The Tale of the Fearsome Duck

in homesteading •  last year

I grew up on a small homestead out in rural South Africa, where we lived pretty much like Appalachian hillbillies, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that my father had a master’s degree in philosophy. Yes, he was a tad eccentric.

We kept all manner of animals: cattle, chickens, geese, pigs, and at one time even rabbits. And then we got these:


Yeah, why not ducks as well? We had a little creek in which they liked to swim around (they even slept on the water until an otter tried to make off with one and we had to start keeping them caged up for the night), and on the whole they were quite delightful.

Except the male. I don’t know if it was just that one, or whether all male ducks are like this, but boy, was he an aggressive and unpleasant character. He was feared all over the place: chased the chickens around, then he chased the geese around (even though they were twice his size) and eventually even the dogs and cats developed a healthy respect for him.

Through all this, my father’s irritation with the blasted fowl grew and grew. And finally, one day, when the duck was once again chasing hens all over the place, my dad snapped. Time for that duck to make the move from the yard to the cooking pot!

And so he stared chasing it around. The duck wasn’t stupid, and had seen this coming, so the chase went on, and on, and on. Round the house, through the bushes, over the lawn. Eventually the duck fled into the creek, with my father hot on his trail. He misjudged how quickly the water in the pool got deeper and before long we had a fully clothed philosopher swimming after a duck.

I don’t know how long it took him to finally catch up. As hillbillies, we did not have watches. But the long arm of the law finally caught up with the duck, he went straight to the chopping block and off came his head.

“Pluck him for us, will you?” my father asked my brother and I. We always plucked the chickens when my father slaughtered some for the table - it’s easy: dip the bird in hot water and the feathers just come right off.

So we tried that with the duck. Alas, we soon learned where the saying “like water off a duck’s back” comes from. You can’t wet the feathers! The water just rolls right off, and ducks’ feathers stick so tightly we had to laboriously pick out thousands of feathers one by one. What felt like hours later, we finally had the thing clean. I suspect this is why duck meat is so much more expensive than chicken.

Well, that was the end of the reign of terror, and as I recall, the bird was quite delicious…


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