January 22, 2015


This fall we harvested twelve young roosters and three guinea hens. While I had been involved in the harvest of goats, sheep, pigs, and rabbits at Windward, I had never been present for a bird harvest. In our mission to honor animals by using as many parts of them as possible I decided to harvest the feathers as well as the birds.

Our beautiful birds

Going into the project I planned on harvesting wing and tail feathers for decorative uses and down feathers for stuffing pillows. I was aware that ducks and geese have many more down feathers than chickens and guineas but did not know the extent. Because there were so few classic "down" feathers on our birds I decided to pluck what I called the "down-ish" feathers as well. This means the feathers on the underside of the bird from the tail through the torso and under both wings.

Dunking a guinea hen in the scalding soapy water

We went through our typical bird harvesting process with the exception of before putting the birds in the pluckerator we plucked the feathers out that we wanted. I separated the feathers into a bag for tail and wing feathers and a bag for down-ish feathers.

We tried to pull the feathers out when they were dry but it was much to difficult and we resorted to plucking feathers after the birds had been dunked in the hot soapy water. Because the feathers were wet I experimented with a few ways of drying them.

Pulling out the "down-ish" and wing feathers of a guinea hen

I first put the feathers in two different pillowcases and tied the tops of the cases in knots. I then hung them to dry in the same room we keep the sausages and planned to hit them with a broom every once and a while to keep the feathers from clumping together. After a day of this I decided that the feathers were not drying fast enough.

My next thought was to take the feathers outside to our solar dehydrator. Even though it was the rainy season the sun came out occasionally and they might dry. I unclumped to feathers the best I could and set them on the screens.

Feathers laying out to dry in the solar dehydrator

After two days in the solar dehydrator I took the down-ish feathers out and put them back into the pillowcase, kotting it closed. I left the tail and wing feathers to dry in the dehydrator. I then put the knotted pillowcase with the down-ish feathers into our clothes dryer on medium heat and intensity for about 20 minutes. It worked beautifully! The feathers came out fluffy and unclumped. I suspect that I can get a similar effect on clothesline on a warm sunny day.

An array of down-ish feathers fresh out of the clothes dryer

Because the down-ish feathers had harder spines that down feathers I did not want to put them into a regular pillowcase. Instead, with the help of Lindsay and Kari, we used our Windward wool to make a felted pillowcase. I then stuffed it with the down-ish feathers and stitched with Winward spun wool. Now we have our very own 100% Windward pillow!

Windward pillow

This project has definitely given me more appreciation for what it takes to make down items. The feathers from our 15 birds barely stuffed an 8"x14" pillow. Now that I have the process of harvesting bird feathers figured out I will endeavor to continue the practice with all of the birds we harvest at Windward.