“Making the best of Yilan County’s geographical edge is the recipe for breeding the most flavorful cherry ducks,” said 51-year-old Huang Ming-chieh (黃明杰), a well-known duck farmer in the county’s Sansing Township (三星), whose poultry has become the source of top-notch gourmet delicacies.
The beautifully roasted ducks served by the Yilan-based Silks Place, the sole international five-star hotel in the county, was voted in September by gastronomes and netizens in an online poll “the most mouth-watering crispy ducks ever served in the country.”
The hotel’s accolade owed much to Huang and the cherry ducks he breeds — also known as Cherry Valley ducks — which can weigh up to 4.8kg in winter and produce the highest-quality meat.
After graduating from the department of animal husbandry and veterinary medicine at the Yilan School of Agriculture and Forestry — the predecessor of National Yilan University — Huang worked as a veterinarian for swine breeders before venturing into the duck farming industry by starting up the Ho Hsing Livestock Farm in his hometown about 16 years ago.
The sharp differences in temperature between day and night in Sansing Township, coupled with the wind frequently blowing from the mountains, are ideal appetite stimulants for Huang’s ducks, which require about 75 days to mature, leading to their thick chests and large bodies.
Huang’s ducklings that mature in winter can weigh 4.8kg, compared with ducks raised by other farmers, whose average weight stands at only 4.2kg.
Although Sansing Township’s advantageous environment and pollution-free water resources have played a crucial role in Huang’s success, the provision of around-the-clock care and a supply of high-quality animal feed and enzymes to improve digestion are equally important.
“Breeding ducks should be done as attentively as raising one’s own children,” Huang said, adding that he has to stay at his duck farm almost every night to guard and pay close attention to every move of his beloved poultry.
“You can never let your guard down even for one second,” Huang added.
In an effort to give his ducks more space, Huang breeds only about 35,000 ducks on his eight hectares of pasture, which could otherwise accommodate a maximum of 80,000 poultry.
He also went to the trouble of converting the farm into a “duck playground,” where the floor is paved with stone to avoid dust swirling in the air and a pond contains only shallow spring water to prevent duck excrement from accumulating and tainting the water.
Huang emerged as a successful duck farmer despite a sluggish domestic economy that has forced many duck farmers based in the county’s Lanyang Plain to go out of business.
Attributing his unexpected rise to his expertise in veterinary medicine and his diligence in studying the habits of cherry ducks, Huang said: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. To have an invincible foundation, one must work to build distinctive features for one’s products first.”
Born into a farming family, Huang said he took a leap of faith with his career and returned to the township after having worked away from his hometown for years.
“The moon just seems bigger here [in Sansing Township,]” he added.
Huang said in the initial stage of his business start-up, he bred only a handful of ducks to lower his financial risk and waited until his farming career got off the ground to expand its scale.