Indian Runners As They Are

Some time ago a Jerseyman who had carried Runners eight or nine successive years and who was at the time contemplating putting in 2000 layers wrote me thus, concerning one of the “366-eggs-in-365 days” Runner stories: “I think it’s foolish to tell such yarns, even if true. It’s poor business to disappoint people who express their faith in you by trusting their money and their hope to you. She (the breeder telling the big stories) will never sell a bird that will do that, and she knows it!” Here is as sound a bit of fair-minded business philosophy as we often get. Many who have met hard failure would do well to chew the cud of it for a while.

Only last week the modest leaflet of a new friend, a breeder of Runners, came to me. These leaflets, as they reach me, serve chiefly as my character-tests of the breeders. Hence I looked this new one over with much interest. It was strong; it spoke firmly of the good points of Indian Runners; it showed reasons why his own stock should be bought. Yet there was scarcely a word which could be called exaggeration in it.

On the other hand there was a Runner breeder who infested some of the poultry papers for several years, whose every published utterance teemed with exaggeration. He claimed the earth and “then some” for these birds. I do not know anything more harmful, both to a breed and its breeders. The breeder last-mentioned was in prison the last I heard. The people who told the very biggest Runner story of all have failed. It looks as if the public could draw its own conclusions, and knew enough not to patronize those who go beyond reason.

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There is not anywhere in the world, under any conditions that are decent for fowls, so far as I know, so good a consistent layer as the Runner. There is probably no other meat of any domestic fowl so good as the Runner meat. There is no other bird that, handled right, can make the regular profits of which the Runner is capable, and those profits will be larger than they are now, when the senseless prejudice handed down by tradition is overcome – the belief that these eggs are “strong.” It is perfectly well known that all eggs – eggs of every breed of domestic poultry, are affected by the quality of the feed. Onions, cabbage, all feeds of strong flavors, transfer those flavors to the eggs, if fed too constantly, or at the wrong time. It is also known that odors transfer themselves to eggs through the shell. I judge that it is also pretty well known that the nearer to the wild state birds are, and the fewer their eggs, the stronger they may be, especially if the flesh is strong. For all sorts of flavors are transferred to eggs from the flesh. A hen’s breath will smell quite as strong of onions as will a man’s. Peas, asparagus, cabbage, quickly transfer their odors to the urine of the animal which eats them. The odor of a sick-room where the patient is retaining waste constantly in the system is unbearable. Even the person in fair health who sleeps with closed windows fills the room with effluvia from the breath, so that a person coming in before the windows are opened may be nauseated.

All these things point in one direction, viz., that feeds of strong odors and of constipating character will affect all fowls throughout the system, and that hens are no more immune from this than are ducks. In other words, any eggs from any breeds may be strong under bad conditions of either feed or care.

The Cumberland Runner Club, feeling that some public action should be taken to overcome this clinging of an old tradition, submitted eggs to various Experimental Stations for test. Not one of these stations admits that the eggs, when fresh, have any ill flavor. And everyone knows that all eggs, when stale, have unpleasant flavors. Flavor, then, is a matter of feed, conditions of keeping and age.

As President of the Cumberland Club I wrote to Mr. H. Lamon, who had to do with poultry in connection with the Department of Agriculture to ask the help of the Department in combating this senseless prejudice. For, it seemed to me that if the Food Research Laboratory could spend much effort and 13 eggs, more or less, on presenting fish as a substitute for meat, in the Yearbook, it might also very well lend a hand to smooth the way for the Runner Duck, with its many hundreds of breeders. The reply – not from Mr. Lamon, but a substitute – was to the effect that it was up to the breeders to down this prejudice. But since the Government is apparently ready to give aid to whatever may help the rural or producing part of the people there surely can be no good reason why it cannot lend a hand to rate Runner eggs where they belong.

Come, let us use a little common-sense! The chief constituents of eggs are water, fat, protein, (or albumen) and ash. Albumen is rated as “the type of all nitrogenous foods.” Protein is the element that spoils most quickly, as any housekeeper who knows how soon peas, beans and meat decay, could guess. In the analysis furnished the Cumberland Club by the Texas State Food Commissioner. Dr. Abbott, the duck egg shows exactly one-tenth of one per cent less protein than hens’ eggs. Square on the face of this is the presumption that if one-tenth of one per cent can make any difference, the duck egg must be the better egg. The only other element to be considered in this connection is the fat. Every cook knows that fat stales more or less rapidly. Instance “strong” butter, lard, etc., or even peanut butter. If very stale, the duck egg might be stronger in stale fat than the hens’ egg, because it contains more than a third more fat, comparatively. But this is not the real point of spoilage. Under “ash,” analysis gives the Runner eggs nine-tenths of one per cent mineral matter and just one per cent to hens’ eggs. The one per cent is the average of sixty analyses. There are very small quantities of sulphur and phosphorus in the egg. Miss Barrows, a cooking-school teacher speaking of chemistry of the egg, said: “The offensive smell of aged eggs is caused by the combination of the hydrogen in the air with the sulphur and phosphorus of the egg.”

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In the above very careful look at the contents of the egg, both of the Runner and the hen, we see that there is no possible ground for the idea that the duck egg is “strong,” except in the possible case of stale fat in an egg long held. And there is absolutely nothing in pure fat to build up prejudice upon.

If this were not enough we have reports from three reliable Experiment Stations of the country, as to actual dietetic facts. A report recently sent me, made by Cornell Station, the one conservative-of-the-conservatives, says that no difference in flavor could be observed between duck eggs and hen eggs. The tests were made repeatedly. At the Texas Station, when the public test was made, there were gathered at the State University hundreds of farmers from various parts of the state. The Home Economics teacher was herself a victim of the traditional prejudice against the duck egg. This paid worker presided at these tests. There were also present several hundred students from the University. Samples of the cooked eggs and the roasted Runner meat were handed about in the audience. The report was favorable in every particular, both to Runner meat and to Runner eggs. As regards the eggs it was especially notable, because it said that they were “better in flavor than the hens’ eggs.” It seems to me that everyone who has ever lifted brow or voice or pen against Runner eggs ought to spread wide these facts, in simple justice.

male-and-female-runners2Some have complained that Runner eggs do not really average three ounces. This may be true. It is also true that hens’ eggs do not average two ounces in all cases. People sometimes guess at things, also. A woman wrote me that her eggs, which she had called small, were as large as my own, and that a neighbor Runner breeder said that his own were invariably larger than those in question. I went, on the spur of the moment, to a basket of the current gatherings, took out a dozen, below rather than above average, and they weighed within an ounce or so of two pounds and a quarter. This was in July, when eggs are not as large as at some seasons. Standard market hens’ eggs would weigh one pound and a-half.

Another breeder sent me some eggs for hatching, also late in the season. I judged them “considerably” smaller than mine. The scales rated them about the same. The shape of eggs often deceives the eye as to comparative weights, round eggs looking small but weighing heavy.

There are now virtually two types of Runners in the country, not to mention variations in type of some years back. I refer now especially to the little duck bred to the drastic new British Standard, and to the large bird called for by the American Standard, and better liked here, when it can be fitted out with real Runner characteristics; this is most often attempted by crossing the types. The little real Runner cannot lay as large an egg as the larger type, and it becomes a question as to which type men are considering when they speak. The eggs of this small, dainty duck do not average three ounces.

But, I helped weigh the eggs produced in several days by a New York breeder, from the larger type ducks, and they averaged more than the required three ounces. In the hands of less liberal feeders, they might have weighed less, as both feed and handling make variations. I chanced to receive an informal report recently, which showed this in the case of the birds themselves. Two breeders of my acquaintance began with stock from a third acquaintance. I knew this stock, but have not seen its progeny in the hands of the two buyers. One of these buyers bought some surplus birds from the other, and reported them to me as “bantams” a pound or more lighter than her own. Query, who was responsible? Not the variety, surely; for all three of these breeders carried, in the main, the same stock as the New York breeder above mentioned, with her birds running to six pounds on occasion, and her eggs above standard average weight. And these large birds were of fine Runner carriage and bills, and carried off the first prize in a highly-rated county fair. ~ C.S. Valentine, Ridgewood, N.J.