Each day the lovely hens (or “the ladies” as they are affectionately called by many flock owners) give me a beautiful bounty of eggs. We currently have thirty four laying age chicken hens and one pekin duck hen. Each day I collect between a dozen and two dozen eggs which I use in our own kitchen or sell to local customers and restaurants. The majority of our eggs are brown with a few white and blue eggs. This creates a beautiful rainbow in my daily basket. This also lead me to ask the question ‘why are eggs different colors?’ I knew that different breeds lay different colors. Our white eggs come from two American game hens and our pekin duck hen. The brown eggs are laid by our Rhode Island reds, barred rocks, red blue laced wyandotte, and golden comets. The Americanas are the hens responsible for those special blue eggs.
But what happens during the laying process that makes one breed of chicken lay one color and another breed a different color? A quick Google search of that very question led me to the Michigan State University Extension site. This article explained how pigment is deposited on the eggs during the laying process which causes the different colors. All eggs start out white during the formation process. It is differing pigments and deposit timing that influence what you see on the egg after it is laid. Oocyanin is the pigment used by Americana chickens to create that brilliant blue green color and it is deposited early in the process resulting in the pigment dying the egg thoroughly resulting in a egg that is blue both inside and out. Brown eggs are created when the pigment protoporphyrin is released late in the shell formation and therefore the color is restricted to just the outside of the egg. I was interested in seeing if our eggs here at The Pony Draw proved this to be the case. At first I was disappointed to see that our blue eggs where white on the inside just like the brown eggs. Upon further inspection I saw that what I was looking at was the thin membrane inside the egg shell not the actual inside of the shell. With a freshly cracked and rinsed shell I was able to peel off the majority of the membrane and see that the shell was indeed colored throughout on the blue eggs and only lightly colored in the brown eggs.
The picture above shows three eggs from our hens with the outer shells across the bottom and inside shells across the top. (Left to right: white, blue and brown). The white egg is clearly the same color inside and out. The blue egg while fainter in color than it’s brown neighbor is also the same color inside and out. The inside of the brown egg is almost entirely white. It does have a faint brown color, but nothing like the outer shell. You can also see a ring of white inside the brown egg shell. That ring is part of the membrane I pulled away to review the interior egg color.
Sometimes eggs are laid that don’t have a shell at all. I’ve seen it happen twice for our pekin hen and both times it happened after she missed laying an egg during her normal time (very early morning hours). It is believed that this is caused by a calcium deficiency in the hens. One way to combat this is to feed a calcium supplement. A great, economical option is to feed egg shells back to the hens. We do that here at The Pony Draw for our chickens and have never had them lay an egg without a shell nor have we ever experienced egg eating among our chickens. There are a couple of different ways to feed back egg shells. The method I use is to rinse out the egg shells after cracking, let them dry, and then store in a small composting bin tucked in a counter corner.
When the bin is full, I crush the eggs using a kitchen mallet while the eggs are in a large bowl. I give the eggs to the hens in a rubber feeder in their coup. The girls always dig right in, but it usually takes them a couple of days to finish them up.
Chickens are such a pleasure to have on the farm and a great first project for anyone who wants to start creating their own homestead or urban barnyard. Look for more blogs on other elements of chicken care coming soon as chick season is just around the corner!
Happy homesteading and God bless!