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This section deals with the production and harvesting of fine feathers and down for use in the garment and household linen industries as opposed to the processing of coarse feathers for feather meal.

The most valuable product is the down, which is obtained from the breast area of the goose, followed by the fine feathers. Most commercial products contain a blend of both down and feathers; the higher the proportion of down, the higher the value of the product. The difference between down and feathers is shown in Figure 35.

FIGURE 35. Feathers and down from geese

(Source: Guy, 1996)

To obtain feathers and down at the time of slaughter, the normal process is to first scald the geese in hot water (60-68°C) for 1-3 minutes. The coarse feathers of the wing and tail are then removed by hand with the remainder of the feathers and down removed either by a plucking machine or by hand. The feathers are then dried and this is normally done in large commercial tumble dryers. For small amounts, the feathers are spread and stirred frequently to facilitate their drying.

FIGURE 36. Plucking feathers from live adult geese (Poland)

(Source: Buckland, 1995)

FIGURE 37. Sorting feathers in air currents (France)

(Source: Buckland, 1995)

On a small scale, geese can be plucked dry without scalding and, although it takes longer, it does yield dry down and feathers. Irrespective of the plucking process, the sorting of the down and feathers can be done by weight in air currents as shown in Figure 37.

The harvesting of feathers from live geese can be an important source of income from geese being bred for the production of either meat or fatty liver and from those in breeder flocks. The harvesting of feathers and down from the breast of live geese is possible because between 9-10 weeks of age their mature down feathers, together with the other soft feathers, moult naturally. By timing the plucking process to coincide with the natural moult, the breast feathers and down can be harvested as shown in Figure 36. Growing geese can then be plucked approximately every six weeks as this will coincide with each successive moult. The yield of feathers and down from the first plucking is approximately 80 g and for each subsequent plucking between 100-120 g. The percentage of down will normally be between 15-20 percent of the total weight. The actual number of pluckings for market geese generally depends on the market conditions for the meat or fatty liver and the current market value of the feathers and down. All breeds can be plucked, but white plumage is more valuable. Whether plucking live geese or harvesting feathers at slaughter, the feathers must be mature.

Breeding geese may be plucked during the non-laying period on a similar schedule of every six weeks with the general recommendation being that the last plucking should be two and a half months or more before the onset of lay. Normally these recommendations result in three pluckings per season. However, recent work in Poland has shown that for birds which stop laying at the beginning of June and whose next laying season begins about mid-January, it is possible to pluck four times (last plucking in early November) with no harmful effect on subsequent egg production or fertility.

Feathers and down are a valuable product of goose production. This is particularly true for feathers plucked dry, as no equipment is needed to dry or sort them. Feathers and down can either be stored and marketed on the international market or used in local cottage industries for the production of high value retail products such as duvets (Figure 38).

FIGURE 38. Duvets filled with goose feathers (Poland)

(Source: Buckland, 1995)

The international trade in feathers and down is shown in Figure 39. In 1994 the international trade reached more than 67 000 tons of raw feathers and down with a total value estimated at approximately US$650 million. These data cover feathers from all waterfowl species, with geese accounting for about 30 percent of the total tonnage and about 40 percent of the total dollar value. The international demand for feathers and down is determined primarily by six countries that import 93 percent of the world's production for further processing to supply both their domestic and export markets. There are, however, more than 25 countries that have a significant production of feathers and down. These are located mainly in Europe, Asia, and North America. However, the demand is strong so new producers can access the market, especially for down and feathers plucked by hand as these have the highest value.

FIGURE 39. International trade of down and feathers

(Source: Guy, 1996)

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