Changing Egg Yolk Colour with Feeding

One of the things most of us judge an egg by is the egg yolk colour. A rich deep yellow egg yolk tells us that it’s better – but is it?

Variations in Egg Yolk Colour

Variations in Egg Yolk Colour

The nutritional value of eggs does vary according to the diet the hens have. When our hens arrived their egg yolks were quite a pale yellow. After a week of getting quite a few greens – mainly in the form of chickweed – the yolks did darken. After that ran out, they were going out onto poultry pasture and they egg yolks have stayed dark.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ‘better’ but I hope so. I use the term ‘poultry pasture’ rather than grass because the main run was seeded with a mixture of grasses and herbs specifically designed for hens. A varied diet with plenty of greenstuffs is reflected in the egg quality as well as the bird’s health.

Chilli Peppers & Egg Yolk Colour

I was chatting about this with a pal who is an expert on peppers. He told me that if I fed them chilli peppers I could actually end up with red coloured yolks! Chickens are unaffected by capsaicinoids, the chemical that makes chillies hot – apart from the egg colour. Chickens can’t even taste the chillies. To them a super hot chilli is just bland.

I’m tempted to add chilli powder to the feed to see what happens. Red eggs for Halloween next year, perhaps.

Carrots & Egg Yolk Colour

Carrots given as a supplementary food to hens will also result in deeper coloured yolks but there is a side effect. Giving hens carrots as a supplement will result in smaller eggs. Mind you, the study that showed this was giving the hens 70 grams of carrot a day. That’s quite a lot.

Tomatoes & Egg Yolk Colour

Now we all know that hens love tomatoes. When you’ve got tomatoes coming out of your ears in the summer, give the girls a treat. Another study of feeding hens tomato powder showed that giving hens a supplement of tomato powder resulted in a deeper yolk colour and more egg production and larger eggs with higher concentrations of serum and egg yolk lycopene, β-carotene, lutein and vitamin A .

So unlike us where most things you love are bad for you, tomato chicken treats are good for the hens and good for the eggs!

Marigolds & Egg Colour

Marigolds, an edible flower, also have the effect of darkening, reddening the egg yolk. However, like carrots, they result in smaller eggs.

Flax Seed & Egg Yolk Colour

Flax seed is a carotenoid, the active chemical contained being xanthophyll, but unlike the other foods listed here that darken the egg yolk colour, flax seed lightens the colour of the egg yolks. It actually lowers the fatty acids in the eggs, which is good for you

Other Feedstuffs that Affect Egg Yolk Colour

Most green foods, even grass have an effect on egg yolk colour. Alfalfa, yellow maize (corn), orange peels and annatto seeds in the diet all result in deeper coloured egg yolks.

Commercial Eggs Yolk Colour

I’m afraid egg yolk colour doesn’t really tell you as much as you may think about the quality of eggs bought from the shops, whether from caged or free-ranging hens. The large poultry operators manage the egg yolk colour to achieve the ‘ideal’ colour desired by consumers. They do this by adding colourants like Xanthophyll extracts to the feed.

At this article on the poultry site they state:

By achieving the correct levels of the most appropriate carotenoids in the feed, it is possible to routinely achieve the yolk colour expected by consumers while at the same time minimizing the degree of variability…

Conclusion

Whilst it is a good general rule that darker, richer coloured egg yolks are indicative of a nutritionally better quality egg and often a healthier hen laying them, it’s not as critical as you may think.

The best way to get high quality – in every sense – eggs as well as a rich egg yolk colour is to feed your hens a good base feed like formulated layers pellets and supplement this with green food, corn, tomatoes etc. in moderation.

If your hens’ eggs have very pale yolks and particularly if the egg yolk colour suddenly changes from dark to light, look closely at their general condition and health. It may indicate a problem but just as likely a diet change.

Further Articles All About Eggs

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