Pepe’s Ducks Director Guest Speaker For Murrumburrah Harden Rotary

President Pat O'Connor, John Houston (Director Pepe's Ducks) and Jason Guy (Manager of Pepe's Harden Farm).

Sixty Rotarians and friends welcomed John Houston, Director of Pepe’s Ducks as the guest speaker recently at the Barnes Store.

Also present was Jason Guy, the manager for Pepe’s Ducks at the Harden farm. Pepe Bonaccordo started with 22 ducks in his backyard in Parramatta in 1974. Dedication and commitment led to improved facilities at Eastern Creek. Pepe’s now produces over 100,000 ducks per week, leading to 5 million ducks a year produced in Australia and 3 million in NZ.

In 2018, Pepe’s completed a $15m project in building a state-of-the-art hatchery, designing and building it themselves, which started in NZ from locally sourced parts. It is a unique piece of machinery that was sought by other countries. They have a zero- carbon footprint in the hatchery, using wind turbines and solar energy. It is seen to be a leader in design and manufacture of hatcheries as well as duck production.

The business is built on vertical integration – breeder farms, hatchery, broiler farms, processing facility and sales, marketing and distribution. Breeder farms are low density farms, for duck and egg production, with nests, feed and water systems. The ratio of ducks is 1 male to 5 females. A duck lays 5 eggs a week.

The hatchery produces 300,000 ducklings a week. It’s not running to capacity yet but has been built for the future. Eight people are employed in the hatchery and the hatchery can be run from a mobile phone, for temperature, humidity and air control. The sheds are naturally ventilated and there are 24 farms in total. Broiler farms have misters in all the sheds for the ducks to preen themselves and clean themselves and also act as coolers.

Harden “Super Farm” farm came to fruition thanks to the involvement and passion of the Harden community. Without the commitment the community made, this farm could have been located elsewhere. 

The sheds are computer and electronically controlled. The Harden operation employs 10 people in total. $16m has been spent so far on this farm, with a probable complete total of $20m.

Transport was an original issue with trucks only able to carry 2000 ducks each. This would not have been economically viable because of the cost of freight. They now use B-Doubles, which carry 5000 ducks each. 

In the processing plant, a lot of trial work is carried out for a large French company. Distribution is all over Australia. The ducks are widely known, particularly in the Asian community, which has a large requirement for ducks.

The Pekin duck was specifically selected for superior meat quality from Grimaud Freres Selection in France, a world leader in the genetics of the Pekin ducks. Nutrition of ducks is very important. They use the best quality Australian ASW wheat, in terms of taste, flavour and texture, but it is a very expensive cereal. The wheat comes from Berrima Mills, part of their agreement is that wheat is sourced locally.

Biosecurity, welfare and food safety are very important issues. The duck industry has developed the Farm Biosecurity Manual for the Duck Meat Industry in association with Animal Health Australia.

In terms of research and development, the company works closely with Sydney University and the Poultry Hub on growth rate, nutrition, heat stress, feed consumption, water usage, the best way to transport them, and processing and cooking.

All farms and facilities are audited and licensed by NSW Food Authority. They comply with poultry standards, which are more about animal welfare and are getting harder and harder to meet. They have 4 quality assurance officers who run the factory every day.

Their products are sold to restaurants and cruise lines, with a very limited supply to supermarkets. 

Locally, Pepe’s Ducks supports local charities, schools and sporting teams and the community-run Kite Festival.

John spoke passionately, showcasing how personal the company is to him. Rotary thanks John for his time.

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