By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
The chicken and turkey business can be quite lucrative for those involved in it, either through the meat market, or with the laying hens end of things. However, as Canadian tastes continue to evolve and our population continues to diversify, there are other fowl species which might eventually find their rightful place on supermarket shelves. Trent Smith, owner of Duckopolis, says there are already several companies involved on the duck meat end of things, but what he wants to focus on is developing a duck egg market.
“Eggs are more of an ethnic market within the Asian and Filipino communities,” explains Smith. “In those places like China and the Philippines duck eggs are eaten just like chicken eggs here. There are probably eight larger companies doing duck meat already, but there is almost no one doing the commercial duck eggs.
“The other thing with duck eggs is people who are allergic to chicken eggs generally aren’t to duck eggs; there a different protein combinations, and amino acids present in chicken eggs aren’t in duck eggs. The eggs are also really great for baking; most professional bakers prefer to use duck eggs. They rise a little more and there is a little more flavour to them.”
Smith has been breeding and raising ducks since he was 10 years-old. He mostly raises his ducks for the breeders market. He has added other exotic fowl species to his farm over the years, (he now breeds Guinea fowls, specialty turkeys, geese and peacocks), but ducks remain his first love.
“They seem a lot more personable than chickens are… With the six varieties I sell now they seem to be the most personable of all the types of ducks they have… Pretty much all the ones I sell, I sell as chicks or live adult birds for acreage owners with backyard pens. The people that buy them are either looking to have their own ag. production for birds or they want a pet, something different. A few are for meat production. But, right now, it’s more the specialty and heritage markets.”
Smith is keen to take full advantage of the specialty fowl market in western Canada in any way he can, especially if it works within the context of his existing operation. (For example, he has a successful sideline selling peacock feathers). Now that he has established his brand and reputation, he has no difficulty finding buyers for his birds.
“It is not actually that difficult to market them,” says Smith matter-of-factly. “They are a real novelty type, and there is quite a demand for them.”
But you do have to find the right buyer for the right kind of bird, stresses Smith.
“With peacocks, most people that buy them just want to have a peacock running around their yard, or to breed for themselves. You can free range them with your chickens. They are much larger than a chicken is so they aren’t as prone to being picked off by a predator… With Guinea fowls, people are buying them as watchdogs for their chickens. If a predator comes, or a dog goes by, or sometimes even car drives by on the road, they will go off. On a normal day you don’t really hear them, although they still have a louder call than the chickens, but there is a huge difference between that and their alarm call. If you hear that, you know there might be a predator and it’s time to go check your chickens. They are also supposed to have really good meat. Kind of like a game bird meat.”
Even though he carries over 100 different varieties of birds and heritage breed sheep, for Smith Duckopolis remains all about ducks. He plans to expand his flock markedly over the next few years to take advantage of new market opportunities.
“They are not a mainstream as like chickens,” he says. “They are something not everyone has. I have a total breeding flock of about a total of 1,500 birds. Of that, probably 1,000 are ducks… My two favourite ducks would be call ducks and runner ducks. The call ducks are a really small duck and they are loud with quite the personality. They are pretty and make really good pets… The runner ducks are one of the oldest domesticated breeds. They stand straight up, kinda like a penguin. They are very good egg laying duck. They are kind of the original egg layers.”