Irish farm's ducks the go-to birds for many restaurants here

Unlike its name, London Fat Duck does not get its poultry from the rolling meadows of the English countryside. Instead, this roast duck restaurant gets them from Ireland - from a family-owned business called Silver Hill Farm.

The farm was started in 1962 by Ronnie and Lyla Steele, and is located in Monaghan county, north Ireland. About 25 years ago, their son, Stuart, took over the business. The ducks are now the go-to birds for many Chinese restaurants here which prefer them over their English cousins, or those from Holland or Malaysia.

The younger Mr Steele explains that one of his farm's main selling points is that they raise a particular duck breed that's specifically meant for roasting.

"There is a perfect fat percentage to make a good roast duck, which I can't reveal, of course. But when we're selecting which ducks to use as breeders, we use something like an ultrasound scanner on our live ducks to measure the fat and meat ratio. It's an exact science, but also a very natural one," says Mr Steele, who is the company's managing director.

He was in town earlier this week as part of a delegation from Ireland to promote Irish produce here in Singapore. Bord Bia - the Irish food board which promotes the country's produce around the world - found that exports from Ireland to Singapore have grown since 2010, most notably from 21 million euros (S$32 million) in 2010 to almost 33 million euros in 2014.

Some of the most popular exports include dairy, pork and beverages.

Silver Hill Farm sells around 100,000 ducks a week to countries all over the world, with Singapore being the only country it supplies in South-east Asia. It ships some 5,000 ducks here every week.

Right now, at least 12 restaurant brands in Singapore get their ducks from Silver Hill Farm, including London Fat Duck in Scotts Square, Legendary Hong Kong in Jurong Point, and the various outlets by the TungLok Group.

"A good friend gave me 20 ducks from the Silver Hill Farm," says TungLok executive chairman Andrew Tjioe of his first taste. "We tried them and were impressed with the quality of the ducks. The meat is very tender and succulent, and does not have the gamey taste which is otherwise quite common in duck meat. We have never looked back since."

The group used Malaysian ducks before the switch.

According to Mr Steele, the ducks on the farm live in comfortable barns with plenty of space to roam, and a constant supply of food and water.

Throughout their lives, they are kept in a calm environment with nothing that could shock them and cause them (and their meat) to tense up.

He explains: "If you don't treat a bird right, the end result won't be good. And when you're supplying a high-end market, everything has to be good. That's just a given. That's why we have quality-control teams carrying out checks and tests just for that."

When asked how his parents started the company, Mr Steele chuckles and says: "This may sound corny, but it's a true story - my mother wanted to raise chickens, my father wanted to raise turkeys. And if a marriage is to survive, you have to compromise. So that's how they ended up with ducks."

Now, the farm takes up a total area of about 1,400 acres, and has numerous facilities that allow the company to do everything from breeding to hatching to processing. This means that while the duck meat is processed in-house to be sold to restaurants, the company also uses the manure to generate energy, and turns the feathers and down into duvets and pillows.

"You see, from our philosophy, if you're going to raise an animal to kill, you should if you can use every single piece of it. So I used to always say we sell everything but the quack," adds Mr Steele with a laugh.


This article was first published on September 16, 2016.
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