Eggs are as fascinating as the birds who lay them writes Janice Houghton-Wallace

The British Egg Industry Council claims that 12.6 billion eggs are eaten in the UK every year. The egg is one of our staple foods as well as being one of the most versatile. It is also one of the easiest foods to produce.

With the latest news that eggs are actually good for you – following years of conflicting advice - comes an increased confidence and demand for coloured eggs and eggs from minority species, which is why pure breed layers are sought after. No longer are the eggshells just white or brown but varying pastel shades are now available and being sold in a wide range of outlets.

Although they lay less numbers of eggs than commercially hybridised birds, pure breeds’ eggs come in white, cream, tinted, brown, speckled, blue, green, olive and plum.

Marans, Welsummer and Barnevelder are noted for their dark brown egg colour and the richest colour will be when the birds first come into lay. The Croad Langshan egg is classified as brown but is also known as the ‘plum’ egg. This is because the shade is a pinkish brown with a bloom on it when newly laid, reminiscent of the bloom on a freshly picked Victoria plum. The hybrid Bluebelle also lays a brown egg but with a pink tinge.

The Columbine hybrid has been developed using the Cream Legbar so the eggs will mainly be a greenish blue but a small portion will be pastel coloured.

The most notable breed for laying blue eggs is the Araucana and there is something specific that denotes whether a blue egg is from a pure Araucana. If an Araucana egg is cracked open and the membrane peeled back, it will have the blue colour on the inside of the shell as well as the outside. This determines an Araucana egg from other blue egg laying breeds, which have a blue shell on the outside and white shell inside.

What is also known is that the blue egg gene is dominant and is linked to the pea comb and an enzyme in the liver. Poultry keepers interested in eggs of different colours can therefore breed a blue egg laying Araucana with a brown egg breed such as Marans, Barnevelder or Welsummer to produce distinctly deep olive coloured eggs.

Duck eggs are blue or white, turkey eggs are cream with brown speckles, goose eggs are white, Guinea fowl eggs are cream and triangular and tiny quail eggs are fawn with dark brown blotches.

Clarence Court is one of the largest producers of coloured eggs referring to them as ‘speciality’ eggs. In 1928 Jungle Fowl were imported from Patagonia by Clarence Elliot and these were mated with pure breeds in Gloucestershire. Using these strains the company is now able to rear chickens that lay blue eggs. Cream Legbars are known for laying blue eggs and the trading name of the Clarence Court fowl is Old Cotswold Legbar.

Sainsbury’s launched their British Blue Eggs in 2017. The supermarket’s egg supplier LD Fairburns & Sons Ltd took genetics from rare breed chickens and crossed them with commercial egg laying birds so that the blue eggs could be farmed in sufficient numbers.

The size of an egg will be determined by the species, breed and age of the bird. Pullets will produce smaller eggs than older hens. Bantams will lay small eggs, large fowl will vary from fairly small to extra large, turkey eggs are similar to large fowl eggs but more pointed and duck eggs are smaller than goose eggs, which are the largest. A growing niche market is that for quail eggs. These are the smallest eggs produced and are in demand from top restaurants

If a regular supply of eggs are needed then suggested pure breeds and hybrids are Cream Legbar, Speckeldy, Columbine, Black Rock, Welsummer, Bluebelle and Croad Langshan. These are all good layers and half a dozen or so hens will provide you with differently coloured eggs for family meals.

The quality of the eggs will depend on the health and vigour of the birds. They should be fit and free from disease, parasites, stress or over-crowding. Worm poultry twice a year or more often depending on the environment they are in with Flubenvet, the only wormer licensed for poultry in the UK. Routinely check and treat for any lice or mites as these can have a debilitating effect on the birds and laying capabilities.

Feed should be a balanced layer or breeder ration appropriate to the species. These contain added calcium, vitamins and minerals and are given in the morning. Wheat is fed in the afternoon. An occasional handful of mixed poultry grit mixed in with the feed will aid digestion. Do not give oyster shell on its own as this is too smooth and can cause impaction of the crop.

The colour of the yolk does not denote the freshness of an egg and nutritional value is not affected by it. The yolk colour is determined by substances called carotenoids. The most important sources of these are maize, maize gluten, lucerne (alfalfa) and grass meals. Eaten by the hen these carotenoids provide pigmentation in the yolk, via the blood system. The carotenoid content of feed ingredients does vary so to provide a consistent yolk colour, artificial carotenoids are often added to poultry feed so that a golden yolk colour is produced on a regular basis. However, it should be noted that a deep coloured yolk does not make the egg more nutritious, it merely means there is more pigmentation in it.

Keep nestboxes clean as this will prevent any staining of eggs through faeces and possible bacterial infection entering the porous shell. Inclement weather can also have a detrimental effect for if the birds are free-range and the weather is wet, dirt and possible contamination can also be transferred to the egg via muddy feet.


This article is written for Smallholder magazine by Janice Houghton-Wallace as part of a series. Don't miss out by subscribing for your copy by using the 'subscribe' tab above or by buying it from a local newsagent.