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Glade Road Growing coming out of its shell with duck eggs
By JANE W. GRAHAM
BLACKSBURG, Va. (March 22, 2016) — The phrase “getting your ducks in a row,” may have more meaning for a husband and wife farming team here than for most people.
The reason is that they have a flock of 165 laying ducks on their Glade Road Growing farm, which is known for its variety of fresh foods.
Owners Jason Pall and his wife Sally Walker have been developing their farm for the past seven years after graduating from Virginia Tech.
They grow about four acres of produce and manage another 44 acres of pasture and riparian buffers along a local waterway, Tom’s Creek.
Though they don’t see a big sales increase approaching Easter, the duck eggs may well be the most unique product on the farm, Sally said. They sell them direct from their farm stand, in some of their winter meat CSA program and at a few stores in the Blacksburg area.
“Our ducks are raised year-round on the pastures surrounding our gardens,” she said. “They are out foraging much more and in all weather compared to our chickens.”
Jason said the ducks seem to like the weeds more than the cover crops and get a variety of nutrients from the pastures. They also leave their droppings, fertilizing as they move across the hills.
The ducks fit into the farm’s model in several ways. They graze in a moveable pen surrounded by electrified web fencing which is moved often. Inside the pen is a moveable shelter fashioned over a hoop house frame.
The couple said the ducks are hardier than chickens and handle extreme temperature changes better. They are also susceptible to fewer parasites than chicks and the hawks do not bother them as much. In addition, the web-footed fowl don’t scratch up the soil like chickens.
The pair noted that duck eggs differ from chicken eggs. Gram for gram, the duck eggs contain more protein and vitamins than chicken eggs, they said; they are larger and have a slightly richer flavor. The chickens they raise are sold for meat.
Another selling point for the duck eggs is that they puff up and add loft to baked goods, Walker added.
Last year, they sold the eggs at $7 per dozen. This year, they raised the price in response to higher feed costs.
The duck eggs weigh more than two pounds a dozen, Sally said, about 50 percent more than chicken eggs. They are graded in two sizes, jumbo and extra jumbo.
They are also adding greenhouses to their operation to lengthen the growing season. Another way to prolong the season for fresh produce is the planting of fall crops which are then available into the later part of the year, depending on weather conditions. These include various winter squash varieties and greens.
Jason said the farm is not Certified Organic but they follow many organic farming techniques to improve the soils and produce quality foods. He said they focus on building organic matter in the soil using cover crops, composted hay and municipal yard waste and growing a diverse crop mix.
One of their cultivation methods is to use raised beds with deep paths between them. The paths are filled with compost and organic matter such as leaves that are flipped over onto the raised beds at the end of the growing season to enrich the soil.
“We feel strongly that the resources to produce healthy food are right here around us and we enjoy helping other aspiring farmers in the area get started,” the couple said.