The Roving Rototiller

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Green eggs

Just throwing it out there:  how many chicken egg colors can you name? 

Well, everyone has seen brown eggs and white eggs in the supermarket.  But there's a third color category that has never has caught on in the market, and I have yet to figure out why.  It's the blue- or green-shelled egg.  I have more fun with these eggs.  When somebody asks if we have eggs available, and I pop open a carton, what's the first thing they notice?  Not the cute little brown bantam eggs, not the glossy white Polish eggs, but "Oh my gosh, what laid those green ones?!"

Well, these girls do.


Meet Charger, Colleen, Bluebelle, Silver, Gladys, and Cadge.  These girls are all Easter Eggers, which is a slightly more polite term than "mutts that just happen to lay eggs that are blue, green, or olive."  All but Silver are hatchery chicks; Silver is a second-generation bird, the result of our brief fling at keeping an Easter Egger rooster in with the main laying flock.  Sadly, Brutus did not get along well with boss rooster Elwood, so he went to a friend. 

 I just can't understand why Easter Eggers haven't taken off as the Next Big Thing in the egg production business.  (Not that I would wish battery nesting on any bird.)  They're excellent layers:  although not quite as prolific as the White Leghorn, our girls average five eggs a week . . . each.  Are green-hued shells really that off-putting to the consumer?  Not from what I can see.  Even Easter Egger half-breeds are excellent producers.  Shoe, one of our oldest hens at five years, is still laying regularly, and her eggs are of the same high quality as the younger birds'.

But then, I am thoroughly biased.  I keep these birds as pets; the eggs are just a pleasant side benefit.  My very first hen was a barred Easter Egger named Nova.  She looked exactly like a production Barred Rock, except for her green legs and the lime-green eggs she laid.  At the time I had no idea that she was an Easter Egger, so that first green egg came as a considerable shock.  For years after that we would pester Mom to fix "green eggs and ham!" for breakfast.   The novelty never really wore off.

One of the most entertaining aspects of this breed is the multitude of feather colors that they come in.  White, brown, gray, blue, gold, red, black; barring, speckling, or none; striped or counter-colored hackles.  As you can see from the photos, anything goes.  Things get even weirder when an "EE" is crossbred with something else.  We have a hen who is jet black and has a single comb.  She looks much like a black Andalusian, which makes sense because her daddy is an Andalusian.  But she lays a jade-green egg. 

The blue egg gene pops up everywhere it can, since it's what is termed a dominant gene (meaning that even if a bird has only one copy of the gene, it will still manifest).  Like with white eggs, a blue egg's shell carries that pigment throughout its thickness.  By comparison, a brown egg only has brown pigment applied to its outermost layers.  When the blue egg gene is combined with brown egg genes, the resulting shell colors range from green to olive.  So a green egg is basically a blue shell, overpainted with a little brown; an olive egg is one overpainted with a lot of brown.

Despite its popularity, the Easter Egger is not considered a proper breed.  EEs are something of an offshoot of a couple of genuine, recognized breeds:  the Araucana and the Ameraucana.  Araucanas hail from South America and are tailless, have long tufts of feathers in front of their ears (not to be confused with the "muffs and beard" that Colleen and Bluebelle are sporting above), and lay a blue egg.  Ameraucanas carry some of the same genes, but not all.  They have muffs and a beard--they must, in order to qualify for breed standard--and they generally lay either a blue or a green egg.  But the EE is the result of hybridizing Ameraucanas with other birds, and there isn't much of a standard.  An EE often does have muffs and beard, but not always.  She generally has green legs and a pea comb, but not every time.  Their colors don't breed true:  if you breed two brown EEs, you might end up with some real surprises in the chicks, such as white or black with brown.  And the eggs an EE hen lays could be blue, green, olive, brown, or pink.  It's a lot of fun picking up the eggs at night!  Besides, depending on what other shell-color genes went into the mix, your green eggs might be flecked or speckled with brown, or finely stippled with white.  After seeing a carton full of color, plain old white eggs seem very boring. 

It's their personalities, though, that get me every time.  Charger is all up in everyone's business, and once chased a cottontail out of the chicken yard.  Colleen is Little Miss Bossy.  Bluebelle is the Night Warden, keeping order in the barn after lights-out with stern baritone clucking and cawing at any disturbance.  Silver stomps around making sure the younger birds aren't getting into trouble.  Gladys will hop up onto your shoulder.   And Cadge . . . well, she's always hoping for a handout.  And they're friendly.  When I come into the chicken yard, the EE's come at the gallop, heads low and intent while their legs and wings bounce in every direction.  They are intelligent birds; when shown something new, other breeds cackle and back away while the EE's come in and check it out.  (Since it's usually food, this serves them well.) 

Anyway, if you are thinking about getting a few chickens for your backyard, I would heartily recommend some Easter Eggers, although you would be in equally good hands . . . err, claws . . . with Ameraucanas.  Between the colors of the eggs and the birds themselves, their personalities, and the added plus of hybrid vigor--the unquestionable advantage to being a mutt--you'd be hard put to find a better "starter" bird.  And if you get hooked for life on chickens . . . well, don't say I didn't warn you. :)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the recommendation! I've always wanted a small flock of my own, to have as pets and for eggs, but we dont live in an appropriate area for chickens yet. When we do, I'll be sure to remember your suggestions!