3 April 1998

Need some exotics? We can supply them

Tasmanian green-beaked devils and

Patagonian hares, black swans and

albino wallabies are just a few of the

exotic birds and animals bred on the

farm Tessa Gates visited in East Anglia

SPRING fever strikes early at Brook Farm, Bungay, Suffolk and in February the first eggs were already hatching and a wallaby or two had a baby joey in the pouch.

"Cereopsis geese are early nesters that dont adjust to our seasons and we are already hatching young, which is nice for us as the incubators are empty at this time of year," says Trevor Lay, who runs Waveney Wildfowl with his wife, Deborah, and one full-time employee. "We call the geese Tasmanian green-beaked devils as they are so awfully aggressive, but they are good breeders."

Breeding is what the farm is all about. Trevor rears 3000-4000 birds a year, plus, on nearby land, park animals including llamas, rheas, wallabies, maras, marmosets and more. However, the public is unlikely to see them until the young stock goes out to buyers running open farms, zoos or country parks.

"We dont even have a farm sign up here – we dont want visitors, we want customers," says Trevor, who can boast one of the biggest aviaries in the country.

&#42 Fortified aviary

The aviary – 9.5t of wire netting connected with thousands of stainless steel rings – covers 2ha (4.5 acres) of ponds and pens. It took four-and-half years to build and was worth the effort, for it keeps out winged vermin and the diseases they carry. A 2m (6ft 6in) high boundary fence and electric fencing keep back foxes and vermin traps are another line of defence against rats, stoats and mink.

In it a multitude of beautiful or unusual wildfowl call and display. Most of the birds have pinioned wings, but east African crowned cranes, tall elegant birds with a head-dress of delicate feathers, are left full winged so they can keep their balance during mating. A breeding pair sells for £1000. "We have three-and-a-half pairs and hope to diversify into different sorts of cranes. They eat chicken food and make wonderful park birds," says Trevor who has been on the 4ha (10-acre) site since 1976.

Black-necked swans steam across the water, hissing a warning to farmers Weeklys photographer. "They can be aggressive and get up quite a momentum across the pond," says Trevor. "Their legs are set further back than conventional swans so they are rather ungainly on land.

The smallest duck he has is the tiny Hottentot teal whose ducklings are like little black-capped bumble bees. The largest waterfowl is a trumpeter swan, with its unmistakable call. A favourite of Trevors is the North American ruddy duck, which has caused some concern in Spain and in England because of its propensity for mating with indigenous species when irresponsible owners have left its wings unpinioned. For all that it is the most difficult to rear in captivity, he finds.

"We have several endangered species here, and the really endangered ones like the laysan teal, can be very boring to look at. We breed them but have to breed the pretty ones for people to buy," says Trevor, who sells breeding pairs from £35.

Outside the aviary are open pens. Here emperor geese, usually found on open tundra, happily nest in old tyres filled with straw, and a multitude of other breeds of geese preen and swim. Wild oyster catchers find the farm a good place to nest too and have returned for a second season after successfully rearing three young last year.

&#42 Full incubators

Bantams brood many of the chicks, but open the door marked Womens Retiring Room and you find the incubators which fill to capacity as the season progresses. "I am colour blind so my wife collects the eggs and writes the date, variety and pen number on the blunt end of each shell, so that when the chick arrives we still have that end left and can enter the result in our records," explains Trevor.

His interest in breeding waterfowl began when he was at school. He admits to spending more time looking out of the classroom window to see the school ducks than looking at the blackboard. He owned his first waterfowl at 13 when he spent £5 "a fortune then" on a pair of Carolinas. "They had 38 babies in the first year and I sold them at £4 a pair and that was untold riches at 14," he recalls.

His next success was buying rare Edwards pheasants for £30 a pair – "you could buy a second-hand mini for that price then" – and by bringing two degraded lines together he produced an outcross with far more dynamic youngsters and had a cinnamon mutation. However, an investment of £30 in a pair of ringed teal was a complete failure. "They never bred," says Trevor, who sells young stock all over Europe and beyond.

"I have never wanted to do anything else but breed birds, but when I have had hard times my father has said, why dont you jack it all in and find a proper job," says Trevor, who finds our strong £ is doing him no favours with his export sales. Trevor and Deborah have four children aged 14-20 and he feels it is quite an achievement to make enough money from 4ha (10 acres) of land to keep two families, his own and his workers.

The family live at Ellingham in a rambling old house that was derelict when Trevor bought it. He is still restoring parts of it and in the 7.3ha (18 acres) of surrounding grounds a new monkey house for tamarins, lemurs and marmosets is being built. In the paddocks are rheas and wallabies, both grey and white, which share an enclosure with rather odd creatures called mara, also known as Patagonian hares.

"Albino wallabies are very rare," says Trevor, who tends to favour white animals. "We only have albino males and sometimes the grey females have white babies, which create a lot of interest when you see them sticking out of the pouch. Occasionally an orphan will be hand reared by Deborah – she uses a peg bag for a pouch – and they can be very playful with children. We dont keep pets here, so these ones usually go on to wildlife parks," says Trevor.

Wallabies are mainly nocturnal feeders and eat root crops from automatic hoppers, but get additional goodies as Trevor feeds supermarket waste to many of his animals. "They will kill for sweetcorn and also like onions and garlic," says Trevor. "Rheas love bananas and will shake the fruit out to eat first before polishing off the skins."

On another site, llamas enjoy a wonderfully varied diet including peppers, grapes, pears, potatoes, tomatoes and even chillies. "They will eat anything," says Trevor who has a certificate to move waste and a contract with a supermarket. In addition to the surprisingly fresh looking fruit and vegetables, he feeds the llamas silage, flaked maize, sheep nuts and barley straw.

&#42 Woolly bullies

Trevor is obviously good at his job and his latest venture will be to import seven pairs of red squirrels from Germany to captive breed here. He would very much like to use some of our native stock but his approaches have been rebuffed.

He researches each new species before going in for it and hopefully the squirrels will breed as well as his other stock has done.

Trevor claims there is no real secret to it. "Successful breeding just takes common sense, a varied diet, good husbandry and low stocking rates," he says.

Inquiries: Waveney Wildfowl (01986-895000).

East African crested cranes (left) eat chicken food and make wonderful park birds, says Trevor Lay pictured above feeding supermarket waste to llamas whose diet includes sheep nuts.

Left: Bantams brood

cereopsis goslings. Above left: Trevor has some albino male wallabies and sometimes the grey females have white babies which create interest. Above:Whooper swans displaying.


Left:Shelduck are among the 3000-4000 birds Trevor rears each year. Below:Mandarin ducks puff up

their sails.

Left:Shelduck are among the 3000-4000 birds Trevor rears each year. Below:Mandarin ducks puff up

their sails.

Left:Shelduck are among the 3000-4000 birds Trevor rears each year. Below:Mandarin ducks puff up

their sails.

Left:Trevor uses a Hottentot teal to demonstrate the correct way to hold a duck. Right: Nesting Coscoroba swans. Below: Black necked swans fetch £450/pair including VAT.