Duck a l’orange, duck sausage, rotisserie duck — he will grow them all.
Fort Recovery resident Dave Evers plans to raise 400,000 white pekin ducks per year at his Madison Township farm for Maple Leaf Farms. The company will then sell the ducks to restaurants on the east and west coasts and to consumers.
His operation is the second in Jay County. He expects to get his first flock of ducks in May.
Evers said he is “very excited. I’ve been planning this for about two years. It’s getting closer and it’s hard not to get excited at this point.”
This is Evers’ first try at raising ducks for a company. He has worked for Maple Leaf Farms as a field service representative for the last five years. His job required him to travel to duck farms and help diagnose and treat sick ducks.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do,” Evers said of duck farming. “I enjoy farming.” He previously raised chickens with his family for an egg company.
He said his five children are happy about his new business venture because he will be working fewer hours. He expects to work 40 to 50 hours per week at his duck farm, compared to working at least 60 hours per week and being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week as a field service rep. “They’re excited about being able to play with the little ducks,” he said of his daughters. He added that his kids are also looking forward to coming to work with their father.
Evers currently has two barns that are 368 feet by 50 feet each. He plans to build two more that size as soon as the ground dries. He said he decided to have four barns so he would make enough money to support his family. A lagoon designed to hold manure is still being dug out.
“All in all, I’ve been pretty happy with (the progress). I’m keepin’ my fingers crossed. It all comes down to the weather.”
The ground he chose for the barns has been farmed by his family for several years.
Evers said Maple Leaf Farms has another duck farm near Bryant.
In Jay County, a building permit for a duck farm was issued last year for Amos E. Schwartz, 7870 West 650 North, Bryant. His permit was for two buildings and 25,200 ducks, said Bill Milligan, Jay/Portland Building and Planning administrator. He said a few people have come into his office recently and filed preliminary paperwork for duck farms.
Evers said Maple Leaf Farms also has about 70 duck barns in Adams County and one in Mercer County, Ohio. The barns in Adams County are near Geneva, Berne and Monroe, he said. The barn in Mercer County was just built about two weeks ago near Celina, he added.
Jay and surrounding counties aren’t the only places where duck farms are popping up.
The most recent census conducted by the National Agriculture Statistics Service determined that the amount of duck farms in Indiana is on the rise.
As of Dec. 31, 2007, there were 793 duck farms in Indiana, with a total of 1,538,664 ducks. This is up from Dec. 31, 2002, when there were 553 duck farms in the state and a total of 1,143,160 ducks.
According to an official with the NASS, North Central Indiana appears to be where most ducks are raised. In December of 2007, there were 524,099 ducks in Kosciusko County, 393,854 in LaGrange County and 361,568 in Elkhart County.
Evers said Maple Leaf has several duck barns in Kosciusko and LaGrange counties.
He said Americans consume about 25 million ducks per year and Maple Leaf Farms farmers raise about 60 percent of those ducks.
Evers will receive 12,600 ducklings at a time on the day the animals are hatched. They will be trucked in from a hatchery in Cromwell.
The farmer will receive eight flocks of ducks per year.
When the ducklings are first brought to the farm, they will be placed in the nursery area of the barn. This section includes heat lamps for the animals, a line of nipples that will be lowered for the ducks to drink water, saucers to drink water out of and a series of tubes that fill up the feed bins. The animals weigh each a half-ounce at this point.
Very strict sanitary procedures will be implemented. Anyone entering the barns must wear protective disposable clothing — such as boots, hairnets, coveralls and gloves. There will be a boot-washing area and hand sanitizer at every door, he said. The sanitation is needed to prevent the spread of diseases to the ducks, such as E. coli and streptococcus. The ducks also are at risk for bacterial infections and waterfowl diseases. Most illnesses can be treated with antibiotics, he said. Lame ducks will be euthanized.
As the ducks grow, they will be moved to different sections of the barn. Once the animals reach 6 ½ pounds, they are trucked off to Millford to be processed. It takes 31 to 37 days for the ducks to reach this weight, depending on the temperature of the barns. Evers said in the summer, the ducks tend to eat less because of the heat.
The temperature in the barns is somewhat controlled with curtains on the outside of the building that are operated by a wench. Inside, the upper portion of the walls is covered with chicken wire.
To help cool down the ducks in the summer, the water lines are flushed about eight times a day so the animals can drink cool water. Ducks also can pant to cool themselves.
Evers said the older the ducks get, the less external heat they need. When they are ducklings, the animals need their environment to be 82 degrees, but only need it to be 50 degrees by the time they are ready for processing.
The processed ducks are sold to fancy restaurants on the east and west coasts, Evers said. He said most of the ducks grown in Indiana are served at restaurants on the east coast.
Duck raised in Indiana for Maple Leaf Farms was served at President Barack Obama’s inaugural dinner in January of 2009.
Evers said the company also sells its products to consumers. At Christmas time, ducks are sold at grocery stores, he said.
“White table cloth restaurants are still our largest market,” he said. “That’s our growth area,” he said of retail.