When Iris and Naftali Levin married they decided that they wanted to follow in the agricultural footsteps of their moshavnik parents. That was many moons and hundreds of thousands of ducks ago.
In l983 they bought a farm in Kfar Baruch in the center of the Jezreel Valley, roughly mid-way between Iris's childhood home of Nahalal and Tel Adashim where Naftali grew up. The Kfar Baruch property came with a small number of ducks and Iris immediately saw a way of realizing her childhood dream of rearing ducks for a living.
Thus the idea of Duck Village (Kfar HaBarvazim) was hatched. "Making the decision to run a duck farm was one thing, actually doing it was something else," laughs Iris above the noise of thousands of fluffy and not-so-fluffy ducks in long buildings flanking her.
"We didn't really have the necessary know-how to rear ducks, so we roped in Grandpa Barak from Nahalal who certainly did," continued Iris. Grandpa Barak is now 86 years old and still comes to advise and physically help out at the highly successful venture.
"The farm grew, as did the family," quips Iris, the mother of six children aged 12 to late 20's, all of whom are involved in the family business in some way. "Having the children participate in the development of Duck Village has been an added bonus and a wonderful experience as a family. About 15 years ago I began to think about opening a visitors' center because I believe we have something that is so interesting, special, fascinating even - the study of the life-cycle of ducks and other water fowl."
Other family members were hesitant about taking such a large step. They were concerned about the financial outlay and loss of privacy to the family. "Who could promise people would be interested enough to come and visit?" they questioned her. However Mrs. Levin's powers of persuasion brought about a decision four years ago to create a visitors' center where they could share their knowledge in professionally-led tours adapted to the age and characteristics of individual families and groups.
Ever since, there has hardly been a day without schoolchildren, groups of pensioners, soldiers or extended families following the 'Duck Village' sign from Route 73 to the Levin family enterprise at Kfar Baruch.
The project offers a chance to observe the life cycles of water fowl in general and ducks in particular, and incorporates an in-depth explanation of the reproductive process, laying and incubation period of duck eggs, and of course the hatching of chicks.
One gets an opportunity to squint through a microscope from a distance of a few meters, with the image portrayed on a large screen. Iris keeps up a running commentary while interacting with the visitors, who field a wide range of questions to do - and sometimes nothing at all to do - with the subject.
Then it's time to move on to the incubation house. Plastic trays full of various sized eggs can be viewed through the glass portion of the thick metal doors of one of the incubators. Iris knows exactly what length of time each tray has been in the incubator, and therefore at what stage of development is the chick inside. She reaches in and takes out an egg. Holding a blue flashlight, she shines it on the egg. A few young children in the front row are suddenly wide-eyed as they see looking through the thin eggshell the open eye of a chick staring back at them. Squeals of delight from a four-year-old and a loud "wow!" from her 10-year-old brother fill the room.
The egg goes back into the incubator, to be replaced in Iris's hand by another. The blue light comes on once more. Now we see a chick hard at work banging away to make a crack in the egg, so that he can burst forth into the unknown beyond his cramped quarters for the past 28 days or so.
Different breeds incubate for varying periods, but what all chicks share in common is a few days of extremely hard work knocking on the inside of the shell to break through. Above the chick's beak is a tiny, hard and sharp protrusion - a built-in shell-cutting chisel.
A chick that has broken through and still at the stage of being half-in and half-out of the shell is now in Iris's hand, brought forth for all to see. There isn't a sound in the room except for the chick's chirping. The onlookers contemplate the struggling but feisty little chick flopping from side to side as it tries to wiggle out of the remnants of the shell, and raise a round of soft applause when the chick succeeds.
From the incubation house we follow the ducklings' development through to maturity, going from one building to the next and ending up once more in the visitors' center. A group of children is busy working on a duck-themed art project while others sit on the ground in a penned-off area, gently stroking chicks rolling about in a box. A member of staff in the background keeps a watchful eye over the children to make sure they don't get too boisterous for the easily-injured chicks.
A few adults join their offspring in the petting corner. Bundles of yellow fluff are soon seen in their open hands, and they laugh as the chicks tickle their palms.
A chick rolls off the hand of one of the children and plops back into its straw-lined box. The little boy is startled, sees the chick is okay and sighs happily. "You have to be very careful, son," admonishes his father while desperately trying to get the right angle to take a photo of his son amongst the chicks. "Just think when you were born, you were very small and how gently we held you," he adds.
The boy looks up, now with another chick in his hands. "Abba, did I have little feathers like him when I was born?" he asks to everybody's amusement.
"Not as I recall," answers his father, struggling to keep a serious expression on his face.
A small duck pond with various species of water fowl and grassy area with picnic tables and a glorious open view across the fields provided a pleasant way to round off a peek into the Levin duck dreamworld in the valley.
Visits can be booked via 04-6540882, www.barvazimbakfar.co.il, e-mail: