Frequently Asked Chicken Questions

    When we attend chicken swaps with our birds and Farmers Markets with our eggs, we are often asked a variety of questions.   Some questions are unique, many are entertaining and others are fairly common.  Here are some of the most frequently asked.


Do you need to have a rooster to get eggs?

   No.  Hens will lay eggs without a rooster present.  However, if you want fertile eggs, a rooster is necessary.


What breed of chicken lays the most eggs?

    This is actually a difficult question to answer as it varies based on genetics, environment, rearing and feeding practices.   The most prolific layer is the commercial leghorn in a commercial layer house.  Surprisingly, we didn't have much luck with Black or Red Stars though others have.  In our backyard, we have found the following breeds to lay a good quantity of eggs year round without artificial light in the winter:

Australorp

Brown Leghorn

Cream Legbar

Dominique

Easter Egger & Olive Eggers

Heritage Rhode Island Red



Which chicken is the most tame?

     Chickens become tame by gentle handling but some breeds do seem to have a more laid back personality.  Silkies, Serama,  and Houdans are all easy to handle.   The true 'Heritage'  Rhode Island Red has been most surprising of all, inquisitive, calm and confident.


Which chickens are best for meat?

    The commercial Cornish or Cornish Rock.  


Which chickens are dual purpose – good for meat and eggs?

Delaware

Dorking

Heritage Rhode Island Red

Light Brahma

Orpington



 Which chicken lays the pretty eggs?

   Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Many market customers want brown eggs, and an equal number want blue.  Some won't eat anything but white shelled eggs.   Every egg is the same on the inside though my kids swore the eggs from "their" particular pet chicken was the most flavorful.  This is the list of who lays the "fancier" colors.


  •     Ameraucanas lay blue shelled eggs in tints from pale blue to medium turquoise.
  •     Cream Legbars lay a sky blue egg.
  •     Easter Eggers (a.k.a. Americanas) lay eggs in a range of colors from tinted white, through rose beige, blue and green to deep khaki. 
  •     Langshan lay dark brown eggs with a purplish tint.
  •     Marans lay dark chocolate color eggs with a nice lustre.  The Black Copper variety lay the darkest eggs.
  •     Olive Eggers are a cross between the Ameraucana and dark egg layers, such as Marans and Welsummers.  Their eggs are a deep khaki green, like a Spanish olive.  See the image at the bottom of this page.
  •     Welsummers lay dark brown eggs the color of Nestle hot cocoa.

 

Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?

   The short answer is no. 


   ALL egg shells are formed from calcium carbonate which is a white substance.   Blue eggs are produced when the chicken carries a gene allowing the production of a pigment called oocyanin, a by-product of bile formation.  This pigment tints the entire shell at formation.  Brown eggs are the result of a brown pigment, prophyrin, deposited on the outside of a white shell.  Prophyrin is derived from haemoglobin in the blood.   Marans produce the largest quantities of this pigment.  Excessive scrubbing of brown eggs can remove the brown coating.


   A green or olive egg is produced when a blue egg breed carrying the gene for oocyanin is crossed with a brown egg breed carrying the gene for prophyrin production.  The brown pigment overlays the blue tinted shell, resulting in some shade of green.

 

   As for which egg is more healthy?  That depends on how the chickens are raised and what they eat. Mother Earth News performed several studies, most recently in 2009, in which they compared eggs from free-range* pastured hens with commercial battery produced eggs.   They found that the free-range eggs contain 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more Vitamin A, 2 times more Omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more Vitamin E and 7 times more betacarotene.


* The term free-range, by law, means that hens will have access to fresh grass.  It does not necessarily mean the hens are able to roam far and wide for natural food. Don't assume that cage-free means the chickens roam at large in green pastures either.  It may simply mean the hens are "free-ranging" the interior of a large building, crowded together on dirt floors.  Pasture raised poultry usually means just that, poultry raised on pasture, but it is not a legally defined term at this time.   If you purchase eggs from a Farmers Market, ask your farmer how he raises his chickens and what they eat.   


At Graystem Farm, our layers are allowed to roam when and where they want on 10 acres of pasture and woodland.  They are only confined to coops at night in order to protect them from predators.  The very best examples of our purebred chickens (typically a rooster and one to three hens) are also housed in portable "chicken tractors" during our spring and fall breeding seasons. 


How do you know when an egg is old?

     When an egg is laid the air sac is very small.  Over time, an air exchange takes place through the porous shell.  A very old egg will have dehydrated to the point where it will float in a glass of water while a fresh egg will lay almost perfectly horizontal at the bottom.  The more vertical the egg rests in the water, the older it is.


    Note: if the egg white is cloudy it may be due to the presence of carbon dioxide – this does not necessarily mean the egg is old.  If it passed the float test it’s most likely fresh.

 

Does that umbilical cord mean the egg is fertilized?

     No.  That is the chalaza and it’s only purpose is to stabilize the yolk within the albumen (white) of the egg.    In a fertile egg, there will be a small “bulls eye” in the center of the yolk.  Refrigeration halts the development of any embryo.   Note:  Refrigeration below 40 degrees also prevents the growth of bacteria; this is the recommended temperature for storing eggs.

 

Why is the yolk a greenish color – is it bad?

     Unless it also smells really bad, the answer is probably no. 

    The hen’s diet can affect the color of her yolk, particularly in free ranging birds.  Green tinted yolks usually mean she has been eating certain wild greens or even acorns.  Corn and fresh grass give the yolk a rich orange-gold color.

 

Why is it so difficult to peel hard boiled eggs?

     Fresher eggs have less air between the shell and membrane making them harder to peel.  To loosen this membrane during cooking, make sure you add at least a tablespoon of salt to the water.  Some people find it easier to peel eggs warm, others prefer them cold.  We have tried many methods but have found the best to be shocking our hard boiled eggs in ice cold water to halt the cooking then placing them in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator for a few hours.   Peel beginning with the larger end where the air pocket would be.