of a jerk. When we got our first four ducks (for the purpose of egg production), we didn’t know how to sex them (male and female ducklings look pretty much identical). We picked out four ducklings from a local breeder, crossed our fingers and hoped for more females than males.

Duck eggs - Welsh Harlequin duck eggs

Lady Margaret Thrasher (our oldest Welsh Harlequin duck) has produced one beautiful duck egg every day for the past 45 days!

As our ducks matured, we realized we’d picked out three males and one female. Oops. Now, if you know anything about ducks, you know that 3 boys:1 girl is not a good ratio given their mating and socializing habits. The ideal ratios are a minimum of two females for every male.

Even as a duckling, Larry was always a bit anti-social. He hated being handled and he didn’t seem to enjoy socializing with the rest of his flock. When he matured, he became very aggressive to the two other males and was even violent towards Margaret Thrasher, our female.

After we realized that our first “flock” was mostly males, we got three new female Welsh Harlequin ducklings. Larry hated these fuzzy, yellow balls of duckling adorableness with a passion. Despite the fact that the three new females are now nearly adults, Larry still constantly tried to attack and injure them. We tried every means of socializing the two flocks together that we could think of, experimenting with multiple cooping and fencing strategies to get them used to being near each other without Larry being able to actually get a hold of them. Nothing worked. Larry was never going to let the two flocks integrate and he was going to be aggressive towards any males or females he could get his beak on.

So, yesterday we picked Larry up, petted him one last time, put him into a hand-made contraption to hold him firmly in place, then cut the jugular vein in his neck. He barely kicked, and he was dead in just a few minutes. Throughout the process, we looked Larry in the eyes and talked to him. We thanked him for his life and told him that no part of him would go to waste or be forgotten. We apologized to him if he was experiencing pain or suffering and told him it would be over soon. This was probably the most difficult thing the two of us have ever done together, and we’d be lying to say that we haven’t cried many times during and after the act.

Larry wasn’t just a piece of meat, he was part of our flock; he was (and is) part of us. The most disrespectful treatment we could possibly pay this beautiful animal would be to expect his life to simply be reduced to a ten second financial transaction, wherein his entire existence boiled down to how cheaply we can purchase the meat from his once-living body. How barbaric. How inhumane. How cruel to the animal and to the person.

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We humans have the capacity to be so much smarter and more ethical than we’re currently demonstrating in our numbed-downed and dumbed-down state.

We refuse to be numb, desensitized or uncaring. We want to know where the products we buy (food included) come from and what their TRUE costs are. We feel we have a responsibility to do so. Being one or two steps removed from the outsourcing of pain, suffering, brutality, exploitation, deaths, etc doesn’t mean that we’re not responsible for the outcomes we create, just like hiring a hit man doesn’t mean we’re not murderers. It would just mean we’re blithely indifferent and intellectually dishonest, which in many ways is far worse than being the actual people, companies or governments we ultimately hire to commit these acts on our behalf.

The Virtuous Cycle

One truth about this world is that some life dies so that other life can live. And the cycle repeats. It can and should be a profoundly beautiful, virtuous cycle. To make it such, requires us to be awake and aware, connected to the consequences of our decisions and the web of life that we’re each a part of.

Every part of Larry the Duck will be used either in our garden or on our dinner plate. His physical parts will not be wasted or squandered, and they will give rise to new life which will eventually give rise to more new life, in a continuous rhythmic dance that is as old as life on our planet.

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We hope that sharing Larry’s life and death with others will also help ensure that the non-physical parts of the animal will be used to their highest potential as well. If reading this article helps you further grasp the importance of sourcing humanely raised, healthy animals for food (or choose to become a vegetarian or vegan), then that’s a beautiful, worthy outcome of Larry’s life.

What’s the spark inside us that makes our component parts come to life? What happens to that spark when an animal or plant dies? Those are questions that each of us can and should explore in our own ways, to the best of our abilities. However, if we want to create and share a planet that we purposefully design in such a way as to optimize the health and wellbeing of all living plants and animals on it (including humans, not just FOR humans), we should not allow ourselves to be desensitized to the full impact of our decisions. If you choose to eat meat, the price tag should be the last feature that you’re concerned about. Otherwise, please choose to be a vegetarian—and of course, eat as much local, organic produce (preferably raised by you) as possible!

Your life matters. Your decisions matter. We are deeply and profoundly connected to each other and the other life forms on this planet. Don’t ever let those truths be manipulated or taken from you.

An Afterword…

The two “flocks” merged immediately after Larry was gone and have spent the past 12 hours sleeping, eating, playing, swimming and foraging together. Each male now has two females, and we intend to provide all six animals with a life-long environment designed for their optimal happiness and healthiness. In return, they’ll provide us with many hours of wholesome entertainment, lots of garden fertilizer, pest control, and the best, freshest, healthiest eggs we can possibly eat. When our ducks eventually succumb to old age, their humans will put them back into the earth, plant a perennial plant over them, and watch in awe as the virtuous cycle that we’re a part of starts anew.


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  • April Gordon

    Wonderful and moving essay. I could not do what you did, but I deeply admire your humane and sensitive reflections. AG

    • Aaron

      Thank you AG! :) It was and continues to be an extraordinarily profound experience for us.

  • Pamela Stergios

    Why did it take several minutes for the duck to die/ bleed out? Was there not an instant way to do it??

    • Aaron

      Pamela: Thanks for your question. We’ve read a lot about the most humane ways to kill fowl while also ensuring that the meat isn’t negatively impacted in the process. You can cut off their heads, but that method is becoming less preferred to the method we used, especially for small scale meat producers. Our go-to resource on ducks is “Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks,” and they also recommend the method we used. Apparently, the animal experiences almost no pain, and the heart effectively pumps all the blood out of the animal’s body without triggering any stress hormones which can make the meat taste “gamey.” It was certainly not something that we derived any pleasure from, and after the experience we’re going to be eating even less meat than we did before. Most of our non-vegetable-based protein comes from eggs and dairy products that we or farmers we know produced. Hope that answers your question!

  • bucks corner

    What a beautiful and moving tribute to Larry! Couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote.

    • Susan

      Thank you, really appreciate your support.

  •; Maggi Hall

    Aaron, I am so very very proud of all you are doing to nurture the environment and teach others the value of ethical gardening. Your mom sent the video of your lovely wife and kitty and we all had such a grand laugh. You have inherited your mom’s love for gardening. When I first met her she had something weird growing in a jelly jar in the kitchen window of your dad’s house! May you and Susan have a rich and joyous and extremely healthy life!!! God bless you – PS, you’re even more handsome than the last time I saw you.

    Hugs and love,
    Maggi Hall (a vegetarian) and Ron; Erin and Amy and all their family

  • Lindsay

    Thank you for sharing your experience. As an animal lover, meat eater, and someone who had egg laying ducks growing up your post spoke to me. I think many of our generation are coming to realize the whole picture of meat production. Some are embracing it by raising their own, and others by abstaining from meat. Looking to get back into raising ducks for eggs, your story is a reminder that sometimes raising animals comes with an unexpected side. I too would struggle to dispatch Larry, and I ponder would I be able to do it with my own future ducks? I’m curious if you were able to follow through and pluck, gut him?
    I ask this because recently for the first time my fiancé (a hunter and something I struggle with) brought home a pheasant. Vowing to not let this beautiful bird go to waste, I watched several videos/read articles on how to pluck and gut it. It took me 2 hours to do it, but in honor of the animal it was well worth it. I did cry, I thanked it, I paused before having to cut off head, feet and wings, but in the end it started to shape up to be something like you see at the market. Oddly over this two our span it started become a bit more familiar and comforting. It was my own awakening to ‘this is how it’s done…’. It seems you wrote this article on the eve of Larry’s death, I’m curious were you able to pluck him and eat him? How did it end up? Did you have any further thought provoking experiences during that transition from fowl to food?

    Would you do it again?

  • Silica

    Thank you, thoughtful and not pulling any punches.

  • Amber Zenner

    A nap and a foot rub, those ducks are treated better than humans! Also, I deeply sympathize with your decision to humanely end Larry’s life- not something I could do (and shows how much of a disconnect I/we have with the food system). I look forward to more blog posts.

  • Banafsheh Ehtemam

    So my question to you , why did you kill Larry? Was it because he didn’t get along with others?