On Saturday, Salmon Creek Ranch of Bodega had nearly its full array of products at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market. Duck eggs are plentiful again and should remain so for the next several months.
"Ducks are seasonal layers, much more dramatically so than chickens," Jocelyn Brabyn, who oversees the market stall, explains, adding that ducks respond to longer daylight hours and that production went up exponentially on March 20, the first day of spring. The Brabyns do not cage their ducks, nor do they use lights to force them to lay in the darker months. So supply decreases during the winter.
This weekend, there will be fresh duck, as well, including boneless breast, bone-in leg thigh and whole duck.
The ranch also has 100 percent grass-fed, dry-aged beef in a variety of cuts, organic pet treats and tanned goat hides.
It's been a tough few months for the ranch, which is nestled in the high rolling hills between Bodega and Bodega Bay, as it has been for most of our farmers. From last summer well into December, water had to be trucked in; laying ducks in particular require a lot of fresh water, but all the animals need a continuous supply. There are only a couple dozen head of cattle and they have 400 acres for grazing, land that is kept somewhat moist by coast fog, so their diet does not have to be supplemented with hay.
In addition, the cost of grain for the ducks has gone up because of the drought.
In January, the closure of Rancho Feed Corp. in Petaluma, where Salmon Creek Ranch beef was processed, presented another challenge to this family farm. They did not lose any meat — their production is small and all had been sold — but they are hopeful about the reopening of the slaughterhouse under new ownership, Marin Sun Farms. Two steers are ready for the market and they hope to process them locally.
Through it all — the drought, the closure of Rancho and the spring 2013 fire at Chez Panisse, which purchases a lot of the ranch's duck — the Brabyns have not raised their prices.
Lesley and John Brabyn established Salmon Creek Ranch in 2007, after falling in love with the spectacular property. They originally focused on duck eggs as a way for the property to be economically viable because of a chance encounter with an executive of Whole Foods, who mentioned that there were not enough duck eggs to satisfy a growing demand. The ranch has grown from that moment of inspiration.
The Brabyns also breed dogs — Anatolian shepherds and salukis — and operate a licensed dog boarding facility.
There is a tiny Mercantile on the property where visitors — by appointment only — can purchase whatever is available, including estate honey and goat meat — and several times a year, the Brabyns host tours of the ranch.
A few years ago, their daughter Jocelyn returned from the East Coast and is now the sweet, smiling face of the ranch at the farmers markets they attend.
Salmon Creek Ranch, founded in 2007 by Lesley and John Brabyn, attends the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market year round on both Wednesday and Saturday. The farm also sometimes attends other markets, both year-round and seasonal. For more information, including about farm tours, visit salmoncreekranch.com or call 876-1808.