What do we want to find in "tomorrow's egg"? Let us examine the egg part by part and set some goals for the future; and then let's see if we have any hope of accomplishing those goals.
First there is the shape of the egg to consider. Tomorrow's egg does not need to have a different shape than today's egg but it would certainly help a lot to have al of tomorrow's eggs uniformly shaped alike.
Uniform egg shape would make it possible to tailor our crates, case and cartons to do a better job of protecting the eggs from breaking. That would be the biggest economic reason for wanting uniform egg shape in tomorrow's egg. I also think the consumer would find packages of eggs with uniform shape more attractive and maybe buy a few more.
Something else to consider is the mechanization of the poultry and egg industry. More and more operations of handling eggs are being done mechanically. Any designer of egg handling equipment will tell you that his machine will work better for "normally" shaped eggs than for others. The producer can do himself and the handler of eggs a considerable service by making tomorrow's eggs uniform in shape.
What sort of shell would we like to have on tomorrow's eggs? What about shell colour? We all know that colour of the shell has nothing to do with the quality inside, so I think that we shouldn't worry too much about shell colour. I would like to see tomorrow's uniform colour in each carton. I believe we can merchandise eggs of one colour almost as easily as eggs of another colour.
Uniformity of shell colour, and shape, too, as mentioned before, make a more attractive pack. These are two of the things that can make it easier to sell the product. In my opinion the egg packer has more responsibility in doing something about shell colour than the producer. Producers should remember, though, that the fewer colours of shell that the packer gets, the easier his job will be.
Need Stronger Shells
The main things we expect the shell to do are to carry the contents of the eggs until we're ready to use them and to protect the contents from evaporation and contamination. Tomorrow's egg ought to have a strong shell whether it is laid in April or August and it should be more resistant to evaporation. We're very lucky that eggs have shells on them. Many foods aren't that well protected by nature.
In shell eggs today we pin most of our quality ratings on the albumen, the thick albumen to be more specific. We do that because we think that an egg with lots of thick "up-standing" white is what the consumer wants. If we're right, and I think we are, then tomorrow's egg ought to have more and thicker albumen that will keep its high quality longer.
What about yolk colour? The consumer surveys that have been made in the last few years indicate that consumers in general don't prefer any one yolk colour over another. They may draw the line at extremely dark or extremely light yolks, but that leaves a pretty big range of colour that doesn't seem to worry them too much. Here again, I'm going to fall back on that word "uniformity."
We want uniformity in almost everything, particularly food. If the last hot dog you ate tasted especially good you'd like the next one to taste just like it. If your last suit wore like iron, you want your next one to do that, too. I believe the consumer would be happy with almost any yolk colour within reasonable limits if all yolks were about the same colour.
Next time you have two eggs sunny side up for breakfast, take a look at the yolks. If one is darker than the other, I'll bet you expect one of them to taste better. You may think you'll like the dark one or you may think you'll like the light one. It doesn't matter which – the important thing is that if there is a lack of uniformity, you will usually think that one is going to be better than the other. We could prevent this sort of consumer confusion by giving them uniform yolk colour.
The yolk of tomorrow's egg won't have any defects on it such as mottling or other areas that appear abnormal. There won't be any blood and meat spots in tomorrow's egg either. I don't need to dwell on these points. We wish today's eggs didn't have these defects but they do sometimes so we will make if out goal to completely eliminate them from tomorrow's eggs.
One more thing that tomorrow's egg can have that will make it even more desirable, and that is increased nutritive value. The egg is almost without peer in nutritive value now. If it can be improved in nutritive value so much the better.
The Practical Approach
These are some pretty lofty goals. Let's be practical – what are the possibilities that we can reach those goals? I think we can reach all of them. Some will take longer than others, but none of them are impossible.
Take shell colour, for example. We have been working with instruments in U.S.D.A. laboratories that could be developed into machines for automatically segregating eggs by the colour of their shells. When the egg industry feels that it will be profitable for them to pack eggs for uniformity of shell color, I have no doubt that it can be done mechanically.
I also mentioned uniformity of egg shape. It has been demonstrated many times that egg shape is inherited. When we decide what egg shape we want, poultry breeders can produce birds that will lay that shape.
Yolk colour is predominately influenced by feed, and controlling the amount of pigment in the feed controls yolk colour. But that may not be the whole story. There is some research going on at Beltsville indicating that yolk colour may be partly controlled by inheritance. This work hasn't been going on very long yet, but it is beginning to look as though we might have some breeding as well as feeding control over yolk colour.
It has been known for 20 years or so that egg shell quality is influenced by heredity. We also know that feeding the proper balance and amount of minerals is important in getting good shells. What are the possibilities of getting eggs with superior shell strength and low evaporation rate?
Several years ago the U.S.D.A. researchers reported on breeding for egg shell quality by using the weight loss of the egg in the incubator. They found that it was possible to develop a good shell quality line and a poor shell quality line, showing that the ability produce good shell is inherited. They also found that the shells of the eggs with the low weight loss were the strongest. This work indicates that it is possible through breeding, accompanied by proper feeding, to put a shell around tomorrow's eggs that is stronger and allows less evaporation.
Can Reach Goal
Can we reach our goals of albumen quality? We want a high percentage of thick white that stands up well when first laid and deteriorates slowly. It has been shown that, through breeding, birds can be developed that will lay eggs which deteriorate more slowly than ordinary. This work is not yet completed but it points the way to one more of the things we want in tomorrow's egg.
On the subject of blood and meat spots and mottled yolks there isn't anything new to report. You've been told many times that though breeding they can be eliminated almost entirely. I think elimination of blood and meat spots ought to be the first of our goals for tomorrow's egg that we try to reach – and the sooner the better.
The vitamin content of the yolk of an egg is influenced by the feed of the bird. Tomorrow's egg can be made nutritious by feeding for higher vitamin content.
Where are we right now in all of this? What is the quality of today's egg? The truth of the matter is we don't know. A lot has been learned about where quality losses occur during marketing and a lot has been learned about preserving egg quality by processing and by cold storage. A lot has also been learned about breeding for egg quality. We need to know more about all of these. But the one thing we haven't looked at in any detail at all yet is the quality of eggs as they are laid.
Last spring and summer a program got under way to do something about it. Associated Poultry and Egg Industries has adopted the program. It is call the I.Q. (Interior Quality) Programme. The first thing to be done is to find out the level of quality being produced. To do that, observations on the interior quality of newly laid eggs are going to be taken in some of the egg laying contests. That will go a long way toward telling us what sort of egg quality today's laying stock produces.
When we get the needed information about today's egg we will know better how far we have to go to produce tomorrow's egg. Let me summarize very briefly. Tomorrow's egg should have:
- Uniform shape,
- Uniform shell colour in any one carton,
- Greater shell strength,
- Less evaporation from the egg,
- A high percentage of thick white,
- A thick white that stands up high and deteriorates slowly,
- Uniform yolk colour,
- Freedom from blood and meat spots and mottled yolks, and
- Higher nutritive value.
These goals can all be reached. They will be reached, of course, only when such eggs are more profitable to those who produce them. Obviously then, no one segment of the poultry industry can be asked to carry the ball alone. Improved egg quality at the production level must be accompanied by improved marketing and handling of eggs. At the same time, improved merchandising will have to provide the economic encouragement needed to keep an egg quality improvement programme on the move.