Sunday, February 7, 2010

Poultry Genetics - Breeding for Egg Color

The single most popular article I have wrote for this blog has to be Which Hybrid Chicken to Choose?, so I think I am going to talk more on this subject.  That is, breeding hybrid chickens for egg color. 

What is egg color?
Lets start this off with what is egg color, or how it gets there.  The brown egg color is actually applied on top of the shell...if you don't believe me, just run your fingernail over a brown egg, I bet you can scrape some of the color off.  This coloring is applied in the abdomen of the chicken before the egg is layed.  A combination of genetics determines how dark or light the coloring will be.  A white egg is absent of this brown coloring added, it is simply the egg shell.  A blue egg, is like the white egg.  It is the color of the shell itself with the absence of any brown on the outside of the shell.  A green egg on the other hand is a blue shell with the brown color applied to the outside.  This happens when a blue egg laying chicken (ie Araucana) is crossed with a brown egg laying chicken, commonly seen in the hatchery mutts called Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers.


Why breed for color?
Well, it really does not matter what color the eggs are, as far as quality of nutrients in the egg, or shell quality.  It really comes down to personal preference.  Many of the people that buy eggs from us prefer to see the brown and blue/green eggs because it creates a color difference from the mass produced white eggs found in the grocery stores.  Some people really like blue/green eggs, because they are pretty and there are some myths about them being lower in cholesteral.  Like I said it is all personal preference.

Why cross the breeds in the first place?  How does this concept of hybrid breeds work?
Many chickens are inbred. If you are familiar with inbred animals, you will notice that they are weak and less productive. This same concept is true for chickens, when you cross the breeds, it introduces new genetics and if they line up just right (called nicking in the horse world), you will end up with an exceptional animal.  You however should not use the offspring of the hybrid chickens for breeding, the reason being you will end up with bad traits showing up, the first generation is always the healthiest. It is entirely different story when you are developing a new breed though.  All in all, if your breeding is successful, you can make more efficient egg layers.


How to get the color you want?
You always need at least the male or the female to lay the desired egg color when breeding for blue, green or brown eggs, where when breeding for white eggs, you need have both the male and the female to lay white eggs.

Green or Blue Eggs
The blue color is dominant, so breeding a blue egg layer to a breed that lays another egg color will get you another blue or green egg layer (unless blue egg laying bird was heterozygous for that trait then there is a chance of getting a bird who lays a different color egg such as brown or white).  So in other words, your odds a pretty good of getting a blue egg laying chicken.  If the chicken layed actual blue eggs and you breed her to one that lays brown eggs then you will get a green egg layer, however when the blue egg layer is bred to a white egg layer, you will retain the blue color without adding any brown on top which creates the green color.  Sorry if that gets a little muddy in there...sometimes putting forth all those hypothetical scenarios gets confusing.  If you are confused, just ask a question in the comments and I will try to clarify.
It is also thought that the green/blue egg color is linked to the peacomb of the Ameraucana and Araucana breeds, however it is possible for these two genes to separate as I have had a blue egg layer with a single comb. 

Brown Eggs
This is a dominant trait, so as long as one gets passed on to the offspring, they too will lay brown eggs.  This allows you to breed a brown egg layer to a white egg layer and get a brown egg layer.  Some of the "red sex links" are bred this way, with the white chicken being a white leghorn.  This is really pretty simple, what gets more confusing is what shade of brown they will lay.  It is passed down from the parents, but it is much more complex.  Breeds that have been laying dark brown eggs like Marans and Welsumers will keep doing so, but when bred to a light brown egg layer, they could lay something in between, dark eggs or light eggs. 

White Eggs
It may not seem this way, but white eggs are actually a recessive trait, so they must have acquired it from both parents.  This is why when people are breeding show Leghorns and such, they will throw out any bird that lays tinted eggs, because it will cause their pure white egg layers to lay tinted eggs as well. 

So there is my quick little post on breeding for egg color.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have some americauna that lay beautiful green/blue eggs. I have a Cuckoo Maran rooster. If I bred him to the Am. hens, would I get some funky green/blue eggs? What fun! diana
onthefarmat40@hotmail.com

allaroundhorses said...

Yeah, you will get a nice interesting color. We once had one that almost looked "chocolaty". It can get kind of fun when crossing egg color like that :).

Sena said...

Hi, you write that eggshell color has no bearing on eggshell quality. This is a little misleading. Eggshell color can actually be a very good indicator of shell strength. Studies have shown that the darker the egg (which can be determined by strain, breed, nutrition, or age) have stronger eggshells and higher hatchability. The darkness of an egg indicates how long it spent in the oviduct, and therefore, how long calcium could be deposited on the shell.

allaroundhorses said...

There may be some minor correlation, but for the most part there is no affect on egg quality by color. What is important for egg quality is a healthy chicken with sufficient calcium, as long as that is the case you will have a good quality egg. The blue egg color and the white egg color are of the shell, so it is not affected by the amount of time in the oviduct, so no ability to correlate there. I also believe on those studies, there may have been outside factors as well, but I understand your argument.

jififner said...

How glad I am to have found your site! Most interesting explanation about the white/brown/blue/green eggs. My question is about a lovely little white chook given to us a few years ago.She is white,smooth feathered (though not silky)with a tuft on the top of her head and a small comb.She lays pale greeny-blue eggs and is still laying about one every second day.I mention this because of her age. Nowhere can I find reference to her breed or hybrid and would love to identify her as we would like to acquire more. Any ideas?

Amanda chicken said...

I think this may be a White Araucana (English style - with tail). I have one of these and they are very hard to find. Ours is now 3 yrs old and still laying well, though not during the winter. If you could post a picture I could confirm it?

Amber said...

jififner: She may be a cross between an Ameraucana and a polish type chicken that gives her the tuff on the top of her head. We have a little black chicken like that of that cross. That may be why there is no reference to her breed, it might just be a backyard mix and sometimes those are the most fun :).

Amanda chicken: I am guessing because of the tail it is an Ameraucana. It is very possible it is a white Ameraucana, however just because it looks like that does not guarantee it is a purebred white. They are hard to find and expensive from specialty breeders. An Ameraucana and Araucana have a peacomb and green legs. That is easy ways to recognize the breed. I will also recommend you to the feathersite page on Ameraucanas/Araucanas, he has a number of pictures on there to help you identify.
http://feathersite.com/Poultry/CGA/Arau/BRKAraucanas.html

Katie said...

I hatched a sweet little chick this year from a green/blue egg. It turned out to be an extremely handsome rooster. What genes is he likely to carrying? What will he produce if put to various different hens please?

Amber said...

Katie,

It is hard to say for sure without knowing what the "parents" are, but it is very likely the hen who layed the egg he hatched from was an Ameracauna because of the egg color.

It is very possible he will pass along that blue/green egg gene, but not guaranteed.

There are some subtle cues you can look for on him as to what breed he is, for example if he has both green legs and a pea comb he is probably mostly Ameraucana.

Anonymous said...

i crossed a Rhode island red rooster to an blue egg laying Americana so the eggs from the offspring if hens , should lay green eggs .. is this correct?

Amber said...

They will most likely lay a brownish/green egg. However Americanas are not a pure breed from most hatcheries, so it is no guarantee.

renrads said...

This is interesting stuff,I am pretty new to chickens I only got mine a year ago and have learned so much. I love having the fresh eggs. Don't think I will ever buy from the store again if I don't have to. My question is what color is the egg from my Buff Orpingtons considered? they're like a tan pink, depending on the day. no color will scratch off. So I guess i am wondering are they considered a brown or a white?

Amber said...

renrads,

Buff Orpington eggs are considered brown, you would probably have to use a scour pad or something of the like to scratch the color off, it does not come off easy.

Nicole said...

Hi Amber! I'm also a lover of chickens, horses, and photography! Your latest poultry shots are lovely and your photo website is sharp too. I ended up here earching for crossing green and brown egg laying birds.

I have a mixed flock that I started in 2007- so we are 5 generations in and still have the original barred rock mama hen. I have some blue and green laying gals (but mostly brown layers) but don't know if any of my current roosters carry heterozygous genes for green or blue eggs.

So I was searching around to see if I could learn more about my chances of getting more green layers out of this years flock. Green egg laying hen crossed with rooster with genes for brown eggs=? Mostly brown egg laying girls with some who lay green? What do you think?

ceilidh said...

OK, so if I'm following correctly: If I cross my pure Araucan roo (hatched from a blue egg) with one of my white egg layers, I have good odds of getting a hen that lays blue eggs...what would happen if I crossed him with a green egg layer (easter egger). I'm assuming that one would be more difficult to predict as the genetics of and easter egger are a lot more mixed and questionable.

cefd386c-069f-11e2-bcc3-000bcdcb471e said...

Hi..I was given a Buff Ameraucana Roo..or at least that is what I think he is..I had him in with 2 light brahmas and a white rock..which all lay brown eggs..could I get green eggs.. I would love to send out a picture of MR. Roo to see if you agree that he is a Buff Ameraucana .. the lady I got him from did not know his breed but knew he was 1-1.5 yrs old..he is very docile and great with the ladies.. we have hatched 15 chicks from them and they are 5 wks old now..so excited to see what they end up laying ...they are very cute right now..nice mix of colors came out of them..

Melissa of Family Pendragon said...

I currently have 6 10 week old Easter Egger pullets (sold as Ameracauna - but who knows) and am purchasing some Cream Legbar Pullets and Roosters whose parents are from Greenfire Farms stock (2nd generation). I am hoping that my Easter Eggers will be laying blue to green-blue eggs, and that if they are bred with the Cream Legbar the next generation may lay a blue to turquoise shade that is less green. What do you think the odds are?

Amber said...

Melissa,

From my understanding of the egg color genetics the brown that is making the eggs that greenish rather than bluish color is dominant. It is possible some will fade out, I am not sure how much though.

There are so many variables in shades of colors etc when we start mixing the colors. That makes it more complicated and harder to accurately predict the actual egg color outcome.

Lisa said...

I came across your blog when doing a Google search on chicken genetics....love it!
Question...have you heard of breeding a Welsummer hen to an Ameracauna cock to get purple eggs? I had a breeder of these breeds (and a few others) tell me that. I figure I will see. I know they would be easy to sell.

Melissa of Family Pendragon said...

I am hatching Welsummer eggs right now (knock on wood) and have a gorgeous Lavender Ameraucana roo. I will give it a try Lisa and see what happens :)

Amber said...

No, I have not heard of the purple egg, but I wouldn't doubt that the combination of those egg colors might end up with a purple tinge. Neat! Please let me know what happens. You have me pretty curious now too!

Anonymous said...

If I want tinted eggs as in light cream the size of a white leghorn egg, what breed do I cross my leghorns to? And is it female leghorn to male other or male leghorn to female other? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ok all you chicken egg color genetics experts...I've seen different posts where breeders are in there 3rd, 4rth etc generation olive egger. If an olive egger is basically a hen with one blue egg shell gene and one brown painting gene then if these are crossed you should get blue, brown and olive layers not homogyneous olive eggers. I'm confused. Can anybody shed any light on that?

Thanks! Julie

Amber said...

Julie - It has been a little while since I have been in this topic, but how I understand it is the brown color is basically "painted" onto the shell. You may have noticed you can scratch the color off of an egg. Where the blue color is "in" the shell. Therefore brown color over blue shell makes olive. It is not brown or blue, it is brown + blue.

Anonymous said...

I crossed a easter egger/columbian cross rooster that hatched from a green egg with a regular white leghorn hen. The chicks look like leghorn chicks with a few dark spots. Do I have any chance on colored eggs instead of white eggs? Thanks. Bart.

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