DALMENY, Sask. – The Hodges family is introducing consumers to exotic new tastes while at the same time striving to preserve rare and endangered waterfowl.
Ian and Colleen Hodges raise 25 varieties of ducks for fresh eggs and breeding stock on 10 acres near Dalmeny.
The varieties sport curious names such as Khaki Campbell, Ancona, Cayuga and Welsh Harlequin and range in size, shape and colour.
“It gives the marketplace variety,” Ian said. “Worldwide, duck eggs are more commonly consumed (than chicken eggs).”
He said ducks are particularly popular in Asian communities.
During a recent visit to the farm, the ducks scattered together by breed in their paddocks as Ian explained why he prefers rural living.
“I won’t have neighbours living six feet from me,” he said, while noting the advantages for his three children of growing up here and being responsible for daily chores.
The Hodges chose Dalmeny because of its proximity to Saskatoon, where they sell fresh eggs at the farmers’ market every weekend.
Ian has been showing poultry since his teens and achieved a master exhibitor award in 1989. He, Colleen and their children were also active in 4-H sheep and duck projects in their former home of British Columbia, where they raised sheep, goats and ducks.
He likes working with ducks and finds them intelligent and self-sufficient. They forage for insects and grasses to eat.
Ian said 15 to 25 ducks per acre of water can restore ponds, creeks and small lakes infested with algae. They have an appetite for all types of creatures, from grasshoppers to beetles to snails, and can be used to control the spread of liver flukes in livestock.
Colleen said they also have good personalities.
“They come up and rub against you. They talk to you. You call and they come.”
She said duck eggs are higher in fat and protein and make baking taste more rich and rise higher. Many people allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs, she added.
The birds are raised naturally and given no antibiotics.
The Hodges bring in several ducks at a time from a biosecure Oregon farm that is inspected by state veterinarians.
The family manages predators such as foxes in their free-range flock with the help of three llamas, good fencing and night-time housing inside a 75-year-old barn, which was a major selling feature for this property when they bought it.
About 300 laying hens move freely inside heated wooden grain bins, but the ducks handle the extreme prairie temperatures well.
Colleen works off the farm as an aid at a care home in Dalmeny while Ian sells dairy semen for Westgen, which takes him across Saskatchewan.
At the market, Colleen sells up to 70 dozen chicken eggs and 40 dozen duck eggs per week. It’s a breakeven proposition, with any profits invested back into the farm.
The eggs are priced at what the market will bear, with a dozen chicken eggs selling for $4 in Saskatoon compared to $7 on Granville Island in Vancouver.
“As long as the ducks pay their way, we’re fine,” said Colleen. “We don’t want it coming out of the household money.”
Their daughter, Megan, 18, helps at the market and does chores, as does sister Sian, 19. Gareth, 22, works in trucking in Regina.
Diet and nutrition are particularly important to the Hodges, whose daughters have diabetes and whose son has allergies.
“Our son is allergic to penicillin so it’s important for me to know what we are eating and to have our own food,” Colleen said.
“Until you have health issues, maybe you’re OK buying from the store.”
The Hodges eventually plan to get rid of their chickens to reduce the workload and eliminate high feed costs.
They will stop attending the farmers’ market and sell products through the farmers’ market store and at health food stores. Website marketing is also planned.
This year, Ian will add 50 Suffolk sheep for meat and breeding stock. New plantings of sour cherry, apple and plum trees will provide shade while waste fruit will be fed to their birds.
“We’ll start small and build from there,” Ian sad.