Keeping Runner ducks combines the benefits of raising poultry with the entertainment of watching penguin-like bowling pins forage around the yard. After dabbling in call ducks, I increased my flock to include Fawn and White Runner ducks. With their unique appearance and high egg production, Runner ducks were a great addition to our homestead. Now 20 some years later, I still have a small flock of Runners foraging about.
In ancient Javan temples, Runner-like hieroglyphics date back to 2,000 years ago. For many centuries in Asia raising and herding ducks has been a traditional homesteading practice. I have heard stories of duck herders taking their ducks out to rice fields during the day where the birds clean up fallen grain, weeds and snack on pests. Through artificial selection, farmers choose birds who were skillful foragers and could travel long distances with ease. The Runners must have been off the two weeks I was in Thailand last summer, as I did not see a single duck in or near the rice fields.
In addition to describing Runner ducks as a mix between a penguin and a bowling pin, breeders and judges look for a wine bottle shape with a head and legs. When foraging around, their posture is between 45 and 75 degrees. When standing at attention, show specimens stand nearly perpendicular to the ground. When choosing breeders, strong legs with a smooth running gait is desirable. Avoid low, short or stocky bodies and short necks and bills, contrary to heavyweight breeds such as Muscovy ducks.
Runner ducks are considered a lightweight breed with females weighing on average four to four and a half pounds and males weighing up to five pounds. Ducks are between 24 and 28 inches tall and drakes can measure up to 32 inches.
Runner ducks come in more varieties than any other duck breed. Standard and nonstandard colors include: Black, Blue Fairy Fawn, Blue Fawn, Blue-Brown Penciled, Blue-Fawn Penciled, Buff, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Cumberland Blue, Dusky, Emery Penciled, Fairy Fawn, Fawn & White, Golden, Gray, Khaki, Lavender, Lilac, Pastel, Penciled, Porcelain Penciled, Saxony, Silver, Splashed, Trout and White.
In North America, the Fawn & White variety was the first to be admitted to the American Standard in 1898. In 1914, Penciled and White were added. In 1977 the Black, Buff, Chocolate, Cumberland Blue and Gray were admitted.
Showing Runner ducks in a ring has advantages compared to showing birds in a show cage. The ring allows the birds to show off their running gait and tall stature. A great Runner has smooth feathers, is slender and nearly vertical with an imaginary straight line running from the back of the head through the neck and body to the end of their tail. Tall birds with long and straight bills are ideal. Runner ducks have the tightest feathers of all ducks, allowing them to be disheveled easily in transport. If showing your birds, ensure that their flight feathers are folded back properly.
Raising Runner ducks is a valuable hobby due to their incredible active foraging lifestyle and egg production. Baby ducks are ready to roam quickly after they hatch and this is exemplified in runner ducks. Runners who can live up to 10 years old are said to be the most active foragers of all domestic breeds. They will happily eat snails, slugs, garden pests and weeds. Purebred Runners on average lay around 200 eggs a year. Duck eggs, which contain quite a bit of Omega-3 fatty acids, have the potential of making bake goods fluffier. Some Runner strains can lay up to 300 eggs a year.
Although Runner ducks lay countless eggs annually, they are not a broody breed. Since my flock has free range of my one-acre homestead I often go on a daily egg hunt searching for their 70g bone-white sized eggs. Some Runner strains like the Silvers, Blues, and Chocolates lay dark green to tan eggs. Younger birds seem to lay darker eggs, with the color lightening up as they mature. Many sources say that Runners lay early in the morning. If I would keep them in their night coop until mid-morning, I would not have to go searching; but what is the fun of that? My birds have a half dozen of their favorite spots to lay including in bromeliads, under bushes and right in the middle of the garden path. They are so busy foraging they don’t have time to go back to their pen and lay an egg. Many mornings when I let them out, they run right past the duck kiddie pool and food bowl around the chicken coop and vegetable garden and start digging in the dirt near the greenhouse. They are quite amusing to watch.
Do you enjoy raising Runner ducks? What’s your favorite color of Runner duck? Let us know in the comments below.