That’s All, Yolks: Washoe Valley Duck Farm Shows the Sunny Side of Egg Farming
Kayla Abe, CUESA Staff
March 17, 2017
While “free-range,” “certified organic,” and “cage-free” labels vie for the attention of ethical egg seekers, Anthony Bordessa has no problem getting his eggs to stand out among competitors. Bold and bright, his half-dozen carton reads, “Local, Free-Range Duck Eggs.”
The only problem is persuading uninitiated customers to give them a try. “You can put them on the shelf, but unless people go home and do their research, they don’t know what to do with them,” explains Anthony of Washoe Valley Duck Farm. “That’s the big thing for us right now: trying to talk directly to the consumers. Once we educate them, they love duck eggs.”
Duck eggs are larger and more nutrient-dense than chicken eggs, with more protein, omega-3s, and B-12 vitamins. The flavor profile is similar, though the duck egg’s higher fat content makes for a richer texture, ideal for baking. Duck eggs are primarily a cult favorite, but with Washoe Valley’s 4,000 Khaki Campbell ducks barely keeping up with the growing demand, it seems Anthony may be quietly ushering in a new era for duck eggs.
Laying His Own Legacy
Young, passionate, and imbued with entrepreneurial hustle, 23-year-old Anthony fits the description of a Millennial techie, save for his agricultural background.
A third-generation farmer in Cotati, Anthony knew from a young age that he wanted to carry on the family’s legacy. Though his grandfather’s dairy is no longer in the family, Anthony grew up in the dairy supply store and helped his parents raise pastured chickens. “I love the lifestyle of working outside and taking care of livestock,” Anthony says.
Despite his back-to-the-land roots, Anthony credits his decision to raise ducks to the internet. “One day I was researching about chickens—on how to boost production and whatnot,” recounts Anthony, “and something in the sidebar on Google came up about duck eggs. So I clicked on it because I didn’t know people ate them.”
That serendipitous click landed him at the heart of the tight-knit duck egg advocacy community, where bakers, paleo adherents, and Asian recipe blogs all celebrated the egg for its lofty yolk, superior nutrient content, and decadent richness. “What we found was that among the people who did like them, they really liked them,” says Anthony. “But it was hard for them to find a source.”
Six months of research and 60 ducklings later, the young entrepreneur had started his duck egg beta project. Rapid success in the Sebastopol Farmers Market led to local restaurant partners and soon retail distribution. After graduating from Cal Poly in 2015 with a degree in Agricultural Business, he returned home to continue expanding the operation.
“When we started selling out, we were like, ‘Well, I guess we’ll keep it going and see how far the market will take us,’” says Anthony. “And then we didn’t really see a reason to stop.”
Cracking the $10 Dozen
A half-dozen of Washoe’s eggs at the farmers market costs $5—a bit pricier than most pasture-raised chicken eggs at the farmers market, and considerably more than the price of a conventional, factory-farmed dozen at a supermarket. “When you’re buying six duck eggs, you’re essentially getting ten just because they’re bigger than chicken eggs,” says Anthony. “But if we were to do a dozen, the price would be around $11 retail, and that’s kind of scary, as you can imagine, for someone buying a carton of eggs.”
The low prices of industrial eggs that most consumers are used to come with a hefty cost. The factory-farmed egg industry relies on overcrowding in pathogen-prone living quarters, antibiotics, and negligent waste management practices on a mass scale. These abuses mostly go unseen, but they are brought to light during occasional yet potentially deadly salmonella outbreaks.
As with most sustainably produced items, the higher price of Washoe Valley’s eggs reflects the time, resources, and labor necessary for environmentally sound, humane duck farming. “Our ducks are organic pasture-raised and free-range, so most of the feed is from the grass,” says Anthony. “They can forage about 15 to 20% of their diet.” The remaining 80% consists of a feed of greens and grain, Washoe’s biggest cost.
On their 10 acres, Washoe practices rotational grazing using mobile fencing. This allows them to create different enclosures for the ducks to roam freely within. “Instead of moving the coops we just move the fields,” Anthony explains. “It’s more labor intensive because the ducks are not 100% controlled all the time.”
The more natural living environment means that the ducks’ laying patterns are dictated by the seasons and weather cycles. “If you have a really strong winter like this, that messes with their production rates,” says Anthony. “We get pretty good lay percentage, but per bird, it’s not as much as a bird that’s in a more controlled environment.”
So despite the $5 price tag, Washoe Valley Duck Farm is just making ends meet. Anthony isn’t taking a salary at this time, and instead funnels all income back into the business, which for him, is still a win right now. “I love the reward,” he says, “taking a product from start to finish and having the consumer sincerely enjoy the product and what we do.”
Find Washoe Valley Duck Farm at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in the back plaza on Saturdays.
Top image by Runningbear Images and Designs. Bottom image from Washoe Valley Duck Farm.
Topics: Animal welfare, Farmers, New farmers