Thoughts on 'designer eggs'?

PaulNS(NS zone 6a)March 31, 2008

We're novices at keeping hens - we have four Golden Comets, two 2-year-olds and two 1-year-olds. They've been laying every day all winter so we've had enough to sell some every week. These customers appreciate good quality free range eggs, compared to the ones that come from the city far away, and three more people are on a waiting list, so we're planning to get more chickens.

What got me thinking about 'designing' high quality eggs is the difference in egg quality between the first pair of hens, which were given to us as almost-adults, and the ones we raised from chicks. Those first two were fed almost entirely on layer mash, with some kitchen scraps. The ones we raised from chicks we gave plenty of oyster shells, flax seed, oat grass, etc. besides the pellets. Even though we've given all four the same diet, the older hens lay large eggs with very thin pale shells; the younger ones' eggs are beautiful - smaller, with very thick, glossy darker brown shells.

I read that hens are born carrying all the eggs they will ever lay; this led me to the idea that what they're fed from the beginning can make a difference in the quality of the eggs.

Then I read that feeding marigold flowers will make the yolks darker orange. Then there's the flax seed: the biggest egg producer on this island now offers 'Omega 3 eggs', and charges a premium for them, so I figure our eggs are Omega 3 too.

I tried giving fresh marigold flowers last summer but the chickens didn't like them, nor straight flax seed, so I'm going to try drying flowers this summer and mixing them into their feed along with the flax seed, oyster shell etc.

Today I came across the article, link below, that covers all these topics and more. I wouldn't try to manipulate the fat content of the chickens' diet. But adding ingredients to their food that increases the eggs' aesthetic qualities and healthgiving properties sounds like a great idea. The article says marigold flowers contribute lutein to the yolk which may help prevent macular degeneration - such possibilities are exciting.

So, designer eggs. ?

Here is a link that might be useful: designer eggs

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sullicorbitt(z5 MA)

The stronger egg shells you mentioned are more typical in young pullets, that is partially why some breeders don't hatch young pullet eggs, they are harder for the chick to crack out least that's what I've read.

I think in order to make any health claims for your eggs you would have to get them tested to prove they were healthier, higher in whatever your trying to promote. Most people who appreciate good quality natural food will pay more for humanely treated and naturally fed hens eggs. A company can market omega 3, flax etc. and still keep their hens in seriously crowded conditions and still be "cage free".

I sell my extra eggs, people who go out of their way to pick them up say they can taste the difference and like that my girls are free range and spoiled rotten :) It's difficult to make a profit w/backyard eggs (we certainly don't) but the little we make goes toward their feed.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 4:08PM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

Sheila, I wondered whether the shell quality had to do with the two chickens being younger, and have waited to see if the shells got thinner as the chickens got older (are they still pullets, at nearly a year old?), but the difference seems to stay the same. If anything, the older chickens' egg shells seem to have gotten thinner.

Maybe this theory of mine is wishful thinking. Although I'm set on trying the marigold flowers.

What I meant above was "I wouldn't try to manipulate the cholesterol content of the eggs", as described in the article. I think the claim that eggs are a source of bad cholesterol is unfounded.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 5:18PM
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If you let your hens out on green grass you will get orange yolks. That's all it takes.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 10:07AM
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Mine aren't wild about marigold seeds either. They sure do love just about everything else in my (now destroyed) garden.

Paul, chickens love to rip into a fresh lobster carcass and I think that that colors the yolk. (of course, for all I know, lobsters are loaded with mercury.) I leave the shells in the house to compost.

(Hey, Hey, Paul, I hung my first cabbage the other day and they got a big kick out of that.)

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 10:08AM
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We have always added kelp meal to their feed and from the beginning when they were day-old chicks, we added molasses and apple cider vinegar to their water. Our eggs have nice orange yolks year round whether or not there is vegetation and bugs in the winter. This winter we had a snow cover for months and our free-rangers were very frustrated.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 10:08AM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

Just came across another idea, a radical one: artist's oil paints mixed into the chicken feed to influence the yolk colour. Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre etc. The linseed (=flax) oil base of the paint boosts the eggs' omega content. What clever person thought this one up? Wish I'd bookmarked it.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 11:50AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Apart from any other consideration, Cadmium is classified as a "heavy metal' - most of the heavy metals are poisonous, and contamination by them, esp. cadmium from batteries, etc., can cause a site to be designated as hazardous. NOT something I want to feed to any animal I plan on eating! I do hope you are being facetious....

Mixing ground flax seed into the feed would do the same thing, without the expense of buying artist's paints.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 2:44PM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

Facetious? On April 1st?


The chickens have been stampeding out of the coop to get at grass and we've been letting them, for an hour or so at a time - they need babysitting because of the neighbours roving dogs. They make the most wonderful sound while they eat grass - a cooing/clucking of contentment.

Kelp, molasses, cider vinegar, lobster and hanging cabbages are all doable and will be tried, many thanks for these ideas.

Do you think lobster and crab shell can be substituted for oyster shell grit?

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 4:22PM
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sullicorbitt(z5 MA)

I've always considered a pullet a young hen that has not gone through her first molt yet (usually first molt is around 18 months).

Trust me the lobster shells are NOT a good idea, if you don't believe me go ahead and try it, I get nauseous just thinking about it.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 7:29AM
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Why do you say that, Sheila? My chickens love picking the leftovers out of lobster shells. I've never tasted anything funny in their eggs after a lobster feed, either---not that they're eating tons of it.

Paul, they don't seem to eat the shells.

Paul, I just ordered 12 chickens for you from McMurray's. 4 Blue Andalusians, 4 Rhode Island Red, and 4 Rose-combed Brown Leghorns. Meet me at Dysart's the week of May 26th.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 9:08AM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

I haven't noticed a flavour difference from feeding them mackeral in small amounts either.

There's a lot of exposed gypsum here. I read it could be substituted for about half their oyster shell grit so I ground some up and they went mad for it.

Also half an old cabbage - wow. They treated it like one of those pumpkin soup tureens (only eating with their beaks instead of spoons of course - THE POOR THINGS HAVE NO HANDS.) - accidentally hit the caps key but the fact seems worth stressing. The horror of it.

Annp! May 26 is my sister Rosie's birthday. She's the one who as a child was given a day old chick in a cardboard box by a kind neighbour, only to have it die during the night despite the big old alarm clock we put in with it. Wouldn't it be special to give her a Rose Combed Brown Leghorn. The timing (meeting at Dysart's) would be tricky though, also the 1000 mile drive. Did I tell you I never in my life slept as well as that one night at the Best Western behind Dysart's? I hope all those chickens are for you. They sound wonderfully exotic.

Just found this in the Richters Herbs catalogue:

Aztec Marigold
Although better known by the misnomer, ÂAfrican marigoldÂ, this Central American annual is a popular bedding plant available in many ornamental hybrid forms. However, ÂCrackerjackÂ, a non-hybrid variety, is rich in lutein, a compound that studies suggest may improve visual acuity in patients with retinal degeneration. When added to chicken feed, lutein-rich marigold flowers help make egg yolks turn a richer deeper colour. E

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 7:52PM
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No, but you were so slow to respond, I'm sorry that I gave half the order to my cousin across the lake. I told him that I'd raise them until he got his coop built.

But if you're interested...

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 12:33PM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

Sorry for the slow response annp. I got distracted by the first signs of Spring.
I'll have a google-image look at your new chickens, that will suffice.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 12:52PM
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All my chickens and guineas are free range on pasture. I do give them some chicken feed and stuff as well, but they are outside as much as possible. I have noticed (at least in the hard boiled eggs) a big difference in egg flavor. The most flavored eggs are the Araucana hens eggs. They do taste the best. Next are brown eggs, and then the least flavorful are the white hens (they are pearl leghorn major production hens!). I don't go to any special length to try and augment their egg composition by feeding special blends like flax seed.

Not sure if anyone mentioned this or not, but eggs are typically thicker in colder weather, and thinner in hot weather. The birds panting causes the shell to thin out.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2008 at 1:02PM
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I had followed a link from a relation's website to their neighbors who sold a variety of organic farm goods. They too fed their chickens flax seed and touted the Omega 3 thing. Is there a commercial site that sells flax seed, where do you get something like that in the quantities you would need? I know the stuff for human consumption is VERY expensive, I couldn't see going to that expense. I'm curious about the marigold aspect that was mentioned and will be interested if the chickens will go for the dried stuff. Lori

    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 12:21AM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

I plan to mix the dried marigold flowers into the feed - at least for a couple weeks, see if it makes a visible difference.

We get flax seed from Speerville flour mill in New Brunswick, for $4 a kg (2.2 lbs). A handful a week, ground up and put in bread dough, and a handful to the chickens, doesn't seem expensive to me at that price, given the benefits. These same flax seeds are very easy to grow on - just rake the soil, sprinkle them on and rake in. They make beautiful blue blossoms. This summer I plan to harvest the seed heads, thresh them and use those for the chickens.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 6:16PM
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