From Paddock to Plate: How Luke Winder's Regenerative Farm is Raising the Bar for Free-Range Duck

From Paddock to Plate: How Luke Winder's Regenerative Farm is Raising the Bar for Free-Range Duck


Tathra Place, near Taralga on the NSW Southern Tablelands, is, in farmer Luke Winder’s words, “like a choreographed ballet” of ducks, chicken, quail, pigs, sheep and cattle, all raised on principles of low-intervention, regenerative farming. Since 2017, Tathra Place has developed a reputation for the highest quality pastured meat, beloved of chefs, top butchers – and us!  

Luke’s free-range duck is found on the menu of hatted restaurants across the country, including Quay (Peter Gilmore was an early champion of the farm and is, Luke says, “a top bloke”), Encore, Bennelong, Sixpenny, Lumi… (the list could go on for a while). An extraordinary evolution for an electrician-turned-farmer from Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, in the space of seven short years. 

How did you get into farming? 

My wife Pia and I bought this 100 acre property in 2015 – it was the armpit of Taralga, 65% covered in weeds, blackberry, serrated tussock you name it. They couldn’t give it away. Initially, we’d just thought it would be great to bring up our boys (Thomas, now 14, Michael, 10 and Jonathan 6) with fresh air, bonfires, motorbikes, stuff like that.  

I’d hardly even stepped foot on a farm. I’d been working as an electrician in Sydney, when my father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I stopped work for six months to become his fulltime carer. In some ways, he’d maybe never lived the life he’d wanted and it made me acknowledge that I knew that my work wasn’t my passion: I didn’t want to end up having those same conversations with my sons when I was nearing my end. At the same time, I came across Joel Salatin, a regenerative farmer from the US, on You Tube – an amazing man and probably to this day my greatest inspiration. The way he produces food is phenomenal. I went down a rabbit hole and never came out. So I asked Pia: “How mad would you think I was if I said I wanted to try farming?” She’s an amazing woman - she was right behind it. 

So by 2017, we’d started farming, first eggs, which are a great place to start because they produce income practically from day one, but I pretty soon fell out of love with cleaning, grading and packing them. We tried goats to keep the weeds down but then we discovered pigs do the job much better – they eat blackberry right down to the root. We never had to spray – the pigs have taken care of the weeds. That was the beginning.  

What principles guide you in farming? 

We run a complete, multi-species regenerative farm system, moving animals around 48 different “cells” on the property. It’s all about diversity. In nature you never find just one species of anything. It’s a system that breaks pathogen cycles, fertilizes the pasture and gives it plenty of time to rest and recharge. So the ruminants – the cows and sheep – move every few days, then the pigs every week or two and the ducks and chickens cycle in 4 weekly groups. The ruminants chew the grass down, the hogs create shallow disturbance and produce manure, then the ducks follow – they love the low grass – and leave their nitrogen-dense fertilizer. We’ve got bore-fed ponds for the ducks which they love to play in, and then we use that water, which they’ve fertilized with manure, to spread on the pasture. And our baby ducks, before they’ve grown feathers, live in “brooders” based on deep carbon bedding – woodchips, peanut husks, etc – which gives them a really clean environment but then itself creates a great compost to lay on the pasture. The whole system means we can farm without mechanical or chemical interventions, using solely the cycling of the animals.  

It’s not some new-fangled, leftie, crazy system – it’s incredibly efficient, economically viable and sustainable and means we can feed thousands of people on 100 acres. 

Tell us a bit about your ducks – and the Maremma sheepdogs that guard them 

Our ducks are Aylesbury cross Pekin, first generation cross every time. They’re really hardy – they can be out in the frost and snow from 2 weeks old. The idea of keeping ducks in a shed is just ridiculous. They eat everything – the pasture is multi-species, so they’re eating legumes, brassicas, grasses, bugs and grubs, as well as non GMO grain. 

We couldn’t do it without our 19 Maremma dogs [a gentle giant of an Italian sheepdog, originally used for guarding sheep from wolves]. Our first Maremma was called Fluffy – my son was going through a Harry Potter stage – and she’s still the best Maremma ever to walk the earth. It might sound weird, but they’re an essential part of the farm infrastructure. It doesn’t mean we don’t give them a pat and a scratch, but if you have a Maremma that’s sitting beside you on the porch, that’s not a guard dog, it’s a pet. We have one of the highest densities of foxes here in the country but with our Maremmas guarding them, our ducks and chickens are 99.5% fox-proof. 

And finally (sorry for the brutal segue!) what’s your favourite way to cook duck? 

I’m a very simple cook but I have nailed cooking duck breasts. Use a cold, stainless steel frying pan, no oil, over a medium heat and just leave it skin side down for about 8 minutes then turn and leave for another 6 minutes. The crucial thing is to baste with the fat that runs off constantly as you cook it, and then to rest it. People think because duck moves like a chicken and looks like a chicken that it is the same meat – it’s not. It’s a red meat and needs to be cooked pink. I like to say it’s the best roast beef you’ll ever have, with the best pork crackling. 

But I’d also like to say that I had the Dinner Ladies Thai red curry of duck marylands the other day and was just blown away, 10 out of 10. I couldn’t believe that you could make something that tastes like that – and still be able to appreciate the quality of the primary ingredients – and pull it out of the freezer! I think that’s the thing with duck. People love it but are afraid to cook it, so if you have someone who’s done all the hard work, who’s going to say no? 

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