The egg is a pretty simple thing. Full of protein and very inexpensive, the egg is part of human diets worldwide and has been for thousands of years. Its smooth and unassuming texture and taste lend it to usage in cooking styles of innumerable variety. Yet, have you ever sat and contemplated the egg? It may be more interesting than you think.
Why Do Some Chickens Lay White Eggs and Others Brown Eggs?
The color of the chicken, and specifically the color of the chicken’s earlobes, determines the color of the egg. Sounds strange, right? Yet, according to NPR, it is absolutely true (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5357549). According to the American Egg Board, feather color also determines egg color. If a chicken has white ear lobes, its eggs will be white. If it has brown or reddish ear lobes, its eggs will be brown. There are always exceptions to this rule, but in general the ear lobe rule works well. Egg color is a breed characteristic. Neither white nor brown eggs are healthier. An egg is an egg.
Egg size, just like color, is dependent on the breed of chicken. Egg size is also determined by the age and weight of the chicken.
Have Chicken Eggs Always Been About the Same Size?
If you read a recipe from Colonial America, one thing will stand out right away. They called for a ridiculous amount of eggs, such as 7-8 per recipe! Why? The eggs laid by the typical colonial backyard chicken were considerably smaller than the average supermarket egg of today. As chickens eggs entered the mass-produced, grocery-store market, consumers sought large, generally white, and uniform sized eggs in their prepackaged dozen. Breeds that produced these large, white eggs, such as the Leghorn, were chosen over traditional breeds. While many egg colors and sizes exist, the large, white Leghorn egg has become a standard in modern society. If you have a variety of backyard birds, don’t expect your eggs to all be the same size and color. You’re sure to get a much more eclectic mix!
Did Sailors Really Bring Chickens on the Ships of Old?
Yes! It was extremely common to find small chicken coops on sailing ships throughout history. There was no better way to provide the crew with fresh eggs than to keep some low maintenance chickens on board. Other ships carried huge amounts of livestock to meet the needs of passengers. The Great Britain (1852-1876) carried 550 chickens on its 1861 voyage from Melbourne to England, as well as lambs, oxen, 30 pigs, 250 ducks, 55 turkeys, and 150 sheep. Now that’s one full ship (including, of course, the 750 passengers and 130 crew members) (http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/websites-mini/journeys-australia/1850s70s/ships-1850s70s/).
Egg-Laying Has Nothing to Do With A Rooster
One last egg-related thought for you: Do you have to have a rooster in order for your hens to lay eggs? No. Hens will lay eggs whether or not they have ever seen a rooster in their life. A rooster is not a necessary part of your flock if you want eggs. If you want fertilized eggs and thus chicks, a rooster is required.
Who knew eggs were so interesting?