Napoleon “Leo” Dator jr. owns and operate a commercial duck raising when he was first ventured into the business 1983 with an initial 1,000 birds.
Decades earlier, his father had done the same thing, and served as an inspiration to him and his two brothers. Today, Dator is considered one of the largest leading ducks raisers in the Philippines.
Although it's been said that there are as many as production systems in the country as there are raisers, ducks have traditionally been grown free range farming but Mr. Dator chose instead to raise his Philippines mallard flock in building.
“My ducks are housed in elevated buildings that have slatted plastic flooring,” he explained. He has been following his system since 1984.
“The advantage of housing the ducks in that feeding is consistent,” he pointed out. “That's how I've been able to keep their production consistent. In free-range systems, once food is no longer available to the birds, then production declines.”
This way production is consistent even during the rainy season, a afar cry from his father's time when the rainy season meant a decline in production due to disease.
Rather than grow his flock from day-old-pullets, Mr Dator buys ready-to-lay birds from different areas, including the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Quirino, Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Quezon.
As a rule, each house has about 2,000 birds, or a density of five birds per square meter. The floors are covered with rice hull. The female-male ratio is 10:1. Unlike in layer chickens, duck eggs should be fertilized because they are used primarily for balut (boiled duck embryo) and salted egg processing.
In general, the ducks in the farm remain productive for about two years. Mr. Dator prefers selective culling, saying he believes in keeping birds so long as they remain productive.
While ducks are more resilient than chickens, he admitted that his biggest disease concerns are diarrhea, flu, and respiratory ailments. Morality rate could go as high as 20% a year.
To manage disease problems, Mr. Dator implements preventive measures like flushing where he gives water-soluble medication for three days each month to the birds. He has turned away from using antibiotics, shifting instead to the use of more natural products like probiotics.
The Search for an Alternative
From 1983 – 1986, Mr. Dator used a mixture of rice bran, pond snails, cassava, pawns and fish meal. When commercial feeds became available in 1986, he made a switch.
“In 1986, more expensive commercial feeds penetrated the industry,” he recall. “Although production improved, the cost of production also went up. Then in 1990, corn-based feeds, and this led to lower hatch ability and smaller egg size.”
This development prompted him to seek cheaper alternatives to commercial feeds, which would not adversely affect the quality of the duck eggs he produces. “Seventy percent of production cost are accounted for by feeds,” he remarked. “That means if they go up, then our break-even point also goes up.”
His experimental led him to go natural, and in mid-2003, he began to use cassava as his sole basal feed. Today, his feed ration is made up of 70% cassava, 15% fish meal and 15% rice bran (which serves as a blinder). He also adds amino acids, vitamin and mineral premixes.
The shift to cassava as base for his dry feed proved highly beneficial. Cassava prices are more stable than corn and wheat prices and supply is relatively stable. “Today, I spend a little over a peso on feeds per duck, as compared to the about PHP 2 per duck when using commercial feeds,” Mr. Dator said. “With natural feeds, we can break even at the first 30% of egg sales, but with commercial feeds, it used to be 60%.”
He added that had he stayed on with commercial feeds he wouldn't have been making money and may have been forced out of business.
Dry feed is given to the birds three times a day. The cassava is peeled and ground, then boiled and mixed with the fish meal and rice bran. Once mixed, the feed has to be consumed within the day.
Mr. Dator said that cassava farmers have also benefited from his shift. “We get our cassava directly from farmers, many of whom didn't that it could be a good source of income for them,” he explained. “So in a way we helped create a livelihood for them.”
“Our production ranges from a low of 40% to a high of 70%, depending on the season. But on the average, our production is around 60%. A big reason for this that we are able to maintain our feed and ingredients throughout the year.
Feed consistency is very important in duck raising. If you keep changing the ingredients, even though the nutritional content of the feed remain the same, your birds are not going to perform well. Ducks can tell if you change ingredients and react quickly, so it is important to be consistent.”
In addition to the cassava-based dry feed, Mr. Dator also feed s his ducks suso (pond snails) as wet feed. These, as well as his fish meal, are sourced from fish meal, are sourced from nearby Laguna Lake and are the main protein sources for his ducks.
Each day, he unloads 2,000 cans or about 20 metric tonnes of snails in the farm. To prevent bacterial diseases, these are washed upon arrival and again before being fed to the ducks.
Wet feeds are given to the birds four times daily. By feeding the duck with snails, he also able to bring down his dry feed volume. Without the snails, he would need an additional 150g of feed per bird per day. With the snails, he can cut this to only 100g per bird daily.
With the ducks fed as high as 24 – 25% protein using his natural feed, versus the 18 – 19% common in commercial feeds, Mr Dator said egg production improved, and egg sizes increased.
“Also, our eggs have more orange yolk, which is what the market prefers,” he said. “Also because of its higher protein content, our eggs are excellent for salted egg processing. Usually, processing salted eggs takes about 18 days, but with our eggs, you can already achieve the desired oily state of the egg yolks in 14 days.”
Marketing, Distributing and Moving Forward
According to Mr. Dator, the demand for duck eggs peak between June and September, and between January and March. At these times, available supply tends to be low, thus allowing egg producers to dictate prices. On the other hand, when demand ebbs from April to May and from October to December, supply increases and the reverse occurs.
“These days, however, egg producers only have three months out of 12 to determine prices,” he remarked, adding that the current economic situation in the country has not helped to keep demand as high as it used to be.
As a practice, Mr. Dator does not deliver his eggs, but waits for buyers to come and pick them up at the farm. Buyers come daily from within Laguna, Metro Manila and nearby provinces like Batangas and Bulacan.
He admits that the challenge s he and other duck raisers in the country face currently are daunting. After all, the local duck industry has, in the past, been relegated to the back burner in favor of the dynamic chicken sector. One of the biggest problems, he said, is the lack of credit facilities.
“Banks are more likely to approve cars loans than loans for ventures like ours,”he lamented. “So we are forced to borrow from private lenders who charge high interest rates. Sometimes, we are unable to load the birds at the proper time because the money is not available. When that happens, then you not able to have the ducks ready for production at the proper time.”
Fortunately, the government has now set it sights on helping the duck industry. This came about with the help of other duck raisers in Luzon, the Livestock Development Council of the Department of Agriculture and the Duck Raisers Association of the Philippines Inc. of which Mr. Dator is now a member.
Among their goals is to bring the duck industry to its fullest potential, and toward this end, the group is working with the government to prepare an industry road map for development. The issues to be addressed include genetic improvement, improving production systems, market promotion, more investment-friendly policies and, credit availability, among others (see article on Philippine duck industry in April 2005 issues).
While the Philippine duck industry may still be far from achieving all its goals, Mr Dator has already made some headway. His farm is already serving as an experimental farm of sorts, and he is happy to share his knowledge in duck raising with others in the business or those who may want to venture into it. With his assistance, perhaps the industry will reach it objectives sooner.
ASIAN POULTRY MAGAZINE – August 2005