Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Egg Colors

Oh my, a green egg! Must be moldy right? Nope.

Chickens lay so many different colors of egg, from white to chocolate brown, from pale pink to green, to turquoise blue. They lay them with spots too. Sorry, no strips to speak of.

I get asked a lot at the farmer’s market why there is such variation between the heritage breeds and their hybrids. It is because of the evolution of genetics. God created the adaptability of species to survive with genetics. The chickens that lay white eggs are considered Mediterranean breeds because they would lay their eggs in the white sand. If a bird genetically laid brown eggs, hers would be more likely to be eaten and her genes would not carry on to the next generation. After hundreds, now thousands, of years of this happening, rarely is there a brown gene amongst these breeds.

Same goes for the brown egg laying breeds. Many of them laid in the prairies or in the soil and dead leaves. If a chicken laid white eggs, her eggs would probably be discovered and her genes would not be passed on.

That still leaves GREEN eggs though doesn’t it. Well, those are easily explained by where these birds evolved too. The green eggs originate in the rain forests of South America. The female chickens are a verigation of browns, to easily blend in with her surrounding. But in the rain forest there isn't a lot of dead leaves and such that aren't already decomposing, they have to use living materials for nesting. They have a lot of moss and green vegetation to mask their nests. The gene is dominant over white egg genes but is completely separate from brown genes, so there are a lot of brown gene chickens from the rain forests too.

Many backyard chicken raisers have noticed that some breeds are more motherly than other. Going broody and stop laying eggs so they can nest. This is a characteristic that stems from the adaptation to environment as well. The white sands of the Mediterranean get hot, so if a hen sat on the eggs, she might overheat them causing them to die. The hens from this region of the world are not maternal at all. They aren’t very fearful of their eggs being eaten so they don’t feel the urge to stay too close to the nest either. They don’t go broody easily, a great characteristic for commercial egg companies because they will get an egg almost every day. The record for a white leghorn laying is over 300 eggs laid in a year. Since it takes over 24 hours to complete an egg, that’s a lot of eggs. They are great for backyard raisers too, I have a few. When you are limited by the number of hens you can keep, having several eggs a week from each hen is critical.

Hens that go broody adapted to be protective of their young for survival reasons too. For the breeds that come from areas of the world with a lot of predators, they instinctively want to sit on their eggs almost all day, they are very protective to keep them by their side for months so they can protect and teach them to be protective too. And this is obviously a genetic tradition, nature not nurture, because we have so many hatcheries raising our chicks and very few have a hen to guide them, yet a Buff Orpington will almost always be the best broody hen and a white leghorn couldn’t care less that you took her eggs, she was probably already off eating in the other corner of the pasture anyway.

Off to count my eggs before the chickens lay,


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