While brown and white eggs used to be the standard, today’s chicken keepers have a full spectrum of colors to choose from thanks to the the wide range of different chicken breeds now available. But why are chicken eggs different colors? How do chickens lay different colored eggs? Do colored eggs change the nutritional content of eggs? Let’s take a look.
Why do chicken eggs come in different colors?
Chicken eggs vary in color depending on the breed of chicken who laid the egg. A breed’s genetics determines what color eggs it will lay. While certain chicken breeds have been bred to lay specific color eggs, most breeds lay either brown or white eggs.
Amongst brown egg laying breeds, different breeds will lay different shades of brown eggs ranging from a light cream to a dark chocolate, almost black-brown color. Those varying shades of brown are thanks to the different genes that affect eggshell color. While brown and white egg laying breeds are the most common, there are also breeds that lay green, blue, and pinkish colored eggs. Many breeds who lay those colored eggs are actually crosses between several different breeds. Colorful eggs sure do look pretty on the outside, but keep in mind that different color eggshells do not affect the egg’s taste or nutritional value.
How are different colored eggs laid?
All eggs are laid the same way. The color of an egg can be in the eggshell or the bloom. The bloom is the protective coating that is applied to an egg right before it is laid. When an egg’s color is applied to the eggshell, it is applied within the 20 hours it takes for the eggshell to be formed within a hen’s oviduct.
White is the natural color of an eggshell and the bloom of an egg is naturally clear. White egg laying breeds to not apply any color to the eggshell or the bloom.
Brown eggs have the color applied in the bloom. Brown egg layers have a gene that apply a brown pigment to the bloom before it is applied to the egg. That is why when you crack open a brown shelled egg, the interior shell membranes are usually white or cream. It also explains why when you wash a brown egg, some of the shell pigment can be washed off when the bloom is scrubbed off of the eggshell.
Blue eggs get their color from the eggshell. Blue egg laying breeds have a gene that applies the blue pigment to the eggshell as it is being formed around the egg. That is why blue eggs are blue all the way through, even to the interior of the eggshell.
Green eggs are the result of a blue shelled egg being coated with a brown bloom coating. Usually, green egg laying breeds are a cross between a brown egg laying breed and a blue egg laying breed. The different shades of green that are laid by certain breeds come from different shades of brown bloom coating being applied to the blue eggshell.
Factors that Affect Eggshell Color
While breed and genetics play the main role in what color egg a breed will lay, there are also some other minor factors that can affect what hue or shade of color egg an individual hen lays.
- Genetic Breed Strains: All individuals within a breed will lay the same color eggs during their reproductive life, however, some genetic strains within a breed will lay certain shades of colored eggs. Each hen within a breed will lay a specific shade of colored eggshell which may vary in hue throughout a hen’s reproductive life cycle.
- Drugs: Medications, like coccidiostats, can cause pale colored eggshells.
- Viral Diseases: Ailments that affect the reproductive system can cause pale colored eggshells.
- Stress & Stress Causing Situations: Stress can cause a hen to lay her egg early or later than when her natural laying cycle would dictate. Early laying causes the bloom to be deficient in pigment. Late laying may cause another application of the shell or bloom.
- Age: Eggshell color may get paler as a hen ages.
How can I tell what color egg a hen will lay?
You can sometimes tell what color egg a certain breed will lay depending on what breed class it is categorized in by the American Poultry Association. Most chicken breeds in the Asiatic breed class and American breed class will lay brown colored eggs of different shades, depending on the breed. The one exception is the Holland chicken in the American class who lays white eggs. Chicken breeds in the Mediterranean breed class will also lay white eggs. A breed will only have a breed class if it has been recognized by the American Poultry Association.
Another way by which you can sometimes determine what color egg a hen will lay is by looking at her earlobes. In general, if a hen has white colored earlobes she will lay white eggs, if she has red earlobes she will lay brown eggs, and if she has a bluish tinge to her earlobes she will lay blue or green eggs. However, there are some exceptions! Here are a few exceptions to be aware of when identifying colored eggs layers based on their earlobes:
- White egg layers w/ red earlobes- Crevecoeur, Dorking, Redcap, Sumatra
- Blue egg layers w/ white earlobes- Araucana, Ameraucana
- Brown egg layers w/ white earlobes- Pendesenca
Which chicken breeds lay colorful eggs?
So, if you want a colorful egg basket, what breeds do you need to include in your flock? Here is a quick list of some different chicken breeds that lay each color of egg!
- Blue or Green eggs- Easter eggers (crossbreed)
- Blue eggs- Araucana, Ameraucana, Cream Legbar (crossbreed)
- Green eggs- Olive eggers (Maran or Welsummer crossed w/ Araucana), Isbar, Favacaunas (Favorelles/Wheat Ameraucana cross), Ice Cream Bars (Isbars/Cream Legbars cross)
- Brown eggs- Australorp, Orpington, Wyandotte
- Dark brown eggs- Maran, Pendesenca, Welsummer
- White eggs- Leghorn, Holland, Ancona, Polish
- Pink eggs (some strains within a breed are known to lay pinkish colored eggs)- Favorelle, Australorp, Sussex, Langshan
As fun as it sounds, keep in mind that egg color is not the only trait to consider when choosing a breed. However, if you’ve considered all the traits of the breed, it can be a fun bonus!
Pretty & Nutritious!
That colorful egg basket can become a reality when you include some colorful egg laying breeds in your flock! Then comes the decision, do I want a brown egg for breakfast? Green eggs and ham for breakfast? Or maybe a blue egg breakfast? Either way, they will all taste delicious. Especially when they come from your very own backyard flock who live a spoiled lifestyle and are fed a wholesome, natural diet!