As Easy as Pulling a Parsnip

The Muscovy ducks came to me as many things do, by luck and then a lot of work. My neighbors gave me five in April, one male and four females. By August, after two broods, I had 26, or 28, I can’t remember now. After a few were lost to the fox and other barnyard mishaps, I am down to 24, half of which are males.

While there is a fertilizer and aesthetic benefit to having ducks, like the chickens, I keep them for their eggs. Drakes don’t lay eggs any better than roosters, and like the roosters it’s probably best to butcher them when they are young and not yet rank with sex and fighting. A friend tells me that one key to raising animals for meat is to make sure that every day of their life, but one, is good. Still, it is strikingly hard, when you have raised and protected them, to one day kill and eat them. Unless of course you think of the chickens as a more complicated vegetable, just something we have raised. Now killing it should be about as easy as pulling a parsnip. But I should mention that I liken parsnip pulling to wrestling.

With roosters, no matter how regal and archetypally farmyard, they find a way to make you want to kill them. If it isn’t their fighting, then it is the fact that the more roosters there are, the less well off are the hens. The first one to go is the alpha male. He’s the perfect gentleman, pure white. His comb and waddles pure crimson, but his spurs are injurious to mates. I let him have a few rounds in the morning and then net him. As I walk toward my house, I tell him how beautiful he is and how sorry I am. By the time we arrive at the stump he is calm and almost sleeping, until whack! Then his whole body tenses, and I, taking care that the blood will run away, do my best to compress and quiet his convulsing body. When it stops and the musculature goes slack, I hold him up and away from me, his wings fan out symmetrically, he is a heavy bird, he was a healthy one. He has a huge breast. Even under the thick rough of his feathers, I know what I have beheaded was a Greek statue among peers. I promised the bird to my friend. When I show it to him, the young man who rarely speaks English exclaims, “Beautiful!”

The ducks present me with a larger problem. For one, they are larger. I look at their downy thick necks and think, “No.” They are innocent; they have no malice besides the hissing circles they incite. Scovies are not designed for fighting and rarely do. Though they are horny, the guys are clumsy and the female can usually avoid the advances of the beta male if she wants. My reason for offing them is that they eat too much and they taste too good.

Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.

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