Down consists of clusters of filaments growing from a central point without a quill shaft. It looks much like a dandelion pod. Down is the light, fluffy undercoating that geese, ducks, and other waterfowl have to keep them warm. Its three dimensional structure allows it to make thousands of air pockets, which insulate incredibly well, and contribute to the buoyancy of waterfowl. Land fowl such as chickens and sparrows do not produce down.
Images would be really nice to show the difference between down and feathers, but not required.
Feathers have an entirely different structure from down: they have a hard quill shaft running from one end to the other with a series of fibers joining together into a flat structure on each side of the shaft. Flight feathers will have a straight shaft, and are often chopped up to use in lower quality pillows and featherbeds. Body feathers, which are primarily for protection, have a curve to the shaft, giving them a natural springiness, which makes them suitable for feather beds and pillows.
The primary purpose in raising ducks and geese is for their meat, which is why the main production areas are China, Hungary, Ukraine and Poland, where duck and goose meat are popular menu items. RDS down and feathers are harvested from the birds only after they have been slaughtered.
There are a number of reasons that down can be considered a sustainable option:
- it is the by-product of a renewable resource
- it can be recycled
- cared for properly, it can last for decades
- down clothing and bedding means that you can turn down your thermostat!
The many individual plumules of down allow it to mold to your body. Its high warmth to low weight ratio makes it easy to wear or sleep under, and its ability to wick away moisture and to breathe avoids the clamminess issues that are sometimes felt with synthetics.
Each ounce of high quality down has about 2 million fluffy filaments that interlock and overlap to form a protective layer of still air that keeps warmth in and cold out. It is these tiny pockets of air trapped by the down fibers that actually do the insulating.
Fill-power (or loft) is a measure of fluffiness – it relates to the ability of the down to loft and regain its original volume after being compressed. Loft is the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will fill under specific conditions. Higher fill-power articles provide more warmth for the same weight. For outdoor products, fill-power of 500 to 550 is considered mediocre, 600 to 700 good, and 750 to 850 excellent.
Color does not affect the quality of a down at all. White down is generally with light colored fabrics, as it will not show through.
Yes, down can get wet. However, when this happens its insulation value insulation is compromised. If you are using your down in potentially wet environments, it is important to protect the down from moisture as much as possible. Many outdoor products will have a water repellency on the surface, and there are now even types of down that are water-resistant due to new technologies.
When down gets contaminated by perspiration, body oils, or dirt, its ability to insulate decreases. For this reason it is important to take good care of your down products, and wash them they are starting to look dirty, or you have noticed that the loft has decreased.
Close all zippers, use a mild soap, and wash by hand or in a front-loading machine. Be sure that all of the soap is rinsed out. Machine drying is preferable to avoid the mildew that can set in if the down is wet for too long. Set the machine to its lowest heat, add a tennis ball to help break up the down clumps, and be patient – it will take awhile!
Your down product should be stored in a large, breathable bag that does not compress the down, as this will impact its loft. Keep it in a cool, dry place – but don’t be afraid to squish it into a stuff sack for your next camping trip.
If you take proper care of your down products, they should truly last a lifetime.
Absolutely! It is warm, comfortable, long lasting, and sustainable. When you choose an RDS-certified product, you getting the value of the down, and the values of a responsible supply chain.
Ducks and geese are raised for the purpose of meat production, and there are two main types of farming systems:
These are commonly found in Eastern Europe, and consist of households or small farms that are growing the birds for their personal consumption, or for sale in the local market. Farmers may have a few, or a few dozen birds, and they often range freely through the rural areas, foraging for food and swimming in the waterways. The farmers will slaughter the birds as they need them, and will save the down and feathers for sale to a collector.
These around found in both Asia and Europe, and can range from a single farmer with a few thousand geese to a large operation dealing with millions. These farms are raising the birds for sale to slaughterhouses, which produce meat for human consumption.
In most supply chains, down and feathers are removed from the birds after they have been slaughtered, but in some cases they are removed while the birds are still alive – a process that can be painful and harmful. While live plucking is legally prohibited in the European Union, it is still possible to ‘harvest’ the down during the natural moulting cycles of the birds. But this still leaves the birds vulnerable to being hurt during the process (particularly with the time pressures of industrialized farming), and in reality, it is very hard to identify live-plucking. The RDS prohibits use of feathers from any form of live-plucking.
Foie gras, considered a delicacy by some, literally means ‘fatty liver.’ It is the result of ducks or geese being force-fed: tubes are inserted into their throats to cause them to consume more than they naturally would. The result is essentially a diseased liver that is up to 10 times its normal size. Laws vary: from 2012 to 2015 California banned the sale of any products from force-fed birds, while French law states “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” Beyond their enlarged livers, these birds can also be another source of down and feathers. The RDS prohibits use of feathers from birds that have been force-fed.
Estimates vary, but the range seems to be from 2-10% of the value of the bird is the down and feathers.
Families or individual farmers own small numbers of ducks and geese for their personal consumption, or for sale in local markets. The animals live out most of their days in the yard of the family, or close to waterways nearby. Several times a year, the family will slaughter one or more of their own flock. They will save the down and feathers from each bird for sale to collectors..
Collectors travel from town to town and will either buy or trade for the down and feathers. These collectors sell to larger collectors who sell to processors, where the down and feathers are washed and sorted by quality, to eventually end up in products sold around the world.
Processing involves cleaning the down to remove any organic matter or contaminants, then using air to blow the down and separate out the different qualities. The higher qualities (with greater fill power) will float to the top, while the lower qualities will fall to the bottom.
There are also different treatments that can be added to the down during processing, to make it water-resistant or allergy-free.