Collecting down from your geese or ducks is simple and painless, both for you and the bird if she is is familiar with being handled, and only takes a few minutes for even a beginner.
Goose down is an amazing material and can last up to 20 years before completely breaking down. Duck down, while not as durable, will still last five years before needing to be changed entirely. The down can be used to stuff quilts, comforters, pillows, dolls, winter hats, mitts, and more, providing you with an all-natural, free material for your home crafts.
Waterfowl happily shed all of their feathers when they molt. Shedding feathers is akin to what happens when a white cat rubs up against black pants. The feathers and down drop off naturally while the rest are preened out. When you are harvesting down you're not "ripping the hair" bleeding out of the poor thing - you're giving a little tug and if it stays put you're moving on. It'll be obvious whether or not you can actually harvest at the time you pick. If nothing comes out with a tug then wait and try again later. Stories about the abuse inflicted on live harvested geese are about industries that wrench the feathers out constantly without waiting for a molt.
Our experience in harvesting down from live geese has been with American Buffs and Pilgrims. These are medium-sized geese with a much quieter personality, making them easier to handle. This also means that they will provide less down than a large breed, such as an Embden, and more than a smaller breed like the Roman. When determining how much down you can harvest from your own geese please keep this in mind.
Our experience with ducks has been mostly from juveniles. We have found that ducks - true to their nature - are more skittish and easier to frighten while harvesting. While they make it very obvious when they feel a prick, they don't actually calm down for the process. Unless ducks are handled a lot, expect them to be nervous when harvested: this is more because they are being restrained than because you are taking their down.
Also, older ducks and geese provide better quality down than younger birds, and more of it. Geese under a year old tend to produce about half the down of an adult goose. It is still worth harvesting, just don't expect as much.
There are three places to harvest down and soft feathers on a goose or duck: her breast, abdomen and beneath her wings. The breast and abdomen will provide about 10-20% down and 80-90% small feathers. These small feathers are very soft and are comparable to down in every way except for insulation qualities, in which down is vastly superior. Under the wings is nearly pure down, with only 5-10% soft feathers mixed in along the edges. We only harvest under the wings, which keeps the bird still looking natural, while cooling them off in the summer and keeping them warm in the winter (flapping their wings will cool them off while in the winter, keeping the wings over the bare spot will keep it warm).
Down can be harvested whenever the birds are molting out their feathers. Usually they molt in early spring and in late summer. You'll know when the molt is taking place when you start finding goose feathers scattered around the yard.
Before you harvest, make sure that your geese and ducks tolerate being handled. They will need to learn how to sit quietly on their back against your chest, and on the ground while you move their wings around. An easy way to win them over is to have treats available for them while you are harvesting under their wings.
Once your geese will sit quietly for you (or your ducks will at least stay calm), place one on his back with the tail facing away from you and his back against your stomach between your legs. Using a single thumb and fore finger, pluck small tufts of feathers. Collect this in your hand until you have a fist full, then set it in a container and pluck again.
If this is done right, the feathers and down will come right off without your goose so much as flinching. You don't have to pluck her bald to get a large bag of feathers from her.
To harvest beneath the wings, set out a separate conatainer and set the goose between your legs on her stomach. Lift one wing up and use the same method to collect the down. This can be plucked bare if you want, since the goose's wings will help keep her warm (and in the summer, the lack of down will help her keep cool).
After you are finished, store the down in a dry safe place. We place ours in plastic ziplock bags until it is needed. Each bag holds down from a single goose, and three or four ducks, showing how much each bird or group provided.
Harvesting From Young Waterfowl
All of the birds we plan on butchering are harvested at least once before being processed. We have found that female ducks at the age of 12-14 weeks provide more down than males, who shed their down faster. When your ducks are roughly 10 weeks of age, they will begin shedding most of their down/baby fuzz out to replace with new feathers. The down on the abdomen is the last to leave and can be harvested before it leaves completely.
When you remove this down you should see the breast and abdomen feathers already coming in underneath. Using your thumb and forefinger, remove this down and set it aside. At this point in time don't judge how much down each bird gives: they all shed their baby fuzz at different times so you won't be getting an accurate reading.