Vergenoegd Löw has its sustainable farming ducks in a row

13 November 2023

When it comes to regenerative farming, the Vergenoegd Löw wine estate near Somerset-West has got its ducks in a row: and the “ducks” are by no means confined to the famous Indian Runner Ducks which are associated with the estate.

From responsible water usage and recycling to minimalist, biodegradable packaging, everything possible has been done to reduce human and mechanical impact on the farm. In fact, the estate is now properly understood to be part of a completely unique, naturally-landscaped ecosystem.

Vergenoegd Löw’s holistic approach is farming sustainably and practicing regenerative agriculture. It started with a detailed analysis of the soil to determine exactly which grape cultivar would grow best on which part of the farm with its unique microclimate and prevailing winds. Then only the healthiest young vines were planted, along with cover crops between the rows to promote biodiversity and attract microorganisms. The microorganisms, in turn, enrich and aerate the soil.

The Runner Ducks – which Corius Visser, Managing Director of Vergenoegd Löw describes as the farm’s “soldiers” – are an important element of the sustainable farming drive on the estate. “The ducks are preoccupied foraging the vineyards,” he says. “Their long necks enable them to reach quite high for worms, snails and insects, so there is no need to spray the vines with harmful chemicals. Their droppings also nourish the soil and feed the vines as envisaged four decades ago by the farm’s former owner, John Faure, who still manages their breeding programme.”

Vergenoegd Löw Indian Runner Ducks

In Stride with Nature: Indian Runner Ducks weave through Vergenoegd Löw, showcasing a sustainable journey from manor to vineyards, where every step counts

According to Faure, the Runner Ducks were originally bred in the East to keep the rice fields pest free. He says these ducks do not fly and only rarely form nests and incubate their own eggs, often dropping their eggs wherever they happen to be. The ducks stand erect like penguins and, rather than waddling, they run. The females usually lay more than 300 eggs a year, which, during the six-month egg-laying season, can be ordered for breakfast in the estate’s Geuwels restaurant.

But there’s also a new “kid” on the block. Dexter cattle have recently been introduced to the farm, their main task being to get rid of unwanted weeds. Says Corius: “Dexters are a perfect fit for the farm. They are smaller and lighter than other breeds and therefore don’t compact the soil. They eat literally everything green, including weeds and – like the Runner Ducks – fertilise the vineyards with their manure.”

Vergenoed Löw Dexter Cattle

In Nature’s Gallery: A Dexter and a Blue Crane, two icons of sustainability, captured in a moment of peaceful cohabitation.

In addition, Dexters have a high proportion of saleable, well-marbled meat. “Dexters have a significantly larger rib-eye muscle relative to their bodyweight than most another breeds,” explains Corius. The rib-eye, one of the largest muscles of the carcass, runs the full length of the back and correlates strongly with the total amount of muscle in the carcass, which equates to a higher proportion of saleable meat. The meat is also very tender, with excellent texture.”

Corius’ vision is to create a market for the meat and establish a trademark similar to that of wagyu. “Consumers should know that they buy certified Dexter meat. The restaurant menu on the estate’s restaurants will specify that the beef cuts are Dexter meat. The Dexter cow’s milk is also special: it can be consumed by lactose intolerant people,” says Corius.

The breed is furthermore hardy and adaptable. “The Dexters originated from the south and south-western parts of Ireland, where they roamed about in relatively wild mountainous districts, developing their non-selective grazing habits and stamina. They do well in both dry and wet conditions. In winter, for instance, they grow a thicker hide to protect them against the cold conditions,” says Corius.

They furthermore have a docile temperament, which makes them easy to handle. “My wife has, however, pleaded with me not to give them names, as it will make it impossible for her to eat ‘Sara’ or ‘Billy’s’ meat,” he laughs.

Corius regards sustainable farming as an holistic approach whereby a strategy and operations are implemented to minimise the impact on resources. “This is achieved by aligning each aspect of the business to become financially sound and efficient, thereby ensuring a harmonious interaction between mankind and nature. That is what we strive for in everything we do at Vergenoegd Löw,” he concludes.