Feed for Orange Yolks

Healthy Feed By Lisa Steele

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One of the first things you will likely notice when you start raising your own chickens is how thick the egg whites are and how vibrant the yolks. There is nothing more beautiful on a breakfast plate than a bright orange egg yolk, shimmering like a miniature sun. But does a dark orange yolk mean that the egg is fresher, more nutritious or tastier?

Not necessarily.

Fresh eggs do have thicker whites than older eggs, but that’s about the only visible difference. A bright orange yolk doesn’t mean that the egg is fresh and it doesn’t even mean that the egg came from a free-range hen. Orange egg yolks result when the chicken laying the eggs is eating a diet high in foods containing a natural pigment, called xyanthophyll, which is in the carotenoid family.

Many poultry feeds contain ingredients added specifically to result in orange egg yolks in eggs laid by commercially farmed chickens, but if your flock is given a lot of free range time and eats a variety of grasses and weeds, their eggs will naturally have nice orange yolks. Even if your flock doesn’t free range, you can supplement their diet with foods high in xyanthophyll, which are not only nutritious for them, but also will up the “wow” factor of your eggs and impress your family, friends and customers with their shimmering deep orange yolks.

orange_yolkFoods with xyanthophyll contribute not only to egg yolk color, but also to the color of chickens’ feet and beaks (in those breeds who have orange-yellow beaks and feet). Any excess pigment not used to produce eggs is stored — so one sign of a poor layer is bright yellow feet and beak, while a very good layer will have a pale beak and light-colored legs. Roosters tend to have very orange feet and beaks as long as their diet includes adequate levels of foods high in xyanthophyll, since they aren’t putting the pigment into eggs.

Try offering some of these nutritious treats to your chickens. They will not only love them, but their egg yolks will be darker and more richly colored, as will their feet and beaks.

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Lisa Steele is the author of Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally (St. Lynn’s Press, 2013). She lives on a small hobby farm in Virginia with her husband and their flock of chickens and ducks, plus horses, dogs and a barn cat. She is a fifth-generation chicken keeper and writes about her experiences on her award-winning blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com. In her free time she loves to garden, bake, knit and sip homebrewed herbal teas.

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