When I arrived at Cirrus Hill Farm, I was greeted by turkeys. A rafter of white-feathered birds ran up to the car, curious to see who was inside. The unusual welcoming committee was the first sign that things were different on this small, Ontario farm. My two young daughters had come with me to the interview and the three of us cautiously climbed out of the car. I, for one, was nervous the birds would peck at our legs, but they were friendly and followed us to the door of the farmhouse.
We'd come to see the ducks that lay the eggs we'd been enjoying, but there was more to this place than just ducks. JoAnn McCall, who runs the farm, raises a variety of heirloom waterfowl as well as the turkeys and some chickens. She sells their young to other farms in Canada and the United States—and sells extra duck eggs on the side for people like me to eat. Her business card reads: "Eat them to preserve them." By keeping her waterfowl, JoAnn hopes to inspire other small scale farmers in North America to raise these birds too. She wants to bring back the duck.
"Water fowl are undervalued," she said as she showed us around the farmyard where the ducks live. While I had pictured a network of ponds where ducks could frolic, JoAnn's birds spend their days pecking at the grass around the farm, searching for grubs and snails and other invertebrates to eat. Because of this high-protein diet, truly free-range ducks like these require less than half the grain a chicken needs to reach a finished slaughter weight of about five pounds. When they want water, the ducks are happy to paddle about in the children's wading pools she has filled with a hose; they also wade in a puddle near the barn. At night, when predators like foxes and coyotes come out, she corrals the birds in an animal-proof shelter. "It couldn't be easier," JoAnn said. "Even your children could take care of them."