Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day: Four Generations of Duck Farmers

Farm sign 1

The celebration of Labor Day in the United States began in the late 19th century as a day set aside to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers. Labor Day is seen as a yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the prosperity, strength and well-being of our country.  From a genealogical perspective, I choose to look at the occupations of my ancestors and celebrate the work they did. (See previous post Labor Day-They Were Millers) This year I would like to celebrate an occupation held by 4 generations of my family who were duck farmers.

In 1873 the first ducks were reported to have arrived from China when a New York City merchant had spotted them in Peking and ordered 25.  Nine survived the trip and started an entire industry on Long Island.  By 1900 there were 29 farms on Eastern Long Island.  Today there is only 1 (Corwin) remaining duck farm. 

Growing up I only knew that my paternal grandfather Olin and my Dad along with 2 of my grandfather’s brothers Hollis and J. Wesley were duck farmers.  It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that my grandfather’s father, John Benjamin Warner, had started the first duck farm in the family.

John grew up with farming in his blood.  Our ancestors had farmed in the same area of Baiting Hollow since the late 1700s.  John started out growing crops, mainly potatoes and cauliflower with his first purchase of land in 1893 until after his wife Carrie’s sudden death in 1910.  He sold the Baiting Hollow farm and bought property in the mid 1910s about 8 miles away in Aquebogue where John began his duck farm.  He farmed until his death in 1920.

My grandfather bought his farm in 1926 from Fredrick R. Howell in the village of Calverton, New York.  He continued that occupation for the rest of his life, semi-retiring the last few years of his life.  Later my father would begin his career as a ‘Duck Farmer’ working alongside his father.

We were introduced to duck farming at a very early age and as we grew helped my Dad and Grandfather with small tasks on the farm. 
David with the ducks Poppy showing me a white duck

                                                      David                                                                                                                                      my grandfather & I

The farm was definitely a ‘fun’ place to grow up with much to do and explore but the best part was spending time with my father and grandfather.  Our cousins would come out from the ‘city’ and we all shared great experiences on the farm. 
Later both of my brothers would also add ‘Duck Farmer’ as their occupation and work alongside my father. 

A duck farmer’s life was not an easy one.  This was a 7 day a week job with things to be done on a daily basis.  They were frequently out on the farm by 5:30 a.m. with eggs to pick up, buildings and equipment to repair, feed to get and give out to the ducks, eggs to clean and tray, baby ducks to ‘take off’, buildings to clean, ducks to move and eggs to be kept warm and rotated, etc.  A last check of the farm came at about 9:30 pm before bed and another day with new challenges.  Being your own boss and working alongside family was the reward.

dad mike

1986 was the end of an era with the close of our family duck farm.  The work was not easy and there was a sadness with the end of our family farm but the time was right.  My father and brother would go on to other careers but would always be proud to say they were ‘Duck Farmers’.  I admire the 4 generations of Duck Farmers in our family for the dedication and work they did over 70 years.

Check out the post Wordless Wednesday-Warner’s Duck Farm for a picture of my son who was able to experience duck farming for the first few years of his life, also.

You might also enjoy this 13 minute 1920 era short film I found on YouTube (especially from about 5:38 minutes in to the film) on Duck Farming ( ) done by the US Department of Agriculture.

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,

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