For marketing, ducklings should have a well-rounded breast filled with meat and showing very little breastbone. Studies on carcase composition have shown that the relatively high fat content of ducks is almost entirely due to their large body size at marketing. The percentage of fat increases with body size.
Some growers prefer to market both sexes 2 weeks later (at 13 weeks for ducks and 16 weeks for drakes), and others market both sexes at 14 weeks of age. The correct time to market Muscovies is before they lose their downy feathers and before the wing tips cross over on the back.
Before growing ducks, arrange a market outlet, preferably at a prearranged price per kilogram liveweight. Negotiate directly with a processor. The only really reliable market is before Christmas when larger ducks and drakes, such as Muscovies, are in constant demand. Once a reputation for supplying prime quality birds is obtained, direct on-the-farm sales can become an important outlet. This method of selling usually means a higher net income per bird.
Producers who plan to slaughter, process or transport their own duck products on a commercial basis must conform with the Food Regulation 2004 under the NSW Food Act 2003 (www.legislation.nsw.gov.au). The Act is administered by the NSW Food Authority — Contact Centre, phone 1300 552 406 or website www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au. Poultry meat processors must comply with Australian Standard (AS 4465:2005) for the Construction of Premises and Hygienic Production of Poultry Meat for Human Consumption (FRSC Technical Report No.1).
Remove feed from ducks at least 2 hours before slaughter so that the intestinal tract clears. The ducks must still have access to cool, clean drinking water, which will reduce carcase dehydration and facilitate plucking. Ducklings should then be transported to the slaughterhouse in crates.
Take care to prevent bruising and damage to the carcase. A good way of carrying ducks to avoid carcase damage is for the operator to grasp, in one hand, the wing tip and leg from the same side of the bird.
Place the duckling’s feet in ‘W’ shackles hung at a convenient height, or place the bird headfirst into a killing funnel. Sever the jugular vein by drawing a long, thin, sharp knife across the throat high on the neck just under the lower bill. Birds killed this way bleed swiftly and completely.
Once they have stopped bleeding, place ducks to be wet plucked in a scalding tank at a water temperature of 60°C for a few minutes — long enough to loosen the feathers without causing flesh discolouration. Adding an approved detergent to the water sometimes makes it easier to remove the feathers.
Several mechanical pluckers are available; all have revolving rubber ‘fingers’ that remove most of the feathers. The remaining pin feathers must be removed by hand, by grasping them between the thumb and a dull-edged knife.
This method of plucking eliminates scalding. Poulterers prefer it because it produces an exceptionally attractive carcase. It is, however, much slower than wet plucking and there is more chance of tearing the skin.
Waxing carcases to remove the remaining feathers is recommended where many ducks are to be processed, because remaining feathers are removed quickly and a better carcase appearance results. Waxing carcases to remove remaining feathers is common overseas, and more Australian processors are now using this method. The carcase is covered with molten wax and placed in cold water to harden the wax; when the wax is peeled off the carcase, any feathers come with it. The wax can be used again by remelting it and pouring it through a screen to separate the wax from the feathers. Commercial blended wax can be obtained for this purpose.
Eviscerate birds on a stainless steel table. Slit the skin on top of the neck to the shoulder blades and remove the windpipe and oesophagus. The neck can be nicked with secateurs and turned back in through the top of the body, or cut through and removed.
Remove the visceral organs from the rear end by slitting from the vent to the end of the breastbone. Then insert one hand high up into the body cavity. With practice, all organs can be removed in one operation. Cut through the hock joint to remove the legs. Eviscerated birds should now be thoroughly washed. Clean and wash giblets, enclose them in sealed packets made of an approved material, and either stuff them into the body cavity through the rear end of the carcase, or pack and sell them separately. The carcase must be labelled either ‘with giblets’ or ‘without giblets’. A dressing-out loss of about 23% is normal with most breeds.
The most attractive carcase presentation is to pack birds in a patented clear plastic bag which shrinks to the contours of the bird’s body. Birds handled in this way require no special trussing. They are placed in the correct-sized bag, and the mouth of the bag is then held under the nozzle of a machine which removes air by vacuum. The end of the bag is twisted to prevent entry of outside air and is sealed with a metal clip. To shrink the bag into the body contours, the carcase is then placed into a shrink tank filled with water at 93°C for a couple of seconds.
Ducks do not have to be pre-chilled to keep their flesh white, unlike chickens and turkeys. But if you do not pre-chill carcases, take care when packing them to prevent their becoming misshapen. Freeze ducks at –15°C with an air speed of about 180 m/min. Place birds to be sold as fresh poultry in ordinary plastic bags, first twisting the wings inwards. Freshly killed, well-processed ducks stored at 1°C–2°C can be kept safely for up to 10 days.
Both types of plastic packaging bags can be preprinted in several colours, with trade name, description and other details in accordance with requirements specified by the NSW Department of Commerce — Office of Fair Trading (phone (02) 9895 0432).
Freshly killed birds should be drawn as soon as possible, then lightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator — fresh birds can be refrigerated safely for up to 7 days. A cooked bird refrigerates safely for 4–5 days.
Birds to be frozen should be plucked, drawn and thoroughly cleaned before freezing. Frozen birds should be thawed completely before cooking. If roasting a frozen bird before thawing is complete, use a meat thermometer, which should register at least 88°C before the bird can be considered fully cooked. Do not stuff the bird before freezing. It is wise to remove the stuffing from a roasted bird; wrap it separately for refrigerated storage.