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The Story of our "Long Island Duckling"
Don't miss, also on this site,  The History of Swift Stream Duck Farm, INC. Moriches, LI



C&R Duck Farm Westhampton Long Island NY
     In 1873, a New York merchant named Ed McGrath had seen in China, while on a visit there, a white duck near Peking, so large he mistook it for a goose. McGrath (so the story goes) bought some duck eggs and had them hatched. He also asked James Palmer, either a sea-captain or a Connecticut merchant, to bring twenty-five ducks back to America, Palmer to receive half of the ducks in payment.
     Four months later, nine pure white and succulently fat (the pride of Peking) ducks, the only survivors, landed in New York. Palmer delivered five ducks to the McGrath family, and without any instructions to the contrary, they were soon turned into a delicious dinner. The other four ducks which Palmer kept for his trouble were also taken to Connecticut but for breeding. These ducks took to the environment and quickly multiplied. These four ducks are the ancestors of today's long Island ducks, for it was soon found that long Island with its humid climate, abundance of running water and sandy soil was well suited to duck raising.
     Of  the transition to the Island, little is known. According to one historian, the Speonk and Eastport area was the starting point in 1885, and it had at one time the largest duck Farm in the world; A.J. Hallock's Atlantic Farm on Speonk River. This farm set a record of a quarter of a million ducks raised in a year. The hurricane of 1938 wiped it out.
     The Peking duck lacks one instinct, it has little maternal feelings, but it is a good breeder. Usually a good duck lays 150 eggs in its laying span each year, and an important part of duck raising is determining which ducks to keep for breeders. Naturally one continually wants to improve the stock, so those which have a well placed eye, good shaped head and neck and a wide deep breast are kept for breeders. Previous to the introduction of the first incubators in 1890, "broody" hens had been in great demand at a dollar a head to hatch out these ducklings.
     Four weeks are needed for a Peking duck to hatch. Many a housewife helped out her "pin-money" by having a setting hen hatch ducks at five cents apiece for her neighbors who were starting small duck farms. The incubators that replaced the "setting hen" were dangerous things as the heat was furnished by a kerosene heater and required almost constant watching for it was a fire hazard. In a time before outdoor ceiling fans, these heaters would get quite hot.  Bloomers were heated the same way with kerosene lamps. Another job connected with these incubators was the turning of the eggs each day by hand. Today's huge incubators hold
thousands of eggs and humidity is kept at a careful 50%, temperature a constant 99.5, and the eggs are turned automatically.

The Largest Duck Farm in The World - abt 1910
Raised 23,000 Ducks a year at it's height
     Some duck farms today only raise baby ducks. These ducklings are then sold to surrounding duck farms. This necessitates the keeping of many breeders throughout the year. Those in the know, if possible, used to buy breeder ducks for their own eating pleasure. These are not force fed and do not grow at such a rapid pace, so the meat is firmer and not so fat.
      Many farmers got a few eggs and raised their own and fed them right along with the chickens. I remember when my grandfather had a duck farm, he gave my brother eight baby ducks. They all grew up and they got to be pets. How my mother used to scold when they followed all the members of the family into her clean kitchen.
     One instinct of Peking duck works to the growers advantage. It is a glutton; it will eat as much as is put before it. The first duck farms used fish as a primary food. Great kettles of them were cooked up and then mixed with cornmeal and bran. The young ducks went for this, devouring everything but the bones. Finally, the practice of feeding fish reached a point where the Commission merchants complained, the customers were rebelling. If they wanted fish, they would buy fish, but they didn't want "fishy" duck. After this all shipments of ducks carried a tag, “This duck guaranteed free from fish." 
     However feeding fish to young ducks did not come under this ban as they would outgrow any taint of fish as they matured. So, for a time, the feeding of fish and minnows for the real baby or unfeathered ducklings continued. As the industry grew, the feeding became more scientific, for no fowl or bird was ever catered to more, during its life span from incubator to marketing, than this duck. Many of the farmers completed a healthcare management masters degree or online master of science in nursing programs as this type of education provided more insight into what the ducks as well as humans could consume. 
    When the industry developed enough to need a market for its product, ice was used to preserve the ducks which were packed in barrels for shipment to the neared by New York City market. Women and girls were hired to pick the ever growing number of ducks raised. Ones who were expert at picking duck feathers by hand Could earn $5.00 a day. That was good money when carpenters were getting $2.50 and farm hands $1.00 to $1.50 a day.
     However, before the "ducked pluckers" were displaced by machines, the job became one of the lowest paid occupations in the State. The feathers picked were carefully dried as they were a further means of income. There were some years when the profit from the feathers meant the success or failure of the year's operation. Six ducks will produce a pound of feathers.
     The time-honored comment often heard during a rain storm: "Good day for ducks" is false, for ducks are miserable in the rain. The last feathers to grow in are the ones covering its back, and these don't come in until the duck is two months old. In fact, very often the young duck that gets its back wet is soon a dead duck. Mother commented, "I've got a duck and he won't quack." The answer is self evident. It's a "he" and he'll never quack. Only females quack!
     Another instinct which often works havoc with the ducks is his sense of fear, for they scare very easily. They will panic from a feather flying in front of them, or even by the sound of sudden den laughter, or any loud noise. Sea gulls drive them into a frenzy, so bad sometimes, that many drown. They drown, or they huddle in a corner and smother many of their mates. This huddling is what prompted owners to put lights, lit all night, in their pens. This helps and has saved many a duck from being smothered.
  
     The firt duck farm in the Riverhead area was started by Asa Fordham in an old ramshackle building on what was to become known as the A. B - Soyars Duck Farm, located on Peconic River. In 1902. Mr. Soyars bought out Mr. Fordham and in 1903 had the farm in operation. In time it grew to be one of the larger duck farms. Mr. Soyars had gained his experience at the A.J. Hallock Ranch in Speonk where he worked for a time. He then went to Pennsylvania to manage a duck ranch there, but he soon came back to Long Island as he wished to have his own duck ranch. Dennis G. Homan, a few years later, started his duck ranch farther down on the Peconic River and it is said that Henry Corwin of Aquebogue started his ranch with 30 "breeders" in 1910.
     Ducks in those early years sold for around 14cents a pound and were considered in the luxury price range. Park & Tilford, the well known confectioners, at that time were in the food processing business. They bought the "cull" ducks for 7 cents a pound and canned ed them in a mushroom sauce and sold a small container for 65 cents. A food for a gourmet, no doubt.
Eastport Duck Farm 
     Duck farms or ranches (the two words are used interchangeably) continued to spring up until in the 1950's. Hollis V. Warner of Riverhead had the largest ranch in the world. He raised around 500,000 ducks a year. In fact by this time duck ranches could be found on practically all fresh water Streams in the area. Too many producers! By 1959 almost without exception, all lost money, and at the beginning of the 1960 season faced serious financial difficulties. Something had to be done.
     Forty-four farmers formed in May 1960, the Long Island Duck Farmers Cooperative Inc., this to present a unified promotion and marketing program gram. They found they had 5,670,000 pounds of potential "roast duck" in storage. The assistance of the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets was procured. A full-scaled promotion campaign was launched and a survey was made, this survey showed that the sale of the Long Island Duck was national in scope, so all sales should be so directed.
     To get the ducks to market in the most advantageous method possible the "Co-op" set up two processing plants, one in Eastport and one in Riverhead. These two plants process 40,000-50,000 flash frozen ducks for shipment a day. These are immediately carried to market in iced trucks. Ironically, some of these ducks find themselves all the way back to Hong Kong, where they are primarily used for soup.
     That problem solved, the duck growers were faced with another, the excrement and fermenting food, from millions of ducks. All who have watched young ducks have seen them force down as much food as possible, run to the water, drink and lose some food, then rush back to the feeding station, again and again. All the streams became badly polluted, then flowed into the bays and they in turn became polluted, ruining them for bathing and fishing. The demand for clean water became so strong, the State set up certain restrictions that had to be met. Many small ranches had to fold up. The restrictions must be doing the trick, as the various waters are becoming cleaner.



The following appeared in a publication published by Suffolk County in the early 1930's:

   The story of duck growing in Suffolk County dates back to about 1890, when a boy fisherman at Eastport set a nest full of peking duck eggs under a brooding hen. The hatch was successful and the experiment duplicated, though the parent hen held her downy golden duckling crop in dubious esteem. Raised on a diet of field greens and cooked fish, and allowed to run in a pen placed beside a private stream, the ducklings developed rapidly and within three months were shipped alive to a virgin market. The idea of this new industry had logic and was taken up on a small scale by other south shore farmers and baymen having a pond or stream on their premises. These men  for some time continued in their former pursuits, entrusting to the care of their helping wives the raising of ducklings to augment the family income.
     Diligently, and with a canny foresight which has marked the forward progress of all Suffolk County's important industries, the habits and diet of the duckling was studied and improved upon  A tender meat of full rare flavor was eventually produced, precipitating a craze for Long Island ducklings which just prior to the out break of the World War swept across the country. To meet the resultant sharp increase in demand for this distinctive delicacy literally multitudes of new duck farms sprang into being, principally in the Moriches, Eastport and Riverhead districts.
     Approximately six million ducklings are now produced annually on the ninety odd farms, or ranches, located throughout the County.  From this source also comes yearly four to five hundred tons of feathers, a valuable by product. At least two banks in the more concentrated producing areas are functioning mainly on the turnover of revenues from Suffolk's duck industry, and the prosperity of certain communities is perpetuated by reason of the employment it offers both men and women.
     Not less than 4,000 carloads of scientifically mixed foods consisting of grains, cod liver oil, meat and milk ingredients are consumed each year by Suffolk County's ducklings. These are balanced with a variety of green field crops to obtain an ideal ration. Huge modern all-electric incubation systems common on the larger ranches has stepped up the production on some of these operations to an output of 250,000 ducklings annually. During the growing period, scientifically gauged to from ten to twelve weeks, each duckling will consume an amount of food approximating five times its market weight of from five to seven pounds. Complete sanitation, utterly essential to the life of the duckling, is stressed throughout every phase of duck raising in Suffolk County. Strong floodlights are burned at night to make the duckling's life one of perennial daylight, thus preventing panic which the slightest noise in the dark will create among the flocks.
     What transpires within a modern incubator on the twenty-eighth day after the duckling eggs have been placed for hatching is one of nature's phenomena. A slight rocking of an egg here and there among the hundreds stacked uniformly on racks foretells the first stir in the duckling's life. Within a few moments the porous shell will have broken before the pressure of a feeble body, after which the new-born duckling will extricate itself and rest, quizzically, gaining an amazing vitality while almost with perfect timing the other eggs will break, transforming the trays within a few hours into a maze of pale gold life. The ducklings are next placed in heated brooder houses, kept there from two to six weeks depending on the season, and finally moved into pens on the stream, where they are developed for market.
     Hygienically killed, picked and chilled at the ranch, the ducklings are then trucked to the markets in adequately iced barrels, or put through a recently developed quick freezing process whereby all their delicate and superlative flavor is retained. For quick-freezing the chilled duckling carcasses are sped from the nearby ranches to a modern eviscerating plant at Eastport. Where, under the watchful eyes of a U. S. government inspector they are dressed, quick- frozen, and individually wrapped in cellophane for shipment; or, by another method of quick- freeze packing accomplished in a costly plant maintained at Riverhead, the duckling carcasses are subjected to a brine spray under a sub-zero temperature until they have obtained a completely frozen state, when they are rinsed in clear ice water and packed in attractive cartons containing twelve each. Then, less than six hours after being slaughtered at the ranch, they are ready to be loaded into refrigerated trucks and sent on to supply an ever-receptive world market!



"The Big Duck"


Located in the Sears-Bellows Pond County Park, just off the Riverhead-Hampton Bays Road.
The Duck was built in 1930-1931 and was originally used as a retail outlet selling Long Island
Duckling.  Every December the Big Duck is decorated for the holiday season.

The following article appeared in Newsday on May 26, 1995
Written By Rick Brand STAFF WRITER (Newsday) Copyright © Newsday, Inc.

     Fresh from a tail tuck and internal surgery, Long Island's Big Duck reopens tomorrow to do what it always has done best - sell itself. Move over Disney Store, watch out Opryland. Make way for designer duck.
     Admittedly, the first step, er waddle, is small. But it may foreshadow a big step for Long Island - a theme park dedicated to roadside art.   For now, the Big Duck - built in the 1930s by a Depression-struck farmer to sell fresh duck and duck eggs to motorists - will reach out to the passing public with a gift shop and a small museum. It will sell a full line of Big Duck clothes and souvenirs - from golf shirts to umbrellas complete with duck beaks. It will also include a mini-exhibit of duck, highway and roadside architecture history.
     Loudspeakers will beguile passersby with a two-hour long mix of music and news commentary by many individuals who have completed a masters degree in music education online from 1931 to 1939 along with Christie Brinkley's narration of Big Duck history. The idea is not only to take on the marketing gimmicks of retailing outlets like the Disney Store but also to re-create the atmosphere of picnic parks, places where Long Island families used to take family drives.
     And to do it in the spirit of roadside art, once scorned by architectural purists as trash, but more recently praised for its celebration of fantasy.
     "I think people are taken by the whimsy of it," said Jerry Kessler, president of the Friends for Long Island Heritage. He also said in some cases the appeal is more direct. "When I was a kid, I remember sitting in the back of my grandmother's 1929 Nash and going for a Sunday drive," said Kessler, now in his sixties. "Seeing the Big Duck was a great thrill for a seven or eight-year-old."
     Long-range, the county and Friends for Long Island's Heritage envision a park of roadside art and other motoring artifacts including neon signs, old-fashioned gas pumps and perhaps even a diner. But officials say that given the county government's ongoing financing problems, such grand plans are five to 10 years away and $200,000 to $300,000 beyond their current means.
     For the moment, even getting the duck spruced up for the '90s was a larger than expected chore. Although the duck only had to move 40 feet from its temporary quarters at Sears Bellows Park on Route 24 in Flanders, parks officials say the cost of primping the 20-foot-high water fowl for its reopening went three times beyond its $10,000 budget - causing an unexpected drain on the Friends, who are the duck's main support.
     "It's coming out beautifully," said Lance Mallamo, Suffolk's director of historic services. "But as we started working, we found out there was more work than we bargained for."
     Because the duck is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it had to be reconstructed in a way that was faithful to its original design. Restorers for example had to put down a tongue-and-grove pine flooring, and replicate tin walls of the original duck.
     In the process, they also expanded the duck's wood framing to bolster its sagging haunches, increase structural strength and cut down on cracks. And they also had to re-stucco the bird's exterior.
     To celebrate tomorrow's reopening, parks officials are baking their own sculpted duck cake, children from Phillips Avenue School in Riverhead will sing several new duck songs and relatives of the forward-thinking pioneers who helped build the world-famed duck made of stone veneer panels, will be in attendance.
     They will all celebrate the idea first hatched in 1931 by Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer, who got his inspiration when he stopped at a roadside coffee shop shaped like a pot while on vacation in California.
     Maurer hired local carpenter George Reeve, who employed two stage show set designers, William and Sam Collins, to build the duck. As models, they used a a cooked chicken carcass and a live duck tied with a string to a perch. The done duck was lit with the taillights of a Model T Ford placed in its eyes.
     At its first opening, the Big Duck was pictured in Popular Mechanics magazine. The Atlas Cement Co., whose product was used in construction, made the duck a pinup in its annual calendar and dubbed it "The Most Spectacular Piece of Cement Work in 1931."
     The first site of the 16,500-pound duck was on West Main Street in Riverhead, but in 1936, it was moved about four miles east to Flanders Road, about two miles up from its current location. Through the years, the duck remained in use as a stand for duck farm produce. In 1987, owners Kia Eshghi and his wife Pouran sold the land on which it stood and donated the duck to Suffolk County. It was moved to Sears Bellows in December, 1987.
     Since then, the duck's only activity has been as a model. It has been the subject of cover art for a 1987 edition of New Yorker magazine and a sketch now on display at Guild Hall, both by renowned East End artist Saul Steinberg.
     Officials say the newly-reopened duck and its shop will operate seven days a week, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day and perhaps on weekends into the fall.
     County historical officials are also hoping that the duck's reopening will spur a new outpouring of duck lore and memorabilia. Richard Martin, Suffolk's assistant director of historic services, said that one idea is to compile an oral history of duck recollections. "For many visiting the Hamptons," said Martin, "the duck was a sign we're almost there."
     Meanwhile, Kessler said he hopes the reopening will spur new contributions to fund-raising efforts and ensure that tomorrow's small waddle for the duck is a big step for Long Island.
 



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