Let's Not Forget
Down and Feathers
Down and Feathers
Down and Feathers are used for insulation and padding of
products like jackets, bedding, sleeping bags and pillows. Most of these products contain a blend of down and feathers.
is the product with the highest value. It consists of the soft, fluffy
undercoating that waterfowl like ducks and geese have to keep them warm.
Land fowl like chickens don't have a lot of down feathers.
Feathers come in two types: flight feathers and body
feathers. Flight feathers are found on the wings and tails of birds. They
are larger and have a hard shaft running through the middle. These feathers
are usually chopped up and used in lower quality bedding. Body feathers are
found all over the body and have as function to insulate and protect birds.
Their shafts are softer and have a curve, which makes them more suitable for
use in bedding.
There are several ways in which feathers are "harvested" from
Feathers of birds like ducks, geese or chickens are a
profitable by-product of the poultry industry. Since consumers have a
preference for young, tender poultry meat, birds are usually slaughtered
around the time they go through their first moulting (when they drop their
feathers to grow new ones).
The usual process to obtain the feathers is to first scald
the birds in hot water for 1 to 3 minutes. Scalding isn't necessary, but
makes it easier to remove the feathers. After that, the flight feathers are
removed by hand. Next the body feathers and down are removed either by a
plucking machine or by hand. The last step is to dry and sort the feathers.
Automatic Plucking Machine at
Plucking of live geese.
Feather Removal from Live Birds
Since birds like ducks and geese are bred in large groups
for the production of meat and foie gras, "harvesting" their feathers is a
profitable by-product. Feathers are usually removed during the natural
moulting cycle of the bird, which is the time when they shed their old
feathers and grow new ones, every 6-7 weeks.
Geese are usually not fed the day before their feathers
are collected, to avoid them contaminating their feathers with droppings.
The general method of removing feathers is done by holding
the goose down, usually with the head between the knees of the worker, which can cause
suffocation or injury if not done correctly. The worker will then use one
hand to hold the goose and the other one to remove the feathers.
Egg-laying geese have their feathers collected between 5
and 15 times during their lifetime. Geese raised for meat have their
feathers collected a maximum of 4 times during their lives.
Gathering and Plucking
Feather gathering is the method where
only ripe feathers are removed from a bird. Ripe feathers are feathers
that are ready for shedding and which can be removed from a bird with
minimal force and without tissue damage.
When feathers are plucked from birds,
they are pulled out of their skins with force, leaving bleeding
follicles and possible skin damage like tears and bruises. When non-ripe
feathers are removed, they will often have tissue or blood attached to
Since commercial feather gathering is
often done with flocks that contain thousands of birds, it is less
feasible to only gather ripe-feathers. This means that feathers are both
plucked and gathered.
The European Union forbids improper
live-plucking. They do allow the "harvesting feathers and down from the
live animal at the moment of molting" if carried out in accordance
with certain rules.
Plucking of live geese.
Feather and Down Production
The largest exporters of down and feathers are China
and Hungary. All together, there are about 25 countries that have a
significant production of down and feathers. They are located mainly in
Europe, Asia and North America.
The China Feather and Down Industrial Association
claims that only about 1-3% of feathers from their country come from
live birds, whereas 97-99% is a slaughterhouse by-product. The European
Down and Feather Association claims that about 98% of feathers are a
by-product from the poultry meat production, leaving only 2% to come from
In February 2009, a Swedish TV
documentary studied the down industry for the popular television program
"Kalla Fakta" (meaning "Cold Facts" in Swedish). This documentary
estimated that between 50-80% of the world's down market comes from live
birds. This was denied by the China Feather and Down Industrial
Association. IKEA, the Swedish furniture company, independently verified
that the 50-80% was correct, after which they cancelled an order from
China for down-filled furniture.
The documentary also filmed undercover at
a Hungarian goose farm. On their tape you can see geese lying on their
backs screaming and struggling to free themselves, while their down is
being ripped from their bodies. Afterwards you can see several birds
lying on the floor with large flesh wounds. These wounds are then sown
back together with needle and thread by the same workers, without any
here to watch a YouTube clip of a CBS documentary
on down, which includes the undercover footage from the Swedish documentary.
Ostrich on a farm in Pakistsan
Ostrich feathers are used for house decorations,
feather boas, masks, costumes or feather dusters. Most ostrich feathers
you see on the market have been dyed in different colors.
Ostriches used to be raised exclusively for their
feathers, but are now also raised commercially for their meat and
leather. They are farmed in over 100 countries. Both in cold climates
like Norway, Sweden or Alaska and warm climates like Brazil, Indonesia
They are kept on large farms in groups of thousands,
where they are plucked alive. The usual method of plucking ostriches, is
to drive them into an enclosure small enough so they cannot kick or turn
around. Workers will then remove the feathers. This is usually done
every 7 months of their lives. They are also plucked after they are
Synthetic alternatives to down are a
good, cruelty free alternative. They are also cheaper and unlike down,
keep their insulating properties in wet conditions. Down's thermal
properties don't work when either wet or compressed.
Sources and Resources
Synthetic sleeping bags work great in