Native: na•tiv /náytiv/

Native means born or produced in a specific region or country, but it can also apply to persons or things that were introduced from elsewhere some time ago...

Excerpt from The Pocket Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus
By Elizabeth Jewell


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Duck Eggs — A Visit to the Hill Foot Farm

Stepping into the spacious barns the Hill Foot Farm Pekin ducks call home one immediately notices that the fences are only knee-high. Anticipating the question manager and owner Peter Mitchell says, “They can’t fly. The Chinese bred flight out of them about 3,000 years ago and their body mass is too great to allow them to get off the ground any higher than that fence.” He looks at the ridiculously low barrier and laughs. “Why would they want to leave? Everything they need is taken care of.”

“They’ve got a good life here,” says Peter’s wife and business partner Katie, “The females eat and lay eggs, the males eat and bonk.”
And bonk they do. The 2,500 Hill Foot Farm ducks average about 950 eggs a day and to do that they need to mate with great regularity. At 26 weeks a duck is mature enough to reproduce and given the right conditions will continue laying for about 40 weeks. To attain this a systematic rotation takes place on the farm in which groups of females are cycled through groups of males to keep egg production going. The ratio of female to male ducks in a reasonably sized operation is usually 6 to 1. (Presently, the Hill Foot Farm ratio is 4 to 1.) In the spring and summer, the most fertile times, the ducks will produce about 1,200 eggs a day. That number then dwindles to about 700 a day in the fall and winter. Why? The reproductive cycle of a duck, like most other birds, is contingent on the amount of daylight hours in a given day which changes seasonally.

Most birds molt twice a year, spring and fall. In the spring males produce the brighter plumage needed to attract a mate and both sexes grow a new set of healthy feathers to fly and protect their offspring. In the fall these feathers are worn out so they are molted again, by the time the next batch grows in the bird has a strong, new set to carry them on a long, migratory flight. As they would in the wild, domesticated ducks move through the same weight gain and loss cycles they would have if they had remained migratory birds. In the fall molting season a bird will lose approximately a quarter of their body mass. For domesticated birds the fall molt greatly reduces the number of eggs they can lay. 

Katie and a few other employees gather all the eggs each morning. Usually by noon or sooner Peter has examined each egg, graded them, placed them in palettes, then begins the process of filling orders. Along with the raising of the ducks and the sorting of the eggs he is the farm’s sales team and delivery person. The majority of his eggs go to the Chinese and Indian markets and restaurants in the greater Auckland area. “I used to sell at the Matakana Farmers’ Market but stopped awhile ago,” says Mitchell, “I enjoyed the market. It was great taking the piss out of the city people.”

While the duck egg hasn’t entirely captured the hearts and minds of hungry Anglos with the same thoroughness as the chicken egg, there is a great market for the Mitchell’s duck eggs. “Duck and duck eggs are a long standing part of Asian food and culture,” says Mitchell, “it goes back centuries. It’s interesting too that each race likes a particular kind of duck. The Chinese like younger ducks, under 49 days old. After that the pin feathers come in and they’re more difficult to clean and prepare. The Indians like their duck older. Don’t now why, they just do.”

The Mitchells have been in the business of raising ducks for seven years. Prior to that they worked in England, where Katie is from, in various farm related occupations. To supplement their income they sell the composted duck waste. “There’s nothing sweeter then selling s**t,” smiles Peter, adding that “this stuff,” the manure mixed with wood shavings they make on-site, “is the best thing for gardens. Chicken s**t is too strong. Strong smelling and it’s dirty, full of ammonia. Our compost is all organic and full of beneficial nitrogen and bacteria. We only use probiotics on our flock so the waste is ‘cleaner.’”

They also keep sheep and horses and allow a friend’s Highland Cows to graze their land. “Highlands are great for the place,” explains Peter. “They eat the coarse grasses that none of the other animals will eat. They keep things tidy.”

As anyone who raises livestock knows it is an endless occupation. “We’re here every day of the year,” says Katie, “we’d love to take a vacation.”

“Yeah, do a bit of fishing,” smiles Peter, then adds, “but we’re happy to be with them.”

It’s clear that the Mitchells are as dedicated to their ducks as the ducks are to them. 

Duck eggs vs. Chicken eggs
Preparing duck eggs is in most cases no different than preparing chicken eggs and all the same rules of safe handling apply. Nutritionally a duck egg is significantly higher in vitamins and minerals than a chicken egg. Of course, a duck egg is almost double the size of a chicken egg but the values of vitamin A and B12 are 3 and 5 times greater in the egg of a duck. The yolk of a duck egg is higher in fat than that of a chicken egg and the white is more clear and dense. When fried or scrambled duck eggs are brighter in color and taste richer and when used to make pastries and pastas, as they are by some families in France, the noodles are much more yellow and pleasing to the eye. In Asia, especially China, duck eggs are much more highly valued than chicken eggs and are used frequently in many dishes. The most interesting is the Century Egg or the 1,000 year egg. (We filmed ourselves opening and eating a century egg, click here to view.)

For more information contact:
Peter & Katie Mitchell
Hill Foot Farm -- Mahurangi Duck
603 Old Woodcocks Road
RD 1, Warkworth 0981
New Zealand
09 422 5042

In the United States you can find duck eggs locally by visiting Local Harvest and doing a key word search.

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Reader Comments (17)

Fascinating. I have had many friends who kept ducks for the duck eggs - but certainly not on that scale! What a fun day you must have had.

Monday, 7 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia

Whoa! That was intense.

Monday, 7 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJesse Becker, MS

I used to raise chickens for eggs but don't know much much about duck eggs...thanks for the informative post. I really enjoyed reading this!

Monday, 7 December 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkathyvegas

Wow~ Bold! That looked gross, but my hubby wants to try one now!

Monday, 7 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRochelle

Wow, that really looks like a coosy home, arghh. Don't you guys have eyes to see how miserably they live?! Sure you all'd love to live surrounded by a thousand other idiots like you, having to sit in the dirt of your neighboor. Maybe your brains were substituted for eggs and you just didn't notice....

-- Dear Duck,
These ducks seemed very happy to us. There was no filth and the shavings are changed regularly. We visit farms on a regular basis and this one was especially healthy. But you're entitled to your own opinion I guess.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009 | Unregistered Commenterduck

I would love to try duck eggs - and what a great, informative post discussing the raising of ducks for eggs! I bet the trip to the farm was great fun.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlta (Tasty Eats At Home)

This is a great post - I love that you're raising awareness about free range eggs and the health benefits of alternate egg sources. I know that we forget that there are other choices out there from chicken eggs, but there are. And, given the conditions that most chickens live in to produce the mass amount of eggs the US consumes, we need to start making other choices. I only buy free range eggs now that I know the difference.

Just my two cents!!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy @ Simply Sugar & Gluten Free

We have a web site if you would like to read more about the farm.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Mitchell

Congrats on Top 9 today! I recently had duck eggs for a brunch this weekend and I'm hooked! They were so delicious for an eggs benedict. Hopefully I can find some in Manhattan so I can make it at home :)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDhale

Your photographs are brilliant. I felt like I was there. Congratulations on your Top 9 honors, they are extremely well-deserved. I look forward to following you in the future. My admiration, Micki

Wednesday, 9 December 2009 | Unregistered Commentermickimotomama

You've got me thinking about roast duck, and what a production it is to fix. Of course, thoughts of roast duck often lead to thoughts of Pic St. Loup, too. Maybe a Clos Marie "L'Olivette" 2004...think there's one in the cellar...hmmm...

Thursday, 10 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Wine Mule

Wow....what a beautiful scene of ducks! Looks like traffic jam....LOL. Oooooh....I love all those duck eggs. I would love to make salted duck eggs and eat with congee....very delicious.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaryMoh

This is an amazing site with great photographs... what a great find!

Sunday, 13 December 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdeana@lostpastremembered

Fabulous photos! Who knew there was a wonderful world of ducks in NZ.

Monday, 14 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Enjoyed very much in reading. Thanks.
We have here a very popular type of noodle that is made with duck eggs - the one that uses for the traditional noodles with wontons (Cantonese style).

Friday, 18 December 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTasteHongKong

My grandmother raised ducks when I was a child. She made many lovely dishes with duck eggs. I can still taste how delicious they were many years later. Unfortunately, she never wrote recipes down. Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

Sunday, 10 January 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBromography

To those who mistake the crowd of ducks for unhappy conditions. This is simply what they do. It doesn't matter how much or how little space we give our girls. Wherever one goes, the others are rarely more than a foot away. Ducks like to huddle.

Thursday, 14 January 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack
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