For the Love of Ducks
STORY AND PICTURES BY RICHARD CORNISH
Fiona Briers lives on top of a volcano. An extinct volcano. She carries the pails of feed up the hill to feed her ducks. The crushed grain supplements the pasture they live and feed on. She is greeted with a low squabble of clucks. She points to a deep green mound on the near horizon. “That’s Mount Franklin,” Fiona explains, “we named our 20ha farm after it, ‘Vue du Vulcan Farm’.” In the three years that Fiona and her husband Ben Grounds have been raising ducks, Vue du Vulcan has become a brand favoured by hard core foodies.
With warm weather and recent rain the grass is so lush it is almost above the ducks’ beaks. Fiona calls herself a regenerative farmer.
She is a respected member of this growing movement in which small scale farmers create soil fertility and hence better pasture by carefully managing grazing animals around the farm. Fiona shows a strip where the ducks were grazing this time last year. There are fewer weeds species and the pasture is thicker and deeper green than surrounding paddocks.
The ducks are hatched on the farm in an incubator then sent to a protected and warmed brooding pen until they are four weeks old. They run a mixed flock of Pekin, Aylesbury and Muscovy ducks. They are then put on pasture, moving from patch to patch, for a further 10 weeks then sent off for slaughter. The flock of ducks are kept from wandering away by a mesh of solar powered electric fence.
While the foxes are kept at bay by a great white Maremma called Thibaud, one of the biggest hurdles to success is humans. Humans and their lack of understanding about duck.
"Duck is not chicken!" Says Fiona. "People think that because duck is poultry it should be cooked like chook," she says. "It's more like lamb." She says to cook breast like lamb fillets and not to be afraid of pink. She explains that because ducks are bred from migratory birds they have special muscle in their breast to help fly long distances. This muscle remains pink even when cooked. “The other thing that people don’t understand is duck fat,” she says. Vue du Vulcan ducks tend to have more fat than commercial ducks but this is a good thing. Duck fat is a quintessential part of French cooking from roasting perfect potatoes to making cassoulet. A Francophile herself she leads cooking classes throughout the year teaching confit and cassoulet classes at Jonai Farms.
Vulcan delivers around the Castlemaine, Kyneton and Daylesford and city readers can find them at the Collingwood and Fairfield Farmers Markets.
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