Silver Hill Irish premium duck is a familiar name to many who are fond of a nice peking duck dish, or pretty much anyone living in the midlands or border counties.

Set up in 1962, the company has expanded its poultry exports, now being 70% export led, supplying duck and duck products to 24 countries worldwide including the UK, Holland, Germany, the UAE, Singapore and Hong Kong.

This month, Silver Hill Duck attended Gulfood in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an exhibitor at the Origin Green stand. Gulfood is the largest annual food and beverage trade show in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Silver Hill used the trade show to meet existing clients in the Gulf Region and develop new relationships and find new markets for its premium duck offering.

During the trip, the company revealed to Agriland that it is seeking Irish farmers to become part of the Silver Hill Duck team to produce ducks for processing, providing an extra income for the farm and enabling the company to meet its customer demand.

Silver Hill said it is currently at capacity in terms of its existing poultry farm facilities and needs to expand further.

Chinatown start

One of the most prestigious restaurants in Dubai, Zheng He's at Jumeirah Mina A'Salam in Dubai offers Silver Hill Duck on its menu, which has to be ordered about three days in advance by patrons of the eaterie.

Silver Hill Duck is the feature dish on the menu at Zheng He's at Jumeirah Mina A'Salam in Dubai, UAE

Speaking to Agriland in Dubai, Barry Cullen, head of sales at Silver Hill Duck explained how duck from Monaghan ended up as a premium offering in such a high-end restaurant: "We have been supplying London Chinatown for the last 40 years with our duck.

"If you walk through the streets, Gerrard Street which is the main thoroughfare for Chinatown, all the ducks hanging up on the windows are ours, 98-99%.

"So if you are an Asian tourist and you go to London, the first place they go to is Chinatown and they go for the roast duck. It's known as the best duck in the world. It used to be Hong Kong 40 or 50 years ago that was known as the best, now it's London," Barry added.

"So when they go there [London] and they go back home, they tell all their friends that London duck is brilliant, so the chefs that are trained there are normally with a chain of hotels.

"We had three meetings yesterday with three different distributors, one in Qatar, one in Dubai, one in Saudi [Arabia] - all three of them said they same thing, that they have chefs who have trained in London who want the Silver Hill Duck in their market."

Silver Hill Duck linked up with Dubai distributor Fresh Express, which supplies a large number of Jumeriah chain hotels, which is how peking duck from Ireland ended up on the menu at Zheng He's.

From Monaghan to Mumbai for Irish duck

One of the most well-known clients for Silver Hill Duck is the Michelin-starred Hakkasan chain of restaurants which boasts, celebrities and billionaires among its patrons.

The chain has restaurants in locations such as Las Vegas, Mumbai and Muscat.

"We have the contract for supplying all their Asian and European restaurants," Barry explained. "So when you have those guys recommending and using our duck, it's easy."

So how did duck, bred and reared in Ireland, end up resulting in two Hollywood stars walking out of a top London restaurant?

"We only heard it secondhand. We were reading the paper, one of the UK tabloids, and Guy Ritchie and Tom Hardy went to one of our customer restaurants in the Ming Jiang in the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington looking for our duck," Barry explained.

"He [Ritchie] stormed out, because you had to order it a day in advance because of the preparation time. He wasn't prepared to wait, so was great to see that he has good taste in duck as well as being a great movie producer."

Breeding ducks in Monaghan and further afield

The Silver Hill birds seem to be different to other poultry processors' duck which has resulted in the company having a unique selling point.

"We decided a long time ago to focus on a duck that is perfect for roasting and because of that, you need more fat. Our duck is renowned for the level of fat, the meat texture, the skin crispiness, which is perfect for Chinese customers," Barry continued.

Image: Silver Hill Duck

The Silver Hill duck was originally a cross between a pekin and an Aylesbury and the company has six people involved in its farm tech team who ensure that the breed doesn't change too much from that.

"Over time, nature... things get bigger if you do nothing, so when we're selecting our breeding stock, we'll try and make sure that it's the same as the time before," Barry added.

"We don't say we know everything, but we're totally integrated, even back to the feed plant; we're owned by a feed producer [Fane Valley]. We do our own breeding, own growing, own processing, own hatching and so we have complete traceability from farm to fork even back to the feed mill."

Silver Hill Duck

The headquarters of the company is based at Emyvale in Co. Monaghan and it directly employees 240 staff.

"We also have a lot of outside growers - farmers, that basically would add on a duck house or two duck houses as an additional income stream," Barry continued.

"We're based in Monaghan, but we're cross border so our breeding farmers are in the north of Ireland, our hatchery is in the south, we have growing farms north and south and then we process in Emyvale.

"We are expanding, so we're looking for more growers, more farms. In order to cope with demand, we have to expand the factory. As we open new markets we have to get more ducks."

Interested in rearing ducks?

Silver Hill Duck requires three elements if the company is to enlist a new farm to take on some of the growing operations.

The three requirements are:

  • Planning permission;
  • Finance e.g. banking institution;
  • Capacity/land bank to spread manure.

While it requires an initial investment by the farm owner, Barry Cullen emphasises that it will offer long-term gains.

"We give contracts, we have the demand there, so it's a case of 'if you build it, we'll get the ducks to you'.

"In Cavan and Monaghan, the amount of poultry that's in the area, we're probably now at the limit there so we have to expand out a bit further, but because the European limit is less than eight hours' transport, it's fine, you can go anywhere in the country.

"We have growers in Waterford for example and more in Donegal. We can go anywhere and we are actively looking at the minute."

For each duck house, Silver Hill tries to get 18,000 birds which Barry said equates to one day of processing. At any one time, the company could have approximately one million birds on the ground at various farms.