The yolk is the first thing people notice when they crack open an egg. Many people wonder why chicken egg yolk color varies. The answer is quite simple, yolk color is based mostly on what chickens eat. Other factors that can affect color are outdoor forage, age of hen and environmental factors. As hens get older, their grazing habits and feed change, and they usually produce eggs that are lighter than younger hens. Commercial chickens usually lay eggs for less than 2 years, while pasture chickens can go up to 5-7 years.
Environmental factors, including changes in season or temperature can cause changes in egg laying or different yolk colors. This is hard to control even if your chickens have a safe and warm shelter.
Pigments known as xanthophylls will make the yolk a darker orange. Hens that eat feed with yellow corn or alfalfa meal will produce medium-yellow yolks. White cornmeal will make them produce nearly white yolks, while wheat or barley create lighter colored yolks.
Now with all these new diet trends, many people choose to eat only egg whites since they are considered low calorie, fat free and protein intense. But egg yolks have almost half the protein content of the egg and most of their nutrients. Vitamin A, several B types, D, E and K, as well as nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, calcium, iron, choline, and carotenoids, are found in the yolk. Essential fatty acids such as EPA omega-3s, DHA (which is very important for pregnant women) and ALA are in yolks. So I recommend to eat the whole egg to get its benefits.
Commercial Egg Producers: Organic / Pasture vs. Industrial
Consumers from different geographical areas have different preferences for what the color of an egg yolk should be. Asian prefer pale eggs, New Zealanders prefer bright orange yolks, while those who live in the United States prefer lemon or gold colored yolks. North Europeans prefer pale yellow yolks, while the south of the continent likes golden yellow yolks. Mediterranean consumers want bright red-orange yolks.
Organic producers have different standards to be certified, so color enhancers have to come from a natural source and have to be organically-approved. Nutrition stays the same throughout the year, however chicken egg yolk color may get darker during the summer (in places that have seasons) since they are outdoors eating seeds, grass and bugs. However, this will lead to inconsistency in yolk colors because all hens are not eating the same diet. This is totally fine and healthy!
People tend to believe darker eggs mean free range chickens or healthier eggs. However, you may be fooled because of how easy it is to manipulate the chicken egg yolk color.
Did you know that there is a chicken egg yolk color fan which is used by commercial egg producers? It is called the DSM yolk color fan which has 16 different shades of chicken egg yolk colors. Farmers can buy feed to obtain a desired shade of yolk.
Industrial farming is looking for consistency because that is what they have taught clients to expect. So if you get all the same color yolks, it is very likely those chickens are being feed food dyes. These dyes may come from capsicum (peppers), annatto seeds, alfalfa, yellow corn, algae, marigold, and paprika produced in China with no regulation and added to their feed. Synthetic pigments – Rovimix Carophyll Yellow, Canthaxanthin, Xanthophyll B, and Lucantin Red – are even more powerful than naturally derived pigments. Beware of cheap supermarket eggs with bright orange yolks!
Some eggs labeled as “free range” also forcefully change the chicken egg yolk color since they do not get much ranging space or time. If these eggs have very pale yolks it could mean they are not really free ranging. So unfortunately there is a lot of space for deception in the egg industry. The best option is to have your own chicken or know the farms you buy from.
What Feed Influences Chicken Egg Yolk Color?
Free range chickens (like what I have in my farm in Pedasi) graze in grassy pastures. They eat insects and grubs which have a lot of protein, making your eggs more nutritious. Pigments from some plants (like the ones listed bellow) have carotenoids (red, orange and yellow pigments) which can influence the chicken egg yolk color.
Chicken love to eat alfalfa since it is rich in vitamins and nutrients. This grass is super rich in omega-3 which is great for your hens. Eating alfalfa will make them lay more and eggs will be rich and flavorful. It has high levels of xanthophylls and carotenoids that makes the chicken egg yolk color turn darker.
Dandelions are considered a weed but they are one of the healthiest plants that exist. And your chickens love eating them if they grow wild in your backyard. You can also feed dandelions to ducks. Chop and add to their water bowl or daily feed. All parts of this flower are full of vitamin A, B, C, D, E and K; as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Roots of this herb are primarily used to support digestion. Dandelion contains a lot of fiber, including prebiotic fiber inulin, reducing constipation and increasing your chickens bowel movements. Roots also improve liver functions when toxic substances are present, reducing the excess fat stored in the liver and protecting against oxidative stress. Dandelion greens (leaves) can be fed whole or cut as a diuretic and digestive stimulant. This herb can also control internal parasites. As an antioxidant it helps neutralize and prevent free radicals.
Calendula is one of the best herbs to feed your chickens. Its yellow / orange flower petals can be included in their feed, changing the chicken egg yolk color to more orange. Humans can eat this flower as well since it is full of nutrients. Do not consume while pregnant or feed to pregnant animals.
Chickens will be healthier since it keeps their feet and beaks in optimal conditions. It is great for the skin, as it reduces inflammation, treats abrasions, fungal problems and softens skin. Apply to skin as a salve to help an egg bound hen or treat a prolapsed bent. If your chickens have inflammation in the mouth, thrush or overgrown yeast problem, you can make calendula tea and feed them with a syringe.
Calendula has long been used as a companion plant since they are great at repelling insects. Spread it in your chicken coop and nesting boxes to get the same benefits. This plant is anti bacterial and has a fresh fragrance, which will create a healthy environment for your chickens.
Marigolds are related to calendula, but are not the same. They do have similar properties that change the chicken egg yolk color. Flowers also contain the pigment xanthophyll that creates bright orange eggs. Marigolds will also change the color of chicken beaks and feet. You can add fresh or crushed petals in the daily feed.
This flower helps improve the general health of your birds. Since it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, marigolds will help ward off diseases. It also can help with skin tissue repair blood vessel development, and detoxification of the body. Use seeds to treat intestinal worms. Leaves and roots can be used to make laxative teas, alleviate stomach pains and reduce fever. Nutrients include flavonoids and lutein.
Use this flower to eliminate insects in your chicken coop by adding it to the nesting boxes. It also helps repel insects in your garden.
Basil’s high xanthophyll levels helps chickens lay daily and it also provides yolks with a bright, orange yolk. Feed crushed basil to your chickens to boost their immune system (this is a potent antibacterial plant) and help their respiratory system. As an anti-inflammatory it helps promote digestion by making the gastrointestinal tract healthy. This herb for chickens has trace minerals such as iron which supports the mucus membrane (try adding it to their water) and carotenoids and magnesium that improve blood circulation. Basil also has high levels of vitamin K.
Add some basil to the chicken coop by either placing it on the floor, hanging it, or putting it in the nesting boxes. Aromatic herbs repel insects and improve the hygiene of chickens.
Vegetables and Fruits
There are several fruits and vegetables which can be feed to change chicken egg yolk color. Basically they should contain carotenoids called xanthophylls which cause deeper yolk coloring. Leafy greens are super rich in xanthophylls including as spinach, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, collards, broccoli, zucchini, brussel sprouts, edible amaranth and more. The general rule is the darker green the better.
Orange vegetables including pumpkin, squash, butternut, carrots, sweet potatoes will also do the trick.
Red capsicum (pepper) can turn yolks deep orange red. For a redder shade many use chili or chili powder which contains a dye called zeaxanthin. Chili can also prevent or treat worms in chickens, since these detach from their intestines and are pooped out.
Red fruits including raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes (yes it is a fruit!) (do not feed leaves and stems) will also change chicken egg yolk color.