Our Savor writer took a break this issue, so we are featuring one of our favorite Savor features from last year (in case you missed it).
Dwight Eichorn stands barefoot on a grassy bank before a shimmering pond at his farm in Leonidas while around him, hiding in the tall grass, drinking water from the bank and floating across the pond, are some of the 100 ducks from which Eichorn collects about 85 eggs a day.
Eichorn, 35, is the head farmer of Eichorn Family Farm, located 35 miles south of Kalamazoo. While he and his mother, Lila, raise goats, ducks, chickens, turkeys, geese, and sheep on their farm, it’s Eichorn’s duck eggs that are getting attention.
The Eichorn family left their dairy farm in Paraguay 20 years ago after Eichorn’s father developed colon cancer. They moved to Southwest Michigan — where Eichorn’s mother was raised — for access to better health care.
Ten years later the family bought a 43-acre farm, and last summer Eichorn joined the vendors at the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market and the 100-Mile Market, at the People’s Food Co-op, selling pasture-raised goose meat, lamb and mutton as well as chicken and duck eggs.
A duck egg is like a robust chicken egg with a richer, more flavorful yolk. The egg’s white is sturdy and can turn rubbery if cooked too long. One duck egg has almost twice the calories of a chicken egg: 130 compared to 70. Duck eggs are also higher in protein (9 grams per egg compared to 6 in a chicken egg), fat and iron. With prices comparable to chicken eggs at Eichorn’s stand, duck eggs offer a more nutritious bang for your buck.
But duck eggs can be harder to come by. Eichorn is one of only a handful of local farmers who sell duck eggs. He speculates that not many farmers raise ducks because they’re messier than chickens. Ducks drink water voraciously, making it difficult to keep their coops dry. And each bird produces more waste than a chicken, so, in order to maintain healthy living conditions for the ducks, “you can (fit) less animals in a given space,” Eichorn says.
Eichorn’s ducks are outside for most of the day March through November, resulting in a cleaner coop but making Eichorn’s daily egg hunts challenging and the eggs harder to clean. Ducks lay wherever they please, and if their gate is left open, Eichorn can find eggs anywhere along the 100 yards from the coop down to the pond.
Eichorn raises both chickens and ducks, and, judging egg quality by the birds’ diets, he thinks his best eggs come from the ducks. “The duck is happy free-ranging for a lot longer time of the season,” he says. Both birds amble around in the pasture, but, by nature, the ducks spend more time outside. Eichorn says the ducks absorb more nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids from aquatic plants in the pond and protein from bugs than the chickens do from their dry feed.
“The way I see it, there’s a scale. Let’s say one to 10,” Eichorn says. He explains that an egg on the low end of the scale is the average chicken egg available at a grocery store, produced by a bird that was bred and raised to yield as many eggs as possible with the cheapest inputs. “The 10 is the best egg I could imagine,” he says. A duck would produce this top egg in May, with access to plenty of bugs, lush grass, and plants from the pond.
Eichorn is committed to growing and raising the healthiest food he can.
“Somebody gets sick, and that’s when people start searching for the real answers, like how to get well, how to be well,” Eichorn says. “When Dad got sick with cancer, there was no option. Medicine gave no hope.” His father’s diet was revamped with nutrient-dense greens and juices. He lived three times as long as the doctors predicted, Eichorn says, and was lucid until two days before he died. “That he could feel that well until the day he died,” Eichorn says, “we figure that (the diet) probably helped.”
Eichorn takes about 60 dozen duck eggs to the farmers’ markets each week, but the eggs have yet to make a profit. Eichorn says the eggs are “the candy to sell the lamb.” However, Eichorn says his first year at the market has been encouraging and has spurred his pursuit of more nutritious ways of raising food. He says he will be working to grow more nutrient-dense forage, like comfrey, for the ducks.
“That’s my goal — a better egg,” Eichorn says. “But not the best. I could never get there.”