In 2006 Tanya Dalton and Roger Olver began converting the farm where Roger’s family have lived for five generations into a thriving, free-range duck estate. Now encompassing a hatchery, nursery, paddling pools, large outdoor runs, even a holiday village and retirement plot, this is a small-scale town-planning experiment for ducks. Three thousand of them now make up the community at any one time.
Roger and Tanya were inspired to set out on the enterprise when they heard of the difficulty restaurants were having in sourcing highquality, locally reared duck. At the time Roger was doing agricultural contracting. “I really missed the animals so much,” says Tanya, “I wanted it to feel like a proper farm again.”
After researching traditional duck breeds, they purchased a small amount of foundation stock to begin this artisan operation. Later they bought the hatchery and now breed the Terras Duck themselves. The specific breed is a secret formula, chosen for its great flavour, resistance to disease and healthy growth. “One thing we value strongly in the breed is that the ducks all have very strong legs, which supports growth without compromising quality of life,” says Tanya.
Eggs are collected from the free-range layers every morning and then incubated. Thursday is hatching day. The time of hatching is controlled by regulating the temperature of the eggs. “Immediately after hatching they are really tired, it’s hard work getting out of that shell,” says Tanya, who is in charge of breeding and hatching. They spend one to two weeks in a specially converted cow shed – a brooder room – that acts as a nursery. It is clean, warm and quiet. Their pens are circular to prevent any of the tiny ducklings getting stuck in a corner.
Later they are moved across the yard to larger sheds, where they listen to classical music. “We try to handle the ducks as little as possible, as this causes stress,” says Tanya.
From four weeks the ducks inhabit large, deep, straw-bedded barns with a low stocking density, their own paddling pools and plenty of outside space. They are brought inside at night to protect them from predators. They are fed on a high-protein crumb initially and then on corn-based finisher pellets. The food is non-GM and nonmedicated.
Because this is not a commercial strain of duck and nothing is added to the food, they take longer to grow than intensively reared duck, finally reaching between two to three kilos. Killing at eight weeks rather than six gives a good fat-to-meat ratio and improves taste.
All laying birds get a 12-week holiday and grandparents are retired to their own quiet area. It is because their ducks are reared in such a natural and stress-free environment and with so much care and attention, that the final product is something really special. “This is not a factory farm,” says Roger. “There is cheaper duck out there, but it is a totally different product.”
Despite being surrounded by ducks day and night, all of which are ultimately bound for the restaurant menu, Roger and Tanya still hold a surprising affection for the creatures – quite different from the detachment you would expect from a meatrearing business. “We said we wouldn’t do it but we do have a duck as a pet now. David even has a female to keep him company.” Apart from the lucky David, all ducks are humanely electronically stunned and processed in a clean and sterile environment. All packaging is also done onsite. “We are totally self-contained,” says Roger. “The only travel which takes place is when the meat is delivered to the customer.
Every Saturday we have our own roast duck. We use duck stock for gravy and vegetables from our own garden.”
The Terras Duck has met with a rapturous reception from chefs across Cornwall and Devon. Nigel Tabb of Tabb’s Restaurantin Truro described the flavour as “simply stunning”. Ben Tunnicliffe of new luxury eco-hotel Scarlet said: “This is quite simply the best duck I have ever had the pleasure of working with.” Terras Duck also features on the menus at Fifteen Cornwall, The Driftwood, Hotel Tresanton and St Kew Inn. Nathan Outlaw used Terras Duck on ‘The Great British Menu’ recently and Roger and Tanya won a Taste of the West gold award for their whole duck in 2007 and 2009.
The business is growing and has as yet been little damaged by the recession. “People are ordering smaller ducks to keep their costs low and the price of their dishes down for the consumer, but we are an adaptable business,” says Roger. “We work to build relationships with chefs. We can get to know their individual needs and respond to them quickly because we are a small business. We offer high-quality products and an excellent personal service,” says Roger.