If you're in the market for backyard hens, but don't want boring white eggs, plenty of breeds will fill your bill for colored eggs. Shell colors depend on hen genetics, with every egg beginning as white. During the more than daylong trip through the hen's oviduct, pigment changes the surface color in certain breeds.
While feathering and leg color won't give you a clue as to what color eggs a hen will lay, her earlobes do. Hens with white earlobes tend to lay white eggs, while those with red earlobes usually -- but not always -- lay brown ones.
Ameraucanas and Araucanas
Ameraucanas and Araucanas lay eggs in colors ranging from blue to green. It's easy to tell the difference between the two breeds, as the Ameraucana sports a tail and beard, while the relatively rare Araucana is tailless and has feather clumps, or ear tufts, growing near the ears. Both breeds have red ears and tiny, rowed "pea" combs.
The Easter egg chicken isn't a specific breed, but a hen who possesses the blue egg gene, meaning there was an Ameraucana or Araucana somewhere in her lineage. If you purchase chicks or pullets from a commercial hatchery advertised as laying blue or green eggs, they are almost certainly a mix rather than purebred, unless the hatchery cites that their stock is full-blooded. While Easter eggers primarily lay blue-green eggs, some hens may produce eggs in hues of rose to light pink.
Brown Egg Layers
Some of the best breeds for the novice chicken keeper lay brown eggs. The Plymouth Rock, a large and docile bird, lays brown eggs of various shades, some of which may contain a hint of pink. Although the black and white barred Plymouth chicken is the most common, the breed also appears in blue, buff, silver-laced and other colors.
The exceptionally hardy Rhode Island red lays large, light brown eggs. While typically a rusty red shade, some chickens have darker feathers.
The Wynadotte is an exceptionally pretty brown egg layer. The silver lace variety was the first color, but at least 16 more colors and patterns are now permitted in the registry.
Chocolate Egg Layers
Although many hens lay brown eggs, only the French Marans lay those of a deep, dark chocolate color. While the silver or golden cuckoo Maran is most often sold by commercial hatcheries, various types of Marans exist. These include:
- Black copper -- brownish red shade.
- Silver black.
- Splash -- various colors.
In addition to their dark brown eggs, Marans are exceptionally clean and friendly chickens.
The fairly rare Welsummer, originally from Holland, lays brown eggs with dark speckling. Not all Welsummer hens lay speckled eggs -- many eggs are dark red brown. That rooster on your box of cornflakes is a Welsummer, and the hens are a blend of brown to gold patterns.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.