Our question this week comes from FLF&LR member Christine W. and her kids, who wondered why their fresh eggs from Peacemeal Farm were all different sizes.
Our "Question of the Week" column is designed to hel our fiid-curious members learn more about the food they find on our buying pages. It's food with a purpose! Our mission at Fall Line Farms and Local Roots is helping Central Virginia's farmers thrive-so that we can all continue to enjoy the fresh, seasonal, local food that comes from these talented growers and makers.
Our producers enjoy the opportunity to share their knowledge and wisdom with you. Keep those questions coming! Got a question? Scroll down to see how to submit it. We're waiting!
Photo credit: FLF&LR member Christine
Waneslaben of Mise en Place Cooking School, RVA
From Tim at Island Farms
Our hens are Rhode Island Red crosses--that is, they're partly Rhode Island Reds and partly other breeds that are known to be good layers. The colors and sizes of the eggs are dependent on which kinds of genetics each hen has.
From Patti at Burkeville-Waverly Farms:
What a great question! I love answering questions about eggs. Thank you for asking about the different sizes and colors of eggs.
Chickens come in all sizes and colors and so do their eggs. The variety you see in each dozen shows a farmer’s commitment to diversity vs the monocultures employed by large commercial producers. The American Poultry Association recognizes just over 50 breeds of large hens in the US, but doesn’t include a number breeds that have come from other countries. Because hens have been domesticated for thousands of years, the worldwide estimate of chicken breeds is far in excess of 500.
Younger hens tend to lay smaller eggs. It takes a chick seven months to produce their first egg and even longer, up to a year or more, to produce a large egg. Some breeds, and even some hens within the same breeds, are just bigger than others, much like humans, and so naturally lay bigger eggs. As hens age, their eggs become very large.
Certain breeds produce certain colors of eggs. Some hens are “white layers”, producing only white eggs. Others are “brown layers” producing only brown eggs. Still others, such as our Auracana and Americana hens produce a variety of pastel colors that look like Easter eggs in pale blue, pink, lavender and green.
Photo Credit: Member Heather Fitzgerald, who said this about her Island Farms eggs:
"This is what I ♥️ about buying local. All the eggs are a different size, shape, and color. The yolk color is to die for!"
From Betsy at Peacemeal Farm:
There are a few factors determining the size of eggs: age and size of chicken as well as breed. Often (but not necessarily always) an older hen will lay larger eggs. When a young hen (called a pullet) first starts to lay eggs, their eggs will be very small (you may see these sold as pullet eggs).
As their body gets used to laying, the egg size increases to a certain point. The breed of chicken can also determine the size of eggs. While most farms' flock of laying hens consist of just one particular breed of chicken all of the same age, the eggs produced will be fairly consistent in appearance.
Our flock happens to include a few older birds of a different breed, and these hens lay eggs that look a bit different than from the rest of the flock. These girls are producing the large and/or different colored eggs you may see in a carton of our eggs. Sometimes the large eggs are even double yolkers!
The different colors of eggs are directly dependent on the breed of chicken. Some breeds lay white eggs and some breeds lay brown eggs and everything in between! There are breeds that lay a deep dark chocolatey brown colored egg and even those that lay blue and green eggs!
From The Rahms at Forrest Green Farm
Why are chicken eggs different colors? It is as simple as genetics. Certain breeds produce certain egg shell colors just as genetics dictate our skin color. They may vary slightly in shade but Rhode Island Red chickens always produce brown-shelled eggs, Leghorn always produce white-shelled eggs, and so on.
Why are eggs different sizes? This answer is a little more complicated. Size variation depends some on genetics and age, and mostly on environment. Smaller breeds such as Silkies lay smaller eggs. Younger chickens start out by laying a smaller egg, which we call pullet eggs, for about the first month of laying. As a chicken gets older, into its 2nd or 3rd year of production, it will produce larger eggs but will lay them less frequently.
Environmental influences can vary widely, which will also affect egg size. Examples of environmental influences are feed quality and amount, whether the hens are pasture raised or cage-confined, and whether there's temperature stress from heat or cold. Daylight period (long summer days or short winter days), is also a factor. Each environmental influence can unfold into many variations. For instance, pasture-raised chickens with access to nutrient-rich, chemical-free soil and healthy pasture grass will naturally enjoy a diverse and balanced diet. This allow the chicken to produce the best quality egg possible, with a delicious golden-colored, nutrient-dense yolk.
A final note of wisdom from the Rahms:
The shell color does not matter. It is what is inside that nourishes us!
Thank you Christine and kids, and thank you farmers for taking the time to send answers! I know that our members enjoyed this opportunity to give us all some insight into seasonal and local eating.
Keep those questions coming, y'all!
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