Duck farmers fly high

Jo FulwoodCountryman

ne bite into the succulent duck meat, dripping with black garlic vinaigrette, paired with parsley root puree and sauteed mungbeans, and I was hooked.

Despite the bizarre combination of ingredients, this was a dish like I had never tasted before.

The melt in the mouth meat, the crispy skin, it was unmistakably fresh and surprisingly local.

Taste testing this duck, as part of a four-course degustation at one of Perth’s most recognised and highly decorated restaurants was a tough job, but I was up for the challenge.

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Thankfully the champagne was flowing freely to get me through the evening.

The menu at The Print Hall unashamedly promoted this dish as Duck from Wagin, and on further investigation, it’s not hard to see why they are standing so proudly behind the product.

It was only just over two years ago that fresh local duck was hard to find in WA.

In fact, high-end restaurants and butchers had to content themselves with frozen product trucked in from the Eastern States.

Now, thankfully, for those who enjoy a hearty meal of duck, this is no longer the case.

Jos Brummelman, and his brother and sister in law Marc and Leonie, are now filling this significant market gap from their business Wagin Duck and Game, providing up to 200 ducks every week to well-known restaurants such as Amuse, Rockpool, the Print Hall and even to gourmet butchers, such as the Boatshed Market in Cottesloe.

What makes the product so different from the imported duck meat coming in from the Eastern States is, according to Mr Brummelman, not just that it is fresh and locally grown, but also free-range.

“We don’t believe in ducks in sheds,” he said.

“We wanted to be able to farm free-range ducks and certainly, from what our clients are telling us, this is a point of difference, particularly given we can’t compete on price with the imported frozen product.”

On their property just outside Wagin, the business runs 250 Pekin duck breeders, and has about 2000 birds being prepared for market.

“In the morning we let them out of their pens and they love to run around and have a bath in the water. They just love fresh water and they really enjoy playing around in that,” he said.

“They spend the rest of the time wandering around the paddocks as they please.”

If this is all sounding like something out of a children’s picture book, you are spot on.

From the time the eggs are laid, it takes five weeks until the ducklings are hatched, and at every step of the way the babies are nurtured until maturity.

“The eggs go into the incubators, and after they are born, the babies are put in a little pen with a heat lamp so they don’t get cold,” Mr Brummelman said.

“When they are about a week old, we then move them to a bigger pen.

“By the age of about 10 days, they can wander outside and sit in the sun and play in the water.”

Taking such care of the ducks, while time consuming, is reaping rewards for the business, with losses down to only one or two per cent.

“If they get through the first day, then they are usually going to be OK,” he said.

“While ducks are easily to panic, they are also quick to settle down.

“Our property has an electric fences right around it to keep foxes and feral cats out and we are now also looking at the possibility of covering some of the areas with bird netting.”

Growing up in the north-east of Holland, Mr Brummelman and his brother lived on the family poultry and pig farm.

But after he and Marc came to Australia as part of an exchange program in 1996, he knew they would never be moving back to his native country.

“We didn’t come over with the intention of staying but we liked it too much here,” he said

“We love the big open spaces, the easy going people, and we certainly have more freedom than we had in Europe in regard to our farming.

“With just a few hundreds hectares in Holland and you are considered a big farmer.”

After settling in WA and working in farming enterprises around the Wheatbelt, Mr Brummelman took the plunge into full-time duck farming.

“We originally started with selling the product locally here in Wagin, and that got the ball rolling for us. We then contacted a few other places and it really grew from there,” he said.

“Demand is out stripping supply by a long way.”

But he said it hasn’t been an easy ride.

“It’s been an enormous learning curve from one end of the business to the other and if I’d known at the start about all the challenges we would face, I might not have jumped into it,” he said.

Those challenges have only served to make the business stronger, and Mr Brummelman said they have now added to the business with quail and partridges.

“Quail and partridges are also poultry and the product is sold to the same markets as the duck, so it fits very nicely,” he said.

While the partridges are seasonal and only lay their eggs three months of the year, the quail business is rivalling the ducks, with 200 birds heading to Perth for processing each week.

Expansion plans are also on the agenda, with discussions about an on-farm abattoir.

Mr Brummelman said he hopes to increase the amount of birds that he can supply to the WA market to 300 a week in coming years.

“There is a big market out there, and we really haven’t done too much marketing yet. We’ve just been busy setting up the business,” he said.

So the next time you frequent a WA high-end restaurant, look out for the duck, and if it’s from Wagin, you know you’ll be served something quite spectacular.

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