The Duckman: Cooking Up A Strategic Sideline

Cooking Up A Strategic Sideline


Some friends of ours run their own companies in Melbourne.

They have built their own little empires that turn over millions of dollars and might employ as many people as the number of cows the dairy farmer across the road from us milks (I haven’t counted the cows but often of an afternoon I stop to admire the striking black-and-white line stretching along the lengthy track to the dairy).

Sometimes the friends from the city visit our farm. Always they seem genuinely interested in the latest developments, whether it be what the ducks are up to out in the paddock, or my latest disaster with a power tool. Rarely do they leave without asking why I still have all my fingers or enquiring when are we going to expand our farm, our business.

These are good friends. But they do struggle with the fact I haven’t at least lost a thumb, and the idea the good wife and I don’t want to significantly expand our duck numbers.

Jodi still works off the farm and I still exchange words for money and while we’d love to get the farm to the point it can be viable on its own, we don’t want to take the most obvious path and simply grow and sell more ducks on our 16 hectares.

We want to remain genuine small-scale duck farmers. But just how might we do this without increasing the number of ducks we sell?

Diversification is the obvious answer given farmers have been doing this for as long as thistles have been driving them bonkers.

We’ve tossed around many ideas, from growing a vegetable crop to horse agistment. None of the thoughts we initially brewed had appeal. Eventually a bottle of wine came up with the idea of producing a cookbook.

For almost all of the six years we’ve been farming ducks, my good wife has fielded enquiries from people asking about the best way to cook duck. Now, duck is difficult to cook well, and Jodi has had to confess her repertoire for water fowl is somewhat limited. Like her farming exploits, her ability to cook what she grows has come about through the best of teachers – trial and error.

My good wife took the wine bottle’s idea to the chefs who buy ducks. Many told her they were regularly asked about ways to cook duck well and thought the cookbook a grand idea. They offered us their recipes and were the inspiration for the book we have put together.

Seventeen chefs and 35 duck recipes appear in the book.

While photos of the chefs, their food as well as some of their favourite food stories feature, there are also pictures of us working our farm and stories related to our farming adventure. We hope the book will, for the city folk who might buy it, help to connect the work and lives of farmers to the food they produce.

The company printing the book is due to deliver pallet loads of copies to our farm – all being, gulp, well – in the next few weeks. Given duck is popular at Christmas we hope to actually sell a few books via our website.

Over the next couple of months I hope my good wife spends a great deal of time loitering around the local post office. The costs of producing the book – photographer, editor, designer and printing – represent a significant risk on our behalf, but what farmer doesn’t take risks? So many of you have, it would be selfish of us not to.

We’ve called our book Just Duck. If there is a taste for it, it will expand our business yet help us remain genuinely small-scale farmers.

For the good wife, our two girls and me, there might be no finer Christmas present.