When it comes to chicken eggs, white is not a color. Blue is, and green, rose and olive—not to mention eggs so chocolaty-brown you expect them to be filled with caramel. Adding colored-egg layer chickens to your hobby farm’s flock can lend a bit of magic to egg-gathering and bring buyers flocking to your market table.
When choosing chicken breeds to raise, it helps to know that chickens fall into two basic body types. Type-A birds put most of their nutritional intake into egg production. While this makes them prolific egg layers, they tend to be leaner and more nervous than type-B birds. Type Bs are dual-purpose chickens with calm, easy-going temperaments. They lay eggs, but because they convert more of their food into bodyweight, they don’t produce as many per week as their type-A counterparts.
If you’re looking to add color to your egg selection, here are some breeds to consider.
If a chicken lays blue eggs, it’s safe to assume they have Araucana in their genetics. The breed is reputed to have originated in Chile, though its origin is still unclear. What is clear is that Araucanas are rumpless (without a tail head), are often tufted (tufts of feathers hang by fine, elastic skin threads on each side of the head) and lay blue eggs. "A true Araucana is always rumpless,” says Lanae Cash, who breeds, shows and sells Araucanas, at Cash’s Blue Eggs. "They are not always tufted, but rumpless is a must.” These chickens are body type B. "The Araucana is a very self-assured bird with a mild temperament,” Cash adds.
Hatcheries might advertise Araucanas for sale, but beware: If the birds have tails, they are not Araucanas. However, they might be Ameraucanas. "Ameraucanas are less rare than Araucanas, and hatcheries do sell true Ameraucanas,” says Traci Torres, co-author of My Pet Chicken Handbook (Rodale, 2014) and founder of MyPetChicken.com. Careful breeding of Araucanas with other breeds produces certain feather patterns. "There is a wild variety of colors, and each will have a different parentage,” Torres says. "Ameraucanas are easygoing birds, and they should all lay a blue egg.” With Araucana genetics, they tend toward body and temperament type B.
3. Easter Eggers
Note the spelling of Ameraucana. "If a hatchery is selling chicks under the label of Araucana/Americana, what it really is is an Easter Egger,” Torres says. "There’s no breed standard. An Easter Egger is literally just a mutt, but they’re fabulous birds.” Friendly, smart, cold- and heat-hardy, they lay well in the winter, with eggs that range in color from blue, green, rose or brown to sage, olive or cream. "Their eggs tend to be ginormous,” Torres says. "Much more a type B, they’re not a huge bird, but they’re just an all-around wonderful pet, and of course, everyone loves the egg colors.”
4. Cream Legbar
Another blue-egg layer is the Cream Legbar, developed in Great Britain by crossing Barred Plymouth Rocks, Golden Leghorns and Araucanas. Leghorn genetics introduce type-A body and temperament traits. "People are all about the Cream Legbar,” Torres says. "They’re not flighty, but they’re active, and they make fabulous foragers.”
Common brown eggs pale in comparison to the deep-brown eggs laid by the French breed, Marans. Marans are calm, easygoing birds of medium size and type-B build. According to Debi Stuhr, who breeds and sells Black Copper Marans at Heaven Sent Ranch, "Marans also come in a blue, blue copper, splash, solid black, wheaten, and a couple other colors still being developed.”
According to Torres, "Black Copper Marans are the friendly chickens with the feathered feet that lay the really dark chocolate-brown eggs.” Brown eggs are graded on a scale of zero to nine, zero being white, and nine a deep, dark brown. Stuhr says, "You want your Marans egg color to be five to nine,” Stuhr says. "A Marans is not a true Marans unless it lays at least a four or five.”
Lissa Lucas, head writer and marketing communications specialist at MyPetChicken.com and co-author of My Pet Chicken Handbook, lists the Welsummer as her pick for best all-around chicken. With a type-B build, Welsummers are great foragers that lay large chocolate-brown eggs with darker speckles and do well in both heat and cold. Lucas considers these friendly, intelligent brown-egg layers among the sweetest-tempered birds in her flock.
Penedesencas originated in Spain and are noted for laying some of the darkest brown eggs of any breeds. "Their eggs are beautiful,” Torres says. "A dark, dark, reddish brown.” Being of type-A body build, Penedesencas are alert and wary of their surroundings. "Though they won’t be the first ones to approach you, if you go out every day and give them treats, and you don’t move too quickly, they will become more docile,” Torres says. Penedesencas have what is called a "king’s comb,” also called a cresta en clavell or carnation comb, which begins as a single lobe at the front, parting into several lobes in the back.
Feeding for Egg Quality
Nutritional requirements for hens vary depending on whether they’re laying or molting. A protein level around 20 percent works well for laying season, with an average portion of 1/4 pound of feed per bird per day—less if they are out foraging in summer and more during cold weather. Because eggshells are predominantly calcium carbonate, hens also should have access to calcium.
"We sometimes get thin eggshells in the summer when birds are foraging a lot and might need a supplement,” Torres says. "Offer free-choice oyster shells. If they need it, they’ll take it. If they don’t, they won’t.
"Hens eating their own eggs can be indicative of a lack of protein in their diet or it can just be habit,” Torres says. This habit can be hard to break, so she recommends collecting eggs as soon as they’re laid. Stuhr often isolates the offending hen, giving it a higher protein feed to correct a possible dietary imbalance.
Brown, blue, speckled and shades in between—colored eggs make a splash at market.
About the Author: Leslie J. Wyatt is a freelance writer with more than 200 stories and articles in publications like Children’s Writer and Cat Fancy. She lives on a micro hobby farm in northern California and can be found online at www.journeywithhonor.blogspot.com and www.lesliejwyatt.com.
This article first appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Hobby Farms.