Beaumont, Texas: In Love with the Bugs
Darby Douget never expected to love raising crawfish. That’s because he’s done it since he was 12. “I hated it when I was a kid,” Darby says, recalling the early days of working the farm his family owned. “I couldn’t wait to get out of here.”
Life has a way of coming back around to what’s real and important. Four years ago, Darby and his wife Christina bought the place from a relative and they couldn’t be happier. And neither could the dozens of restaurant, caterer, and individual customers who line up to buy more than 110,000 pounds per season of some of the highest-quality crawfish you can buy.
Douget’s is a name well known in Southeast Texas. The Douget’s are farmers raising rice and milling it in the low fat lands around Beaumont. At the Douget Crawfish Farm, out on highway 90, Darby hasn’t moved far from his rice farming roots. He plants rice for the crawfish to eat.
You might think raising crawfish is easy. Think again. On the Douget’s 800 acre farm, 500 of the acres are filled with shallow ponds for the crawfish. In addition to growing rice for the crawfish or “mudbugs” as they’re called around these parts, Darby and Christina have to protect their tiny lobster-like charges from sun perch that eat crawfish eggs and from snakes that are thick in the muddy, watery terrain.
Darby and his hired help take flat bottomed power boats into the ponds to bait traps with pellets. It’s common to find poisonous snakes like water moccasins (cottonmouths) swimming in the pond, slithering through the thick grass, or sometimes right in the boat!
When the crawfish have entered the traps, they take the boat out and empty the crawfish into big buckets. Once large buckets of are filled with crawfish, they’re dumped onto stainless steel sorting tables. Workers pour over the squirmy mudbugs, tossing out silver dollar sized sun perch, weeds, mud clods, any dead crawfish, and the occasional snake. The smaller crawfish go into a bucket to be tossed back into the shallow pond until they’re bigger. Larger crawfish, typically four inches or so, are placed in fresh water tanks for 24 hours to encourage them to purge out the grit. Then they’re bagged up, 8-12 crawfish per pound, into 30-35 pound sacks.
Dougets has a reputation for top quality crawfish –large and clean. Every year, they produce more than 110,000 pounds of crawfish that are sold to area restaurants and caterers and to foodies in the know who trek out to their modest office to purchase sacks of the live crawfish at $2.75/pound. “When you buy 32 pounds of crawfish from us,” says Darby proudly, “you get 32 pounds of crawfish. No junk, no mud.”
While raising mudbugs may not seem a glamorous or romantic career choice for a young, newly married couple, it suits the Douget’s just fine. Both of them appreciate the six months on-six months off crawfish farming schedule. During spring and summer, they work long days, feeding,harvesting, bagging, and selling crawfish. In the colder months, when the crawfish burrow into the mud, they can relax a little, but not too much. Darby’s been working rebuilding barns and outbuildings destroyed by recent hurricanes. And, they’re planning on opening a crawfish restaurant in January 2011.
“I like everything to do with the family business,” says Christine. “I like making people happy and, around here, people are crazy for crawfish.” —BH
Douget’s Crawfish Farm
16939 Highway 90
Beaumont, TX 77713