Chocolate Egg Layers: 5 Expert Tips for Planning Your Flock October 5, 2012
Chocolate egg layers are chocolate egg layers, right? Wrong. Check out this photo:
Clearly we have two different colors of chocolate, here! If you want to be more confident of the egg color you’ll have in the end, there are a five things you’ll want to keep in mind as you’re planning your flock:
1.) Egg color varies as the season progresses. Eggs start out dark in the spring or when a chicken first begins laying, and slowly lighten up as the season progresses. After your girls have had a break in laying (as from a molt, for instance), their egg “dye” recharges and their eggs will darken down, again. This actually happens with any breed over the course of the laying season–not just chocolate eggers! However, you may tend to notice it more with breeds that are acquired specifically for egg color.
2.) Some breeds see a greater change in egg color over the season than others do. Marans in particular seem to lighten up a lot by the end of the season. Other chocolate eggers (Welsummers, for instance) don’t start off laying eggs as dark as Marans eggs can be, but don’t tend to lighten up as much, either. The photo above is not exactly a fair comparison! This was our Black Copper Marans pullet’s first egg, ever, and is especially dark as a consequence. By contrast, our Welsummer hen, had been laying every day all spring and summer, and her eggs had lightened up somewhat. So this is a small Marans egg, as dark as this hen will lay, compared to a large Wellie egg, about as light as I’ve ever seen it.
3.) The dark brown egg color can be wiped, scrubbed or accidentally scratched off the egg—eeek! Brown color on an egg is laid on top of the outside of the shell, and it can be scratched off, unfortunately. (Can you see the faint scratches in the photo above?) When it comes to chocolate egg layers, I find that accidental scratches happen more often with Marans eggs, because Marans tend to lay their eggs very wet. If I gather a freshly laid Marans egg, I have to be careful or I will scrape off the color before it has properly dried; it can look as if I have chocolate on my fingers! The hens can also scratch their own eggs as they leave the nest after laying. Sometimes feathers or nesting material will stick and dry to the shell, as well. Plus, because the Marans egg color is usually consistent (not speckled), scratches or other imperfections are often more obvious… and because Marans egg color is very dark, the contrast between the color on top and the white shell beneath is hard to miss. Welsummer eggs with imperfections in the color are a lot more difficult to spot, and the eggs in general aren’t as easily scratched as Marans eggs are.
4.) Don’t get stuck thinking that you have to get only one type of chocolate layer! It can be hard to reserve some breeds, so if you’re wanting one of the rarer types like Black Copper Marans, you’ll want to reserve your birds early in the season before they sell out! Remember too, though, that it’s nice to have a range of colors, and it’s easy and rewarding to keep a mixed flock. For instance, in the photo above, even though the Welsummer egg is significantly lighter in color than the Marans egg, look how pretty the speckled shell makes it! Welsummers often lay speckled eggs. If you share eggs with friends or family, you may find they have different “favorite” egg colors. My husband loves the darkest eggs, and I tend to love the speckledy-est. (That’s not a word, I know, but you get the idea.) Plus, the dark color of the chocolate eggs will stand out more if you have other colors mixed in alongside them, and any speckled eggs will stand out more if surrounding eggs have a flat, consistent finish. Add blue, green, brown and white layers, too!
5.) When choosing your chocolate egg layers, don’t forget to keep docility, winter hardiness and winter laying capabilities in mind! It doesn’t all come down to color. Penedesencas—the breeds that lays the darkest chocolate egg of all!—are not especially winter hardy, and they don’t tend to be docile or do well in confinement, either. They aren’t the best breed to get for a small backyard flock. By contrast, Black Copper Marans are great! They are friendly, good layers. But they can be difficult to reserve because they’re still so rare. If you’re having trouble adding Black Coppers to your flock, don’t give up! Instead, consider the more readily available Silver Cuckoo Marans and Welsummers. They are also lovely, friendly, cold hardy birds, and the Welsummers in particular add “excellent foragers” to their list of wonderful qualities–they reportedly fight zombies as well. Although they do occasionally go broody, they don’t tend to be AS broody as Marans are, meaning you will probably get more eggs from Welsummers than from Marans as your hens get older.