Dear Aggie: why are chicken eggs different colors?
Around this time of year, many of us enjoy dying Easter eggs with family and friends. Yellow, blue, purple, pink, and green – there are so many pretty colors to choose from. Did you know that some breeds of chickens can naturally produce eggs in colors other than white? There are dozens of breeds of chickens, all with varying characteristics, and their eggs come in a rainbow of color.
The most popular and productive chicken breeds used on commercial poultry farms lay either white or brown eggs. These are the eggs you see most commonly in grocery stores. Common breeds that lay white eggs include White Leghorns, Andalusians, and Anconas. Common breeds that lay brown eggs include Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, Sussex, and Plymouth Rock.
When we think of lovely blue eggs, our minds wander to American robins or other songbirds; many folks don’t usually think of chicken eggs. Chicken breeds such as the Araucana or Ameraucana breeds, or even a hybrid type interestingly called an Easter Egger, can lay eggs that are various shades of pale blue and green. Easter Egger chickens also lay eggs in shades ranging from pink to brown. Breeders knowledgeable of genetics have even developed a few prize-winning hens that lay deep, brilliant blue eggs. Maran chickens lay eggs that are a dark, chocolate brown.
Genetics and breed determine what color a hen’s eggshell will be. Don’t assume that your chicken will lay a pinkish egg one day and a blue the next. Hens, or female chickens, will lay the same color of egg for their whole life. A quick indicator of what color a hen’s eggs will be is to look at her earlobes or ear area. Hens with white earlobes will usually lay eggs with a white shell, while hens with brown or red earlobes will lay brown-colored eggs.
Hens with ear-tufts often have genetics for blue or green eggs. Eggshell color isn’t the only egg factor that can differ from breed to breed though. Some chicken breeds lay larger or smaller eggs than others and many breeds of chickens are much better egg-producers than others, meaning they have the capability of laying more eggs per week and per year.
Eggs are a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Although eggs can be different colors on the outside, there is no difference in nutritional value based on eggshell color. The hen’s environment and their diet have the greatest impact to nutritional value. The next time you are grocery shopping with eggs on your list, see what different colors you can find. Many sellers at local farmers markets and farm stands offer eggs in colors other than white.
By Abigail Jantzi, Dairy & Livestock Specialist