When they first started they were lured by the historical connection of the Aylesbury to the tables of bygone eras of Britain but they also chose them as, being a rare breed, they would most likely be of interest to chefs. Several years later, the Aylesburys are sent abroad and they supply Pekins to local chefs. At any point they will have no more than 2500 ducks on the farm and only three hundred are processed a week.
As anyone in their line of work will tell you, the farmer’s lifestyle is not quite as laid-back as people would assume, with work being continuous throughout every day of the year.
For their safety the ducks don’t come out from their sleeping place in converted hay sheds until daylight, which means seven o’clock in winter and a bit of a reprieve for Jodi and Greg, though in summer it is considerably earlier. Walking and grazing is incredibly important for the health of the ducks and also contributes greatly to the taste. They are always very eager to get out of their pens in the morning and usually walk more than half a kilometre throughout the day, though the ducks that are tired or slightly less robust stay in their pens to rest.
The ducks are rounded out of their pens and into different paddocks - some sown with wheat - for the day where they have access to grain, which is topped every couple of hours, water, grass and insects.
In the morning the eight pens, where the ducks live by age groups, are cleaned. They must all be pristine at the end of the day.
Every day two to three pens will need the hay totally changed while the others will only need it to be turned. The hay used as bedding, which the farm is nearly self-sufficient for, is cut from the paddocks and laid over a layer of sand. Grain, food mix and water are topped up then the dirty hay is taken away by tractor and spread over the paddocks to fertilise them.
Meanwhile, the ducks are outside grazing on insects, grass and the wheat grown in the paddocks. They need a constant supply of water so have access to troughs that they can stick their head into to drink as well as clean their eyes and heads.
The ducks love paddling pools in the summer. There are often sprinklers on in the paddocks to water the grass which the ducks also like to frolic in. Though the frequency of this can go down at the end of summer when water becomes scarce; Jodi and Greg are as efficient as possible with water consumption. There are dams on the farm but the ducks aren’t allowed to swim in them, despite being clean, as they could be contaminated with bacteria or diseases by other birds passing over or wild animals.
At the beginning of spring, Greg and Jodi incubate ducks. This isn’t done during winter as the little ducks can’t withstand extreme temperatures. After hatching, the ducklings are removed from the incubator and moved into pens with heat lamps. The babies need a lot of supervision and work. It is very important for them to keep dry and warm so their hay is changed every day.
At about five weeks they also venture out into the paddocks, any ducklings that are not as robust will stay inside as unfortunately they would be picked off easily by predators like crows. The paddock that the ducklings use is just outside the house which makes them a lot easier to watch over.
Mid-morning and Afternoon
The grass and wheat need to be re-sown regularly in the paddocks as the ducks eat large quantities of both. The ducks only stay in the same paddock for a maximum of three days so the grass gets as little wear and tear possible and the pastures have time to regenerate.
Odd jobs around the farm are mostly taken care of by Greg whilst Jodi prepares the ducks’ food. They eat a mixed grain ration as well as a mixture of wheat and chopped fruit, which involves a lot of preparation. The apples and pears that get mixed into the grain need to be cut into small pieces as ducks don’t have teeth. Everything is mixed together and sits for four days; the ducks love the sweetness that the slight fermentation gives.
There is also a lot of office work to be done: grain needs to be sourced and its prices monitored, invoices created and chased, marketing and customer service attended to as well as watching general costs.
Just before sundown the ducks are rounded up by the dogs. They go back into their pens with beds of hay to eat, clean themselves, and sleep.
Afterwards all the dogs are fed and the two kelpies and a labrador, the day shifts dogs, retire to their strategically placed kennels to rest and watch over the ducks. Two maremmas roam around the farm during the night to ward away predators.
Once the ducks are safely tucked away, most days this would mean the end of the working day and the start of family time.
Once a week ducks that are fourteen weeks old are sent to the abattoir. At about 10 o’clock in the evening the ducks are loaded into a trailer especially designed to minimise handling and stress. Jodi tracks the average weight of the ducks and each duck is checked for meat and fat content before loading. All the family pitches in with loading then the ducks are driven, usually by Greg, to the abattoir in the early hours of the morning so the ducks are in the trailer as little time as possible. After being processed in the abattoir the ducks are immediately packed and delivered to the restaurants that use them.