ARDEN HILLS, Minn. – Colored television may be commonplace today, but can you imagine the excited chatter as families witnessed it for the first time in the 1950’s? The same holds true for farm fresh eggs. From olive to blue and speckled to chocolate brown, colored eggs are trending in the backyard chicken world.
“Collecting farm fresh eggs becomes that much more fun when the shells are shades of the rainbow. That’s why many chicken raisers keep a variety of breeds,” says Patrick Biggs, Ph.D., a flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “Just remember, no matter the shell color, a hen needs calcium in her layer feed to lay strong and stay strong.”
Chicken breeds that lay colored eggs
Eggshell color is unique to each hen, depending on her breed and genetics. Eggshell color does not change egg nutrients; the color of the shell is simply decoration. Popular breeds that lay colored eggs include Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Ameraucana and Welsummer chickens.
“You may be able to tell the shell color by the hen’s earlobe. Hens with white earlobes typically lay white or lightly tinted eggs. Hens with red earlobes most commonly lay brown eggs, but there are always exceptions to those rules,” Biggs adds. “Different shades of eggshells can come from the same bird on different days. This is because the bloom, put on right before the egg is laid, contains a fair amount of pigment.”
A hen will not change eggshell colors throughout her life; although, toward the beginning of a laying cycle the hue may be darker than towards the end of the cycle.
Some chicken keepers discover even more unique colors, like deep pink, dark green or speckled shells, by crossing different breeds. When a hen and rooster are mated, genes from both parents contribute to the eggshell color laid by their offspring. Some of the most popular crosses are called Easter Egger or Olive Egger chickens. Easter Eggers can lay a variety of colors, from blue to green and sometimes even pink. Olive Eggers are aptly named for the olive-colored eggs they lay and are a result of crossing a brown egg layer with a blue egg layer.
How chickens make colored eggshells
“All eggshells start white inside the hen, because shells are primarily calcium,” Biggs explains.
If your hens lay colored eggs, look at the inside of the shells to see the importance of calcium:
- White eggs will be white all the way through.
- Brown eggshells will be white on the inside.
- Blue eggshells are blue all the way through.
- Green eggshells will be blue on the inside and green on the outside.
As the hen forms the shell, pigments called porphyrins are secreted from cells within the hen’s uterus to add color. Hens that produce blue-shelled eggs add pigment early in the shell formation process, which is why these shells are blue all the way through. A combination of blue and brown pigments produces a green shell color, as with Olive Eggers. Hens that lay white eggs do not produce any pigments during shell formation.
“Hens need approximately 4 grams of calcium per day to form each eggshell. If a hen doesn’t consume the calcium she needs, she will pull the nutrient from her bones which can weaken her skeletal structure,” Biggs says. “It’s best if the calcium is included right in the hen’s feed so she gets everything she needs in each bite.”
Historically, chicken raisers have supplemented oyster shell on the side of layer feeds to provide calcium. However, Biggs explains this can create a lag between when a hen consumes it and when they need calcium to form strong shells.
“Birds are good about regulating feed and nutrient intake, but it tends to take a few days before they will look for more calcium if needed,” explains Biggs. “The Oyster Strong System is included in Purina layer feeds so hens consistently get both small and large particle calcium in every bite, no supplementation needed. This means calcium is steadily supplied during the full 24-26-hour egg formation process – helping hens create strong, protective shells, no matter the color.
To give your flock all 38 nutrients they need each day, sign-up for the Feed Greatness Challenge at purinamills.com/flocktrial. Connect with Purina Poultry on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram.