The Technicolor Egg Box

Before I met Benson, I might have been on the verge of becoming a crazy cat lady. I only had one cat … but that’s a slippery slope to be on. He’s doing his best now to keep me from becoming a crazy chicken lady. My favorite chickens are the ones with the feathery poofs on top of their heads. I had one for a short while (that’s a whole different story). Benson’s more practical, though. He prefers production over beauty. And being that we’re trying to run a business here, I understand his point. So, we compromise. I can’t have the fancy chickens – so I settle for chickens that lay colored eggs. It makes me happy to hand over a box of our eggs at the farmers market and get a smile when someone sees white, brown and blue eggs in the box. And it’s a great conversation starter.

Monnett Farms chickens produce white, brown and blue colored eggs.

So, today, I thought I’d share some fun facts about chickens (and eggs)…

Do You Need a Rooster to Get Eggs?
No. A hen will lay eggs without a rooster.

When does a chicken start laying eggs?
Typically, it takes about 6 months for a juvenile hen (called a pullet) to start laying eggs.

How many eggs will a chicken lay in a week?
That depends on the breed…and the time of year…and the condition of the hen…

It takes a hen 26 hours to produce an egg. So, the most you can get is really about 6 a week. We select breeds that lay between 4 and 6 eggs a week. In the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, egg production typically goes down. Younger hens (1 to 2 years old) will generally produce more eggs than older hens (3 years and older).

What makes eggs different colors?
I wrote about this last year on the blog – it was a lot of fun to research. Definitely check out the long answer, but in short – hens release a pigment (called porphyrin) that influences the color of the shell. Different breeds of chicken release different pigments. On our farm, we keep Leghorns, which lay white eggs, Rhode Island Reds, which lay brown eggs, and Americanas (Easter Eggers), which lay a blue-green egg.

Is there any difference between a brown or a white egg?
No. The color of the egg shell makes no difference in terms of the actual egg itself. They all are basically the same inside. What has a greater influence on the egg is the actual health/condition/diet of the hen herself. Chickens that are healthy with access to pasture will tend to produce eggs that have a more intensely colored yolk.

Why do your eggs have such a bright colored yolk?
Our chickens spend a lot of time outdoors eating grass, bugs and whatever else they find. It’s their diet, rich in carotenoids, that produces the bright orange yolks.

What does free range mean?
On our farm it means free range – they go wherever they want, including on our back deck to eat out of the dog bowl. I’ve even caught a chicken in the house after I left the back door open. But there isn’t a standard definition for what free range means. My advice is to try and buy your eggs from a local farmers market or farm stand and ask what it means to that supplier.

Monnett Farms Eggs

Are brown eggs more healthy?

Eggs come in lots of different colors, but when it comes down to which one is the most healthy, it turns out, they’re all about the same. The color of the egg shell doesn’t affect the nutritional value of the egg. It is actually the diet of the chicken and how it was raised that influences the health benefits of the egg.

Monnett Farms Pastured Chickens lay eggs of all different colors

Penn State University conducted research to show that eggs from pastured chickens may be higher in certain vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids. Over a six week period, researchers compared eggs from pastured hens to eggs of hens that were fed a commercial diet in cages.

They found that eggs from pastured hens:

  • were 2x higher in Vitamin E
  • had more than 2x omega-3 fatty acids
  • were nearly 40% higher in Vitamin A

What does this mean?
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and boosts the immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids have been show to improve heart health, reduce inflammation and blood clotting, and lessen the symptoms of diabetes, stroke and some other chronic illnesses. And Vitamin A is important for the immune system as well as vision, reproduction and organ health.

Buying Eggs From Pastured Chickens

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to know what you’re buying when it comes to eggs. Terms like Pastured, Free-Range, and Cage Free have very little meaning because there are no standard definitions. The best thing to do is shop a local farm stand, farmers market or buy directly from a farmer who can tell you exactly how the chickens were raised and what kind of diet they had.

At Monnett Farms, our chickens are raised on pasture meaning they get to roam around in the field to forage for grasses and scratch for insects. They are mostly free range, though we do keep a electrified mesh fence around their area to keep them safe from predators. The chickens have next boxes inside their coop to lay their eggs.

Chickens that are strictly fed a forage diet are generally lacking in important proteins and will not be as productive. The same study by Penn State University found that pastured hens weighed 14% less and had 15% lower egg production. To keep our hens healthy and productive, we supplement their diet with chicken feed, sourced from a local Amish mill.

Learn more about our Pastured Chickens and find out how you can buy our farm fresh eggs.

What makes eggs different colors?

At Monnett Farms, we raise chickens that lay white, brown and blue eggs. One of the most common questions we hear is “why do the eggs come in different colors?” Basically, it comes down to genetics. Some chicken breeds lay brown eggs, some white and some blue. But that doesn’t really answer the question, so we went on the hunt to learn more.

Monnett Farms chickens produce white, brown and blue colored eggs.
Monnett Farms chickens produce white, brown and blue colored eggs.

One answer you’ll read is that the color of the feathers indicates the color of the egg shell. While there may be some loose correlation, it certainly isn’t true that white feathers mean white eggs and brown feathers mean brown eggs.

Monnett Farms Barred Rock Chickens lay brown eggs
Our Barred Rock Chickens have black and white feathers and lay brown eggs.

Monnett Farms Brahma Chickens lay brown eggs.
We also had a Brahma Chicken with white feathers who laid brown eggs.

Monnett Farms Buff Laced Polish Chicken lays white eggs.
The Buff Laced Polish Chickens have light brown feathers and produce white eggs.

Monnett Farms "Easter Eggers" Ameraucana Chickens lay blue-green eggs
Ameraucana Chickens, also known as “Easter Eggers” have dark brown feathers and produce blue-green eggs.

Chickens Have Earlobes?

More so than feather color, it is actually the color of the earlobes — sounds silly, but most chickens have earlobes — that will indicate shell color. Chickens with white earlobes generally lay white eggs, while chicken with red earlobes lay brown eggs.

Photo showing chicken earlobes by Monnett Farms

There are some indications that there may also be a correlation between the origin of the species and the egg shell color. Mostly speaking, chickens of Asian descent lay brown eggs, Mediterranean chickens lay white eggs and South American chickens lay blue/green eggs.

The Science Behind Shell Color

How egg shells gets their color involves a biology and chemistry lesson, but we’ll try and keep things light here. It takes 26 hours for a hen to produce an egg. Twenty of those hours are required to form the shell. Near the end of this process, some hens will release a pigment that colors the shell.

These pigments are called porphyrins and they influence color in nearly everything from plants to human blood. Concentrations of protoporphyrin result in brown eggs, while biliverdin will produce a blue or green hued egg.

Interestingly enough, a study was recently published by the University of Nottingham School of Biology that illuminated the origin of the blue-green eggs. In the study, researchers found that an ancient virus in native South American chickens resulted in a genetic mutation that triggered an accumulation of biliverdin, causing the chickens to produce blue/green eggs.

An Egg is An Egg

So, what do the different egg colors mean? Well, nothing.

Aside from the fact that their shells are different colors, all eggs are virtually the same. There is a greater difference in eggs based on the chicken’s diet and how it was raised.

At Monnett Farms, we raise our egg laying chickens on pasture, which means they forage for grasses and bugs. Because they cannot meet their daily nutritional requirements from forage alone, we supplement with feed from a local Amish mill.

Learn more about Monnett Farms Pastured Poultry and find out how you can buy our farm fresh eggs.