Few entrepreneurs are making money from duck raising now due to rising feed prices and increasing production cost. But Leo Dator is an exception.
Until the late Seventies, duck raising and duck egg production had been a thriving industry in Pateros, a town by the Pasig River, south of Metro Manila. The small municipality has become famous for its dark red-stained salted egg and balut, a duck egg embryonated for 16 to 18 days which is eaten boiled. These two poultry products are exotic delicacies popular among Filipinos whether rich or poor.
But urbanization and rapid industrial growth starting in the 1980s have slowly displaced the once-thriving duck production industry of Pateros. At present, only a few of the town’s original families still engage in the business, many of whom had been dislodged by homes and factories sprouting along Pasig River which spill out chemical wastes and other pollutants, causing serious threat to the local folk’s means of livelihood.
Today, while Pateros still produces the famous balut and salted egg, the center of duck raising has moved farther south along the lakeshore towns of Laguna de Bay, considered southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake with a total area of 90,000 hectares.
One such town is Victoria, where 43-year old Leo Dator and his family operate a duck farm since 1984. Although some of their townmates – and some others elsewhere – had gone into similar business with modest success, the Dator Duck Farm is arguably the country’s best managed, as it continues to post sustained growth despite rising feed prices and other problems that affect profitability.
In fact the Dator duck farm in Barangay Nanhaya produces anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 eggs a day, quite a record in this part of the country.
What is so unique about the enterprise and what is the secret behind its staying power?
During a farm visit by officers and members of the Philippine Agricultural Journalists Inc. early this year, Leo Dator and wife Josephine were more than willing to provide the answers.
Inherited Business Venture
When he inherited the business from his father in 1984, Leo had little hands-on knowledge of duck raising because he worked full-time as an agrochemical salesman at the Shell office in Makati City only a few years back.
“We started with a flock of 1,000 ducks 20 years ago”, recalls the agribusiness graduate from UP Los BaÃƒÂ±os.”Today, we produce most of the duck eggs that go to Pateros and other parts of Metro Manila and Laguna. Our farm is the largest in Laguna and probably in the country.”
Together with wife Josephine, Leo currently manages a flock of 55,000 ducks that lay nearly the same number of eggs daily. Assisting them are 40 committed workers who devote their entire mornings feeding the ducks, and later collecting their eggs. In return, they and their families are provided on-farm housing facilities and daily sustenance.
The eggs are transported to Metro Manila and nearby provinces through pre-arranged orders and walk-in purchases, where they become itlog na pula (salted eggs), penoy ( table grade boiled eggs) and the exotic balut.
“By noon, not only are the eggs harvested, they would have already been sold and totally disposed of,” Josephine quips.
Dependence on Natural Diet
One of the more patent differences in the way Dator raises his flock is the kind of material he feeds on the animals. Unlike most duck raisers who rely on commercial feeds and therefore are adverse to price hikes of corn, soybeans, and other ingredients, Leo regularly feeds the birds with natural and farm-prepared food consisting of raw and dried cassava, camote (sweet potato), gabi and sakwa all supplied by local producers and farm cooperatives.
To make this possible, he has established a supply arrangement with upland farmers as far as Nueva Ecija, Batangas and Quezon, particularly within the Bondoc Peninsula, where most upland dwellers have very little market access for their produce.
“To some extent, our business actually provides jobs to poor farmers in the Bondoc Peninsula, who are otherwise drawn into communist insurgency because of abject poverty in the uplands,” he says.
Complementing the root crops are rice bran, over-ripe fruits, green legumes, earthworms, maggots and even insects.
Tapping the Lake’s Rich Resource
Each day, Leo also gathers up to six tons of young and juvenile mollusks like shells and pond snails from the vast Laguna de Bay and feed them to the flock four times a day.
To do this, he maintains a fleet of motorized banca piloted by hired skilled fishermen whose only job is to ply the lake in search of mollusks.
“Many feed companies had been offering their products to us, saying they have the right mix appropriate for ducks,” Leo relates. “But when you’re into duck egg production, there can be no better substitute for young shells and pond snails because these calcium-rich aquatic food ingredients help form richer egg yolk and thicker egg shell that add premium to our products,” he explains.
With the buying price of cassava at P3.25 per kilogram and camote at P2.50, the farm owner estimates that his farm-prepared feeds cost only half the price of commercial feeds, which is around P13 per kg.
Put on a different light, he says he only spends eighty centavos to P1.10 per bird per day using his self-prepared feeds while he spends around P2 if his flock’s diet were supplied by commercial feed dealers. He reckons that using his self-mixed formula, he could easily break even at the first 30 percent of egg sales while it would take him 60 percent if he used commercial feeds.
Bright Outlook for Duck Raising
While population at the Dator farm is currently placed at 55,000 birds, rising farm gate prices of eggs and strong consumer demand are encouraging Leo and Josephine to increase their flock to 100,000 by 2006. At present, the couple sells fresh duck eggs between P3.90 to P4.10 per piece while balut and salted eggs are priced at P5.40 and P5.80, respectively. Government data shows duck egg prices at farmgate have been rising 1 to 2 percent yearly since 2000.
“Because of ducks, we were able to send our four children, all boys, to good schools in Metro Manila and Laguna,” says Josephine, a former PLDT employee who opted for an early retirement in the early 90s.
The Dators point out that they have also begun installing a locally-fabricated feed mill inside the farm, designed to produce naturally prepared animal nutrients principally intended for their flock, with the excess output to be sold to other duck farms in Laguna, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and elsewhere.
Meantime, Leo has not been hiding from other poultry raisers his trade secret of effectively managing a duck enterprise. In between periods of scouting for new markets for his eggs, he offers his time to speak before Filipino agribusiness entrepreneurs interested to start a duck raising venture. He also represents the Philippines during duck raising and egg production seminar and conferences overseas with the goal of further enhancing efficiency in his farm and sharing his knowledge to anyone willing to learn the trade.
“My goal is to promote duck meat consumption among Filipinos and among our neighboring Asians, more so at a time when the region is gripped by the avian flu virus,” he says.
Dator’s Duck Farm
Brgy. Nanhaya, Victoria, Laguna
author: Fermin M. Diaz, www.smileyberks.com