The Duckman: Hunting for fortune is half the fun

THE good wife and I never completed a formal business plan for our farming adventure.

I am reminded of the lack of a strategic plan when, out in the paddocks, I occasionally stop to stare at a pair of eagles that often cruise above our farm. It’s easy to admire their winging ways, but I also sense should they, or we, fly too close to an unforeseen ill wind, there could be a feather-scattering crash.

Selling our paddock-reared, free-range ducks direct to restaurants is our core business, but ever since we set up we have explored ways to diversify and value-add.

While our finest, fattest ducks are packed off to chefs, we still haven’t found a satisfying way to deal with underweight birds.

Some time ago, with the help of our local butcher, we made sausages from ducks not weighty enough for the restaurants. Most of the sausages went into my stomach.

While my waistline still suggests those ducks may not have been as slim as I imagined, the sausages were a one-off. Jodi and I decided they would have been too expensive to sell.

To limit the time I could spend eating, and as a way to diversify our business, the good wife and I produced a hardcover cookbook last year. The process was as torturous as every weight-loss program ever invented, but we have sold some 1400 copies and, just nine months after release, we are getting close to breaking even on the project. Ultimately we hope the book might still provide us with some fat profits (though even a thin one will do).

While Just Duck continues to slowly sell, we have shifted from diversification back to the value-add paddock. We have begun to explore the world of charcuterie and making and selling other duck-based smallgoods products.

A large-scale farming couple near us produces great quantities of a particular product. They sell most of it at a bulk price but keep a little for themselves, and transform it into a sought-after food.

The value-added component of this business uses about 5 per cent of the farm’s raw product. Fascinatingly, however, it contributes about 35 per cent of the total farm income. The raw figures suggest the good wife and I have an obligation to explore similar ideas.

Mick Nunn is a Ballarat fella, a chef who is as inventive with ways to preserve and flavour meat as the good wife is with shopping and credit cards.

Mick also trained as a charcutier and spent time learning his craft near Gascony in south west France. With Mick’s help, we have plans, when Jodi isn’t shopping, to develop some specialty meat products.

At his Salt Kitchen Charcuterie, Mick has crafted smoked duck breasts, confit duck legs, duck neck sausages – using the skin of the duck’s neck as a sausage casing – and parfaits for us.

We are still in the trial stages but the experimenting (and eating) is going well.

The parfait Mick has made from our duck livers are almost as smooth as the excuses our two daughters, Madi and Milla, serve up for not doing their homework.

We hope to have some products in retail shops by the end of the year. But if it takes longer, it matters not. I plan to enjoy eating my way through the trial process.

Our approach to business may be a little flighty, but I’ve no plans to go hungry.