FOR the 500 free-range turkeys foraging in pastures at Wagin Duck & Game, all their Christmases are about to come at once.
There will be no pardon from an American president, or from anyone else for that matter, for any of the rafter of Christmas turkeys that will get the chop in the week before Christmas.
A 17th century English tradition enthusiastically absorbed into North American culture, the Christmas turkey is gaining favour, with flavour, in WA.
Fresh, free-range turkey is increasingly taking pride of place on some WA dining tables for Christmas family gatherings and featuring as a special dish on Christmas Day menus at quality dining venues.
The demand for fresh and free-range to replace frozen and caged is being met by Wagin Duck & Game, a “back yard” family business that is the only commercial source of fresh, free-range turkey in WA.
“They (Christmas turkeys) have developed into a once-a-year product for us now and because they’re poultry they fit in well with what we do,” said Marc Brummelman who owns and runs Wagin Duck & Game with his wife Leonie and brother Jos.
“We buy them when they are a day old (young turkeys are called poults) and raise them and fatten them, so we have to start thinking about Christmas back in about June.
“But that’s like most things we do – we have to plan ahead to have a product ready at the right time,” Mr Brummelman said.
Like the Christmas turkeys, each Wagin Duck & Game goose is about to be cooked.
“We’ve sold out already,” Mr Brummelman said of the Christmas goose – an English and Irish tradition pre-dating the introduction of wild turkey from Central America to Europe and its subsequent adoption as a favourite festive-season fare.
Tracking the Christmas turkey’s trajectory, the Christmas goose has also been taking off in WA.
“We used to do maybe 10 to 15 a year, but it’s been going up,” Mr Brummelman said.
“This year we must have done 50 to 60.
“The problem with geese is that they breed later in the year – about September or October – so they are usually not heavy enough by Christmas.
“So we keep our geese until the following year,” he said.
Despite the growing interest in Christmas turkey and geese, duck – also fresh and free range – and quail remain Wagin Duck & Game’s main business.
They also breed and process pheasants and corn-fed chickens – again, fresh and free range.
Like the turkey and geese, pheasants are also seasonal.
“We process and deliver about 400 ducks every week, at any time there’s probably 3000 to 3500 ducks running around the place,” Mr Brummelman said.
“We do about 350 quail a week – we keep them in big aviaries because if we let them out into the paddocks they don’t come back – and we do about 150 chickens a week.”
The poultry are killed, plucked and processed in Wagin Duck & Game’s own abattoir with help from a couple of local workers employed part time by the Brummelmans.
All their products are delivered fresh weekly – except for the “crazy” week before Christmas when deliveries are made daily – to restaurants and gourmet butchers shops, including Rockpool Bar and Grill, Crown Perth, Boatshed Market, Cottesloe, and Ruby Organics on line.
While Perth is the main market, venues in Margaret River, Albany, Denmark and along the coastal strip are now ordering from Wagin Duck & Game, Mr Brummelman said.
“We’ve got a few wineries that are now customers,” he said.
Marketing is pretty much word-of-mouth and the business plan focuses on product quality and customer service to keep notoriously fussy head chefs happy.
The plan is obviously working because the business keeps growing and last month Wagin Duck & Game was named the inaugural Fresh Producer of the Year – a new category in the prestigious The West Australian Good Food Guide Awards.
The Fresh Producer of the Year award category was sponsored by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Buy West Eat Best program, to highlight the depth and breadth of local food producers.
As part of the judging process, chefs were asked to nominate their top three Western Australian fresh producers, irrespective of size, that supply kitchens with superb food, and in doing so help them plate the State’s most remarkable dishes.
Wagin Duck & Game came out on top – a duck, quail, pheasant, grain-fed chicken and turkey feather in the Brummelmans’ cap.
“Congratulations to Wagin Duck & Game business owners Marc, Leonie and Jos Brummelman for recognition of their free-range enterprise as Fresh Producer of the Year, against all other WA competitors,” said Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan at the award ceremony.
“It’s a reminder that small enterprises committed to producing high-quality niche products that fit the needs of chefs can succeed with the right business model.”
Mr Brummelman said the three of them went to the awards presentation.
“Winning the award was very important to us, we are very proud of it,” he said.
“Fresh is something really important that consumers associate with the best taste and texture – also free-range, consumers these days care about how we treat our animals.”
Mr Brummelman said attending the awards was a valuable chance to network.
“We don’t get up to Perth often so it was a good chance to meet and talk to some of the chefs in person, after the awards, who we normally only speak to on the phone when they are placing orders.”
On their Facebook page the Brummelmans describe Wagin Duck & Game as “a family-owned small business right in the back yard” which is no exaggeration.
The business is located on the outskirts of the town – only about 100 metres from Wagin Lake but they claim not to have added to or reduced the lake’s resident wild duck population – on a 6.8 hectare home block and an adjacent slightly smaller lease block.
The perimeter has an electric fence to keep foxes, stray dogs and feral cats out and the properties are divided into paddocks with plentiful water troughs where the birds forage during the day – they are shedded at night for protection and warmth.
Some of the smaller paddocks are covered by bird netting to protect the ducklings – they are allowed to wander after about 10 days from hatching – and chicks.
“We need the netting to protect the young ones, otherwise we can have a problem with the crows,” Mr Brummelman said.
He and Jos grew up on a poultry and pig farm in Holland and came to Australia as part of an exchange program in 1996 before deciding to stay on here.
Mr Brummelman said they tried “normal” farming for a few years then introduced some pigs into the enterprise mix and gradually swung away from cropping.
About six years ago they decided to do something completely different and started Wagin Duck & Game to fill a perceived producer vacuum.
“The basics of animal husbandry are essentially the same whether it’s pigs or poultry,” Mr Brummelman said, but admitted they have gone through “some very steep learning curves at times”.
He and Jos have siblings living in Holland and their parents, now in their 70s, make regular trips to WA.
“They love coming out about every two years and helping us on the farm for a while,” he said.
Once the Christmas rush is over, the Brummelmans will have time to take stock and assess their next business move.
“We are looking at expanding into duck eggs,” Mr Brummelman explained.
A good analogy for Wagin Duck & Game is a duck floating on a pond – while it is a picture of serenity on top, there is plenty of paddling action going on underneath to stay in front.