The short answer is no, chickens do not always lay eggs of the same color. The shell color of a chicken’s eggs can vary for a number of reasons.
What determines egg shell color?
The main factor that determines egg shell color is the breed of the chicken. Some chicken breeds are known for laying white eggs while others lay brown eggs. The pigments protoporphyrin and biliverdin are responsible for brown egg color. All chickens have the ability to produce white eggs, while the gene for biliverdin pigment is more rare. Here are some common chicken breeds and the color eggs they lay:
|Rhode Island Red||Brown|
|Ameraucana||Blue or green|
As you can see, certain breeds are known for laying white eggs while others lay brown eggs of varying shades. The Ameraucana breed is also known for laying blue or green eggs.
Age of the chicken
The age of a chicken can also affect egg color. Younger hens typically lay lighter colored eggs when they first start laying. As the hen ages, her eggs tend to get darker. For example, a Rhode Island Red may lay light brown eggs when she first starts laying at around 18-20 weeks. Over time, her eggs will become a deeper brown.
A chicken’s diet can also impact egg shade. Hens fed a diet rich in yellow/orange plant pigments called xanthophylls tend to lay darker colored eggs. Common feed ingredients that increase xanthophyll intake include corn, alfalfa, and marigold petals. Free range chickens that eat bugs and grass in addition to grain may also produce richer colored eggs.
Stress or health factors
Stress, molting, age, and health issues can sometimes cause a chicken’s eggs to appear paler or anomalous. For example, a stressed or sick chicken may produce lighter colored or odd shaped eggs until conditions improve and her hormone levels stabilize. Extreme hot or cold temperatures can also lead to lighter egg color.
While breed characteristics strongly influence egg color, there can still be some individual variation between hens of the same breed. All hens that carry the gene for brown pigment won’t produce eggs of the exact same shade. One Orpington may lay light tan eggs while another lays chocolate brown. Occasionally a hen may even lay a darker or lighter egg than usual for reasons we don’t fully understand.
Can a chicken lay different colored eggs?
While chickens will mostly lay eggs that are the same color over time, it is possible for a chicken to lay different colored eggs. Here are some examples:
- A young hen that starts laying lighter eggs that then darken with age.
- An older hen whose egg color fades as she ages.
- A molting chicken that lays weaker colored eggs.
- A hen fed a diet deficient in xanthophylls.
- Any deviation from the norm that causes a hen to lay an egg paler or darker than normal.
- A hybrid chicken that carries genes for both white and brown egg color. Their eggs may vary between shades.
While the chicken’s breed and genetics strongly dictate color, small variations in egg shade can occur from time to time.
Are different colored eggs nutritionally different?
The different pigments that cause brown, blue, or white shells do not affect the nutritional value of an egg. The interior quality and composition of the egg remains the same regardless of the outer shell color. Shell color is determined by pigments deposited on the outer cuticle of the egg as it develops in the oviduct – it does not affect what goes inside the egg. The breed, diet, and environment of a hen impacts the nutritional quality of her eggs more than the shell color alone.
Can you tell what color eggs a chicken will lay?
In most cases, you can predict with decent accuracy what color eggs a chicken will lay based on its breed. Chicken breeds have been developed over time to reliably produce certain egg colors. Here are some clues that can help identify shell color:
- White ear lobes – This strongly indicates a white egg layer like Leghorns.
- Red ear lobes – This generally means a brown egg layer, but not always.
- Dark brown eggs – Indicated by very dark brown feathers and legs.
- Blue eggs – Only laid by Ameraucana, Araucana, and hybrids.
- Green eggs – Only laid by Ameraucana, Araucana, and hybrids.
While these genetic markers help identify egg color, it’s not an exact science. The only way to know for sure is to wait until the chicken starts laying eggs.
Can mixed breed chickens lay different colored eggs?
Yes, hybrid or mixed breed chickens can sometimes lay different colored eggs. If a chicken inherits genes for both white and brown egg color, she may lay eggs that range in shade from light brown to creamy white. Each egg can be a little different depending on which genes are expressed during that laying cycle. Speckled or splotched eggs can also occur if a chicken carries genes for more than one shell color pattern.
Why did my chicken’s egg color change?
If your solid brown egg layer suddenly lays a much lighter egg, it could be due to:
- Stress or illness resulting in a hormone imbalance.
- A diet deficient in xanthophylls.
- Normal fading of color with the hen’s increasing age.
- Disrupted laying during molt.
- Extreme hot or cold temperatures.
- An anomaly for unknown reasons.
In most cases, the egg color will return to normal after the disruption passes. If lighter eggs become the new normal, it is likely just natural fading with age. If the color change persists and you’re concerned, have a vet examine your hen.
While chicken breeds have been developed to lay specific egg colors, variations can still occur from time to time. Many factors such as diet, stress, health, and age can cause subtle shifts in shell shade. A hen’s first eggs may be lighter than her later eggs. Mixed breed chickens may lay a rainbow of egg colors. While unusual eggs can be alarming, minor variations are normal and don’t necessarily indicate a problem. Get to know what’s normal for each hen in your flock.