When you first have chickens, you tend just to be grateful for their delicious, nutritious eggs. The colour (US color) really isn't that important. It's the taste and the health benefits that matter.
As time goes on, though, you may well find yourself wanting a bit of a difference in your egg basket. A little colour to make it look pretty.
It's then you need to know more about chickens that lay different coloured eggs.
Here, I cover five of the most popular colours and the breeds which lay them. But first, some background.
Why do hens lay different coloured eggs?
All eggs begin as white shells. The colour is added by a pigment added at different stages in the egg-forming process. Depending on where the pigment is added, the colour will either go all the way through the shell or be just on the surface.
The blue pigment, for example, is added right at the beginning, so blue shells are blue all the way through. Brown is added right at the end, so can be easily scratched off.
Green eggs start off as blue, so are blue inside the shell, and have brown added on top of blue at the end, so the outer shell is green.
White shelled eggs simply don't add any pigment at all.
Sometimes, but it's not a good indicator. Egg colour is related to genetics. So is earlobe colour. But just because a hen has red earlobes she will not necessarily lay brown eggs.
The best indicator of egg colour is the breed of chicken.
No. Whatever the colour, the nutritional value of an egg is determined by what the hen is fed and whether she is caged or free to roam. Egg shell strength is determined by the amount of calcium available to her.
Colour has noting to do with it.
These are the eggs we all see every day in the supermarket shelves. They are all classed as "brown" but, like these eggs from my Red Star chickens, they vary in colour from a light cream to a darker brown.
Red Stars, the common brown chicken, are bred as layers and are the most reliable egg producers ever. Mine will lay one egg a day, no matter what, and tend not to stop even when moulting. And apart from that, they're funny, entertaining, great foragers and always curious.
A great place to start if you want plenty of nutritious eggs and you're satisfied with the "plain" brown colour.
Which personally, I think may be plain but is beautiful.
If you're looking for brown eggs which look more like chocolate than cream, there are two particular chicken breeds I'd suggest: the Black Copper Marans and the Welsummer.
The white egg is often the most coveted in supermarkets. The public makes an assumption, probably based on myths handed down through generations, that white eggs are more nutritious.
Of course, there's no truth in that. Eggs raised on the same pasture and fed the same will be the same in terms of nutrition. Only the colour is different.
The chicken breed I'd recommend for the purest white eggs is one I always keep as part of my flock: the Livorno, or Leghorn.
They're great foragers, and will cost less in feed than some other breeds because they supplement their diet with bugs and weeds. Although they love to free range they're equally at home in small areas.
Drawbacks? They're not the friendliest of breeds, not what I'd recommend if you're looking for a pet chicken who'll sit on your porch with you. They're too busy eating healthily and making eggs!
But when it comes to laying, the Livorno is on a par with the Red Star. I get an egg a day from mine, regular as clockwork, and that's not unusual. The breed standard estimates around 300 eggs a year.
So if you're looking for an excellent layer of beautiful white eggs, you've just found her!
If you're looking for a calm, friendly hen who loves to forage, looks very cute and produces the loveliest pastel blue eggs, the crested cream Legbar has to be the chicken of choice.
Additionally, they're one of the breeds that can be sexed at hatch, so if you're ordering from a hatchery you'll be able to have confidence that you're getting hens, if that's what you want.
You'll just need to be a little careful within your flock, because they're so quiet and docile they tend to be picked on by more assertive breeds.
Legbars will start laying at around 24 weeks old, and in my experience will provide about four medium sized eggs a week, or 200 a year.
Where the pigment from brown eggs like the Marans is deposited on the shell just before laying, the pigment from the Legbar's blue eggs goes right through the shell, so it's as blue on the inside as on the outer shell.
It's not an accepted breed, but a cross between a dark brown egg layer, like the Marans or Welsummer, with a blue layer like the cream crested Legbar. The eggy result, if you're lucky, will be dark green, the colour of olives.
Be aware though, especially if ordering through a hatchery, that the colour will depend on the breeding line and won't necessarily be a true green.
I've successfully mated a Black Copper Marans male with a cream crested Legbar hen, but sadly the only egg to hatch turned out to be a male.
He is very handsome, though!
You may have heard of the amazing black chicken breed: the Ayam Cemani. A true Cemani is a rare breed and will cost around $2,500.
See the resources section for reputable breeders in the US.
Sadly, there are a lot of fakes for sale on the internet. And many of them come with promises of black eggs.
But if you see a black egg for sale, don't be taken in. The Cemani does not lay black eggs, but a light pinky colour. This black egg...
...is an emu egg, and it's the only fresh (i.e. not dyed) black egg there is.
The difference between it and the white chicken egg is obvious: it's huge! And its surface is pitted and rough, unlike the smooth chicken shell.
The fact is that there is no chicken breed that lays black eggs.
So if someone online tries to sell you a black egg at great cost, or if you see an image of a fresh black egg anywhere, rest assured - it was not laid by a chicken!
Munn, D.: Why are hens' eggs different colors? Pub. Michigan State University, 2013.
Leghorn Club (Facebook group).
The Livorno (Leghorn) Club itself unfortunately does not have a secure link, so I can't link to it here, but it will appear by doing a simple search.