Eggs at the grocery store have a limited color selection. Your choices are white or brown. All of the eggs are completely uniform, same shade, same size, and same shape. So farm fresh can come as a bit of a surprise to someone who has only had eggs from the grocery store.
Farm fresh eggs continue to grow in popularity as consumers realize how much better they taste and become more conscious of how laying hens live. Those who are able to do so have even decided to keep their own backyard flock of pets who poop breakfast.
But the questions continue to rise about how eggs are produced, why farm fresh eggs aren’t uniform, and why some eggs are colors other than white and brown. Here are some frequently asked questions for those who are new to farm fresh eggs:
Did one hen lay all of these eggs?
Hens are pre-programmed to lay one color of egg their entire lives. The shade may very slightly depending on time of year and diet, but a blue egg layer will always lay a blue egg and a brown egg layer will always lay a brown egg.
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. There are also a number of chickens that have been cross bred to produce various shades of green eggs.
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. The ear itself is a small opening on each side of the head behind the eye. Surrounding the ear is a tuft of feathers and the earlobe, a flap of skin.
The earlobes are an indication of the hen’s natural pigmentation. Chickens with white earlobes will usually lay white eggs. Hens with red ear lobes will usually lay brown eggs.
However, there are some exceptions. For instance, Silkies have blue earlobes and lay a cream colored egg, while Araucanas have red earlobes and lay blue eggs.
What’s 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.
The pigment may also come out in spurts that leave speckles on the egg. Pink eggs are actually a very lightly tinted brown egg.
Learn More: The Chemistry of Eggshell Colour
Which breeds of chickens lay blue 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 Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences found that “Compared to eggs of the commercial hens, eggs from pastured hens eggs had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.”
Why are some of the eggs smaller than others?
It’s generally the breed that determines the size of the egg, but a hen will lay a smaller egg when she first starts laying. It is also possible to get a “fart egg,” which is a tiny egg that is usually lacking a yolk. Shell-less eggs are also possible at the beginning of the laying cycle. As long as the hen’s diet is being supplemented with calcium, you can have faith that her body will eventually figure out how to form a proper egg.
Commercial egg production is designed to provide a uniform product to customers. All of the chickens are the same breed and age. The eggs go through a grading process before they are packaged and sent to the grocery store. Any blemished or misshapen eggs are thrown in the garbage.
Eggs are candled to make sure there are not any blood spots or deformities inside of the egg. Then, they are weighed and packaged based upon weight and grade. The result is a carton full of nearly identical chicken eggs.
Learn More: Egg Grading
On the farm, there is usually a variety of breeds present. Ages range to where a 9 month old pullet may be sharing a nest box with a 4 year old hen. Misshapen eggs aren’t thrown away, they’re embraced for their uniqueness.
Eggs may or may not be sorted based upon size. The result is an egg carton or basket full of varying sizes, shapes, and colors.
Regardless of what sets our egg baskets apart, we can enjoy the pleasure that is a variety of beautiful and delicious eggs from hens who are raised on fresh feed, bugs, and sunshine.
Read More: Raising Ducks for Eggs