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Why are eggs different colors?Growing up, I always thought the egg color selection was limited to brown and white.  Even then, I was convinced that white eggs were the only ones worth eating.  I was convinced that brown eggs tasted “gross.”  Now that I breed chickens, most of the eggs in my refrigerator are brown and (in my humble opinion) taste better than any white egg on the supermarket shelf.  I’ve also come to learn that there exists a wide array of egg shell colors.  Not only are there varying shades of brown, but there are also blues, greens, and pinks.  Some breeders are even producing “olive eggers.”  How is that possible?  It’s really more simple than you would think.

Did One Hen Lay All of These Eggs?

The eggs in the photo are from my flock.  The light brown egg was likely from one of my Black Australorps.  The dark brown egg was from my Black Copper Maran.  The white egg is from one of my Single Comb Leghorns and the blue egg is from one of my Easter Eggers.  For those who don’t know, those are all breeds of chickens.  On the basic level, the breed of chicken determines the color of the egg.  Within breeds, you may get a variation of colors.  For example, Marans are known for laying a dark brown (almost chocolate colored) egg, but they can also lay lighter brown eggs.

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What Do Earlobes Have to do with Egg Color?

In most cases, the color of egg can be determined by the hen’s earlobes.  Chickens have earlobes?  Yes, chickens have earlobes.  Ever tried opening a bag of bread within 100 ft of a chicken?  Believe me, they have earlobes.  This is a picture of one of my Leghorn hens.  The white earlobes are pretty prominent.  The earlobes are an indication of the hen’s natural pigmentation.  Hens with white ear lobes will usually lay white eggs.  Hens with brown ear lobes will usually lay brown eggs.  However, there are some exceptions.  For instance, Silkies have blue earlobes and lay a cream colored egg.

The Difference Between White and Brown Eggs

Egg shells are made of calcium carbonate, a white mineral.  Most egg shells start out white.  The brown pigment is added to the shell by the hen’s body after the shell has formed.  If you crack open a brown egg, the egg shell is still white on the inside.  The amount of brown pigment on an egg shell can vary depending on a number of factors.  Hens are genetically programmed to use a certain amount of pigment to color the egg.  Other factors such as age, stress, disease and outside temperature can decrease the amount of pigment a hen produces.  They can also cause the pigment to come out in spurts that leave speckles on the egg.  Pink eggs are actually a very lightly tinted brown egg.
 

Does that mean hens with blue ear lobes lay blue eggs?  

Unfortunately, no.  Silkies have blue ear lobes, but lay cream colored eggs.  Araucanas, Ameraucanas, and Easter Eggers (a hybrid “breed”) lay blue eggs, but they actually have red ear lobes.  This is because blue eggs are colored differently than brown eggs.  Blue pigment is called biliverdin, which is derived from hemoglobin (part of the chicken’s blood).  Because the pigment is a part of the hen’s blood, it is introduced to the egg shell while it is being formed.  Blue eggs are pigmented all the way through the shell, so a blue shell is also blue on the inside when the egg is cracked.  Green and olive colored eggs are blue eggs that have also been colored with brown pigment.

Does Egg Color Determine Nutritional Value?

Despite claims by a lot of chicken producers, there is no difference in the nutritional content of different colored eggs.  What can play a role is the hen’s diet.  Hen’s that are allowed to pasture graze consume more insects and plant materials than commercially raised hens.  Don’t be fooled by the “Free Range” claims of commercial eggs.  By FDA standards, “Free Range” only means the hens have to have access to the outdoors.  It can (and most likely is) a concrete pad outside of their chicken barn.  A study by Mother Earth News found that eggs produced by pasture fed hens contained 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene than commercially produced eggs.

Why Are Some of the Eggs Smaller Than Others?

The white and blue eggs in the picture are smaller because they come from young hens.  As the hen gets larger, her vent (think vagina) stretches and the eggs get bigger.  As adults, the size of the egg can be determined by the size of the hen.  Silkies are a very small breed and therefore produce a smaller egg.  Australorps are a large breed and will lay a large to jumbo egg.

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