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Down and feathers are mostly used commercially together in the garment and household linen industries.
Down, which is a more valued product, is the very soft feathers from the breasts of geese and ducks (2). Both down and feathers may be obtained through plucking but the majority (90%) is obtained when the birds are slaughtered (most of these birds are intensively reared so are not "happy" birds). China produces around 70% of the world’s down (3).
A regular process is to scald the dead bird in hot water for a few minutes after which the coarse feathers of the wing and tail are then removed by hand with the remainder of the feathers and down removed by hand or use of a machine. Feathers are then dried.
The harvesting of feathers from live geese is seen as an important income from those geese being bred for meat or fatty liver (foie gras) production. These birds have to endure plucking at the age of 9-10 weeks of age, and then around every six weeks until they are finally killed.
The yield of feathers and down from each plucking amounts to between 80 to 120 grams.
Eiderdown is the world’s most expensive down, this is from the eider sea duck found principally in Iceland. As the wild Eider Duck is a protected bird, to obtain down from these birds small amounts are removed from their nests while the bird is moulting (3).
Credit goes to The Vegetarian Society for this submission.