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Victoria, Laguna - the Duck Capital

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Unknown to many, Pateros sources most of its eggs that eventually become balut from an enterprising poultry farm in this lakeside town, which built a monument in honor of the egg-hatching itik or Philippine mallard.

The town of Victoria, which borders Laguna Lake, is known for the Itik (Anas plathrhynchos Linn) Festival, held every second week of November. Nowhere else is the P5.5-billion duck industry more vibrant than in this municipality of 30,000.

In 2003, the Philippines produced 54 million kilos of duck eggs and the same volume of duck meat. Total duck egg production amounted to P2.5 billion while the combined duck meat output grossed P2.93 billion.

"We produce most of the duck eggs that go to Pateros and other parts of Metro Manila and Laguna," said Leo Dator, owner of Dator's Ducks Farm in Barangay Nanhaya. "Our farm is the largest in Laguna, and probably in the country."

Dator and his wife Josephine run a colony of 55,000 ducks that hatch nearly the same number of eggs daily. Helping them are 40 loyal workers who devote their entire mornings feeding and cleaning the ducks and later collecting their eggs. The workers are given shelter and daily provisions.

The eggs are transported to Metro Manila and nearby provinces where they become itlog na pula (salted eggs), penoy (boiled egg) and the tasty balut (embryonated egg 16-18 days), which has been identified with Pateros, although the southern town of Metro Manila has lost most of its poultry farms to commercial and industrial establishments lately.

Alternative feed

Dator's Ducks Farm, located by the lake, thrives amid spiraling prices of corn and soybeans, the main ingredients for commercial feeds. The credit goes to Dator, a 43-year-old former salesman, whose innovative ideas in duck-raising drew the attention of the Philippine government and other countries.

"Since the prices of corn and other commercial feed ingredients are high, we gave our ducks something else to eat. We gave them natural feeds such as cassava and camote [sweet potato], which can be sourced from the mountains," he said.

Dator, who graduated from the University of the Philippines in Los Baños with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1980, discovered that a mix of cassava, camote and other bulbs could not only supplement, but also replace the expensive commercial feeds.

Ducks also forage rice, fruits, green legumes, algae, aquatic weeds, fungi, snails, earthworms, maggots and even insects.

His discovery, according to Dator, has been proven over two decades since he inherited the business from his father in 1984. Starting with only 1,000 ducks in that year, Dator said the number grew to 55,000 today and is expected to reach 100,000 in the next couple of years.

"The natural feeds are cheaper by half. Ducks feeding on natural feeds are healthier and have longer hatching life before culling. However, productivity among ducks feeding on natural feeds is lower by a slight 10 percent," he admitted.

"By using natural feeds, we also help upland farmers by buying their crops," Dator said. "We consume around 6 metric tons [MT] of cassava and 3 MT of camote everyday.

He said they also use other native tubers such as gabi and sakwa.

With the buying price of cassava at P3.25 a kilo and camote at P2.50 a kilo, Dator estimated that his natural feeds cost only half the price of commercial feeds, which is around P13 a kilo.

Dator said he only spends P0.80 to P1.10 for dry natural feeds of each duck daily, compared to P2 for every duck that consumes commercial feeds. "With natural feeds, we could already break even at the first 30 percent of egg sales. With commercial feeds, it used to be 60 percent," he said.

Bright future

However, he explained that the dry natural feeds comprise only half of the daily diet of ducks, which are adapted to aquatic life. Each day, a truck unloads some 2,000 cans or approximately 20 MT of pond snails gathered by a fishing boat from the Laguna Lake for the wet feeds of the ducks. Wet feeds are served four times a day, he added.

Josephine, Dator's wife, said their daily egg output have ready buyers who go to their farm on a regular basis. "By noon, not only were the eggs harvested, they were already sold," she said.

A few years after getting married, Josephine also resigned from her former job at the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. to help his husband in the duck business.

The 42-year-old mother now manages the financial aspect of the thriving business, which involves 20,000 to 60,000 eggs each day. Each fresh egg is sold at P3.90 to P4.10 apiece, while balut and salted eggs are priced higher at P5.40 to P5.80 apiece.

"Because of ducks, we were able to send our four children, all boys, to good schools in Metro Manila and Laguna," she said. A sign of the family's success is two sedans parked at the garage of their farmhouse.

Josephine said business prospects are even brighter in the future, with all the expansion plan and the improving egg prices. Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics showed that farmgate prices of duck eggs rose 1.43 percent to P46.25 a kilo in 2003 from P45.6 a kilo in 2002.

Dator is often invited to speak at seminars before Filipino entrepreneurs who would like to get into poultry business. He was also chosen to represent the country in several conferences abroad.

Chicken substitute

At present, he said he would like to promote consumption of duck meat, at a time Asia is gripped by the bird flu scare. Dator noted that Philippine ducks have stronger resistance to disease than chicken broilers and layers. "Instead of giving ducks antibiotics, we give them pro-biotics," he said.

According to the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research, ducks have high resistance against common avian diseases and that there is very low mortality in most duck farms.

Duck meat is also relatively cheaper than chicken meat. In 2003, the average farmgate price of ducks was only P54.37 a kilo, compared to P62.10 a kilo of chicken. Prices of duck meat even softened by 2.44 percent from P55.73 a kilo in 2002.

"Ducks are not only safe for human consumption, but they are also rich in proteins. Anything you can cook chicken with, you can cook with ducks," he said.

Among the recipes where duck meat reportedly tastes good are adobo, estofado, and pato tim.

Dator's latest project is his own feed mill, which he admitted could send shivers to the spine of the leading commercial feed manufacturers in the country. Dator said his feed mill, once completed, would commercially produce natural feeds at prices much lower that those of commercial feeds.