When Matthew Crane ate at Tasmania’s premier restaurants, he noted the menus boasted free-range chicken, pasture-fed beef and rare-breed pork, but when it came to duck it was only ever just “duck”.
Seeing a gap in the quality protein market, Mr Crane started Strelleyfield Farm at Breadalbane where he produces free-range pekin and muscovy ducks.
Strelleyfield Farm was established in the Northern Midlands’ green fields, next to Launceston Airport, and is home to around 700 birds.
This population includes several batches of ducklings at various stages and 120 breeding ducks.
The farm was a chance for Mr Crane and his family to return to Tasmania and experience a different pace of life, but also gave him an opportunity to farm animals in away that respected both the animal and the land on which they live.
“I spent 10 years working in the broiler chicken industry on the mainland and got sick of the lifestyle and I wanted to come back home,” he said.
Mr Crane calculated chickens raised on the industrial farms he worked at received around 13 seconds of a worker’s time over the eight weeks in which they were alive, or just over one second a week.
“Coming from an industrial-scale chicken farm back to this, where there are hundreds of birds, rather than thousands, means I get to spend more time with the birds,” he said.
Strelleyfield Farm ducks enjoy a longer, slower life, with less stress than industrial-farmed birds, which Mr Crane hopes is borne out in the meat texture and flavour.
“We can offer higher welfare for our animals,” he said.
“There is a lot more joy in this farming. When you get the birds on the grass and they’re foraging it’s a nice thing to see – and you can taste the difference in the flavour.”
...they are always getting fresh grass, worms, insects and clover and that brings out a better flavour in the meat.Matthew Crane
Mr Crane built up his duck farm on a part-time basis while he worked in an animal nutrition role, but took it full time last year.
While he admits ducks are messy animals to farm, Mr Crane relishes the opportunity presented to him by this venture.
“It’s taken a few years to work out how to do it. Ducks are messier than chickens – they don’t keep their house in order at all – but I’ve got a good system now,” he said.
Strelleyfield Farm ducks have fresh pasture every few days via portable shelters, along with plenty of access to sunlight, lots of space and opportunities for social interaction with the flock.
“It means they are always getting fresh grass, worms, insects and clover, and that brings out a better flavour in the meat.”
Their natural foraged diet is supplemented with high-quality, antibiotic-free grain mixes that are formulated for their nutrition.
This nutritional combination keeps the ducks healthy and happy, but also replenishes the farm’s soil.
Tasmanian restaurants, like The Terrace, Stillwater, Josef Chromy and Hobart venues, have added Strelleyfield Farm duck to their menus and butchers and mainland restaurants are following suit.
Strelleyfield ducks are also sold at Harvest Launceston.
“Restaurants had free-range chicken and pork, but just duck. Free-range wasn’t really an option,” he said.
“All the duck came frozen from Victoria or NSW and I figured there was a gap in the market for a quality bespoke option.”
He is encouraged by the positive response from chefs, butchers and Harvest market customers.
“Flavour has been the main point of feedback. It’s been really good to talk to chefs who have been able to get amazing flavours and dishes [from Strelleyfield produce].”
“And people are happy there is another option [to imported duck]. The animal welfare aspect is important to them,” he said.
Now he is working on the farm full time, Mr Crane hopes to increase the outlets where Strelleyfield Farm ducks are available.
“I had a limited supply this year, but I’m hoping for a better spring. I had to build the supply chain from the ground up but should soon have a weekly supply of duck meat.”
He has also started experimenting with a cross between his pekin and muscovy ducks to produce mullards, the breed used in France to produce foie gras.
While he is not looking to produce foie gras, Mr Crane said the mullard meat was leaner than the other two breeds.
Strelleyfield Farm’s Breadalbane home has the capacity to double as Mr Crane scales up his operation, but he anticipates anything more than 1500 birds would mean another location is needed.
“I’m looking to lease or purchase more land because I think we’ll outgrow here this spring.”