There’s a lesson in eggs.
Well, there’s protein, fat, a semi-miracle that makes things as radically different as hollandaise and meringue, and a lesson in eggs.
Traditionally on supermarket shelves, there are brown eggs, and there are white eggs. We’re encouraged to view them as somehow fundamentally different things.
Do you want to know the lesson?
They’re the same.
But for one level of pigmentation that brown eggs get at the later stages of their journey through a chicken’s oviduct on its way out into the world and onto your supermarket shelf? The same.
The protein content’s the same, the fat’s the same, the semi-miracle that makes things as radically different as hollandaise and meringue – the same.
So why is it that we’re encouraged to view them as different when they’re all the same under the shell?
Partly, we seem addicted to the idea of binaries. Binaries, separation into this and that, make a sort of baseline sense to us. We think of male and female, young and old, rich and poor, left and right – we’re very comfortable in a binary world.
That’s not to make some grand philosophical point, it’s just to say that all eggs are equal. Which you might not guess from the price you’ll pay for brown eggs, compared to white ones in supermarkets, or the price you can get for white eggs compared to brown ones either.
Usually, you pay more for brown eggs, and there’s a reason for that. It’s a reason so mind-bogglingly simple it almost defies belief, and we’ll tell you what it is. All in good time.
But first, let’s ruin some scientists’ day, shall we?
How To Tell Whether A Chicken Will Lay A White Egg
It’s the 21st century. The age of advanced farming methods, exquisitely critter-deadly pesticides, DNA profiling, genetic modification, and all things science.
How do you tell whether a chicken will lay a white egg?
Mostly, the answer seems to be: you see if it’s a white-feathered chicken.
Really. That’s more or less it.
There’s perhaps a little more mystic rural sorcery to it than that. In particular, it can be more accurately determined by the color of the chicken’s ear area, according to the Egg Safety Centre.
But usually, say the ESC, it breaks down more or less by plumage. Usually, white-feathered chickens lay white-shelled eggs, and reddish-brown-feathered chickens lay brown-shelled eggs.
You can go home now, Science. Your work here is done.
If you followed the link to our rock and roll friends at the Egg Safety Center, you’ll already know by now why brown eggs are often sold for a higher price than white ones.
Reddish-brown chickens tend to be bigger in size. That means they eat more. The cost of that extra food is passed on to you the consumer in the extra cents you pay for a warmer-looking, less basic, less albino egg.
Annoyingly for those who love a good pattern, it doesn’t seem to be the extra food that makes the difference in color. You could feed a white-feathered chicken till her eyes popped – there’s little evidence you’d influence the shell-color of her eggs one jot.
See? Annoyingly vague and mouth-wateringly simple at one and the same time.
But enough of the hows and the whys. Our most reliable indicator of whether a chicken or a breed is going to produce white eggs is mostly “It’s the white ones” with a side order of “Check the ears.” Doesn’t that give us a pretty accurate way of spotting the most reliable white egg layers?
Well…yes. Yes, it does.
You want a practically guaranteed white egg? Here are a handful of breeds that you can be more or less certain will avoid shell-pigment like the plague.
The White Leghorn
When you absolutely, positively need white eggs like they’re going out of fashion, accept no substitutes for the White Leghorn.
Originally an import from Tuscany in Italy, the White Leghorn is more or less a white egg-laying machine. Seriously, it’s not good for much else in the human scheme of things.
It generally appears underweight and doesn’t make particularly good eating in itself. For that, you want one of those bulkier, pigment-obsessive reddish-brown chickens who’ve eaten all the grain, building up their flesh to juicy succulence.
The White Leghorn will leave you in peace with your reddish-brown chicken wing any time you like. It has other things on its mind.
Mostly, laying eggs. A single White Leghorn can lay up to 280 eggs per year.
280. Per chicken. All of them white, and most, if not all of them on the large side.
Little wonder then that the White Leghorn is responsible for around 90% of the white eggs sold and eaten around the world each year. We’re really not kidding when we say accept no substitutes.
The whole rest of this page, and the whole rest of the white egg market scrabbles to make up most of the remaining 10% left once the mighty White Leghorns have been through.
With statistics like that it’s no wonder that the Italian immigrants have become as entirely naturalized in America as their most famous cartoon son, Foghorn. They’ve more than earned their place of recognition on the American Poultry Association’s list of accepted breeds and varieties.
If you’re only in it for the omelets, you don’t need to know much more about the White Leghorn. If you’re thinking of getting your own, you should know that their plumage is white, and their legs are clean – which is to say, unfeathered.
Fairly resilient to both hot and cold weather, they’re a pretty good fit for the climate across most of the US. In especially cold weather though, they’ll need extra care.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re putting chapstick on your lips, smear some petroleum jelly on your Leghorn’s comb. You don’t want White Leghorns with frostbitten combs, it’s neither pretty nor kind.
They’re on the skittish side as a breed, so bear with them while they settle in and get used to their surroundings and routines.
Patience and calm are your friends when raising White Leghorns, but they will ultimately result in more eggs than you can whisk in a weekend.
The Ancona Chicken
Something about Italian breeds seems to increase the likelihood of white eggs. The Ancona is named after a city in central Italy, where it was first bred.
Like the White Leghorn, it’s a prodigious egg-producer, usually averaging between 200-220 eggs per bird per year, and all of them white.
Where with the White Leghorn, the clue is very much in the plumage, the Ancona almost looks like it’s trying to lead you down a blind alley. Its plumage is mostly black, with snow flurries of white here and there. Don’t be fooled - the Ancona Chicken’s eggs are white.
They’re also on the smaller side though, which means they struggle to come anywhere close to the White Leghorn in terms of commercial saleability.
As with the White Leghorns, the Ancona have clean legs, and come in both single and rose combed varieties. And where the White Leghorns are initially skittish and suspicious, the Ancona take those qualities and turn them into at least a personality, bordering on a personality disorder.
You might need to resort to clipping a few wing feathers to stop them flying about the place in a fury of “What fresh hell is this?!” clucking for a while when you get them home.
That said, they lay well, and forage extensively, which will give them an additional distraction from the terror of their own personality. There are markets that take Ancona eggs, obviously, but they’re a labor of a little more intensity and a little more love than the comparatively happy-go-lucky Leghorns.
Fellow members of the APA’s list of accepted breeds, the Ancona are true to their flighty personality in their ideal habitat too. While central Italy is generally pretty balmy and warm, the Ancona prefer a certain crispness in the air.
In fact – who are we kidding – they’re happiest in scarf and hot chocolate weather. Try to raise them in the South and they come over all Tennessee Williams, swooning and declaring the heat is going to drive them mad.
When it comes to the Ancona, chill out your chickens. In every sense of the phrase.
The Polish Chicken
While we’re on the subject of contrary birds, let us introduce you to the Polish Chicken. It looks like a chicken mated with a unicorn, and has a feathery mane on top of its head, like it stepped out of an 80s rock band.
By no means a contender against the likes of the White Leghorn or the Ancona, it can produce around 150 small white eggs per bird per year.
While they might look like wild and crazy party animals, ignore the feather-hair – they’re actually quite a chilled-our breed and can even bring some calm to a yard where other, more flighty breeds like the Ancona are driving themselves mad.
Except, and here’s the kicker, they’re not fans of colder climates, so the chances of finding a single environment that favors both the Ancona and the Polish are fairly slim.
Polish Chickens. That hate the cold.
It’s almost as though they react like philosophical old men in a day center – “I came from Poland to get away from the cold…” – and despite the crazy feathery up-do, they’re happy enough to hang out some way down the pecking order to avoid drama – just raise them somewhere warm, and they’ll give you your medium crop of small white eggs every year.
The Egyptian Fayoumis
How about a bird that makes sense for once?
The Egyptian Fayoumis comes from a hot country – and thrives in hot climates.
You’re strangely relieved at the simplicity of that, aren’t you?
Like the Polish Chicken, they lay around 150 small white eggs per bird per year, and like the Polish Chicken, they’re physically distinctive.
While the Polish Chicken has it all going on up front though, the Egyptian Fayoumis has very distinctive tail plumage. Imagine a chicken wearing Game of Thrones armor on its tail and you’re almost there.
Beyond that, they’re clean-legged, single-combed, and have a look that is exotic to the point of artistry. Elegance rendered in the medium of chicken – that’s the Egyptian Fayoumis.
The Egyptian Fayoumis, as a breed, mature early and can tend – again, almost suspiciously like the Polish Chicken – to chill out a flock.
They don’t brood, sadly, but they forage well and are economical birds to feed – a fact which helps balance out the smallness of the eggs.
The California White
Yes, it sounds more like a wine than a chicken. But the California White might well represent a solid return on your investment if you decide to raise your own.
Up to 220 large white eggs per bird per year makes the kind of economic sense you might not be able to ignore.
There’s something reassuringly straightforward about the California White. Its body, as its name suggests, is mostly white. See how that works? It will probably have some speckles here and there, but mostly, white is what you’re looking for, along with clean legs and a single comb.
Less chilled out than the Egyptian Fayoumis or the Polish Chicken, the California White shares the skittish nature of other large white egg layers like the White Leghorn.
Also like the Leghorn though the Californian White is reasonably at home in warm and colder climates, so it makes pretty good economic sense wherever you are in the country.
It could be argued that if the California White is mostly like the White Leghorn, but the White Leghorn gives you more eggs per year and produces 90% of the white eggs used worldwide, you should probably just go with the White Leghorn.
But there’s pride to be taken in supporting a lesser-known but still excellent breed. And besides, if you happen to be in California, you might well be able to get better prices for your eggs based on the combination of the name and the location.
There are other breeds that will give you mostly or exclusively white eggs. The Andalusian is a rare breed, but it can lay with the best of them, sometimes giving up to 250 eggs per bird per year.
It has the typical tendency towards skittishness and is prone to flying when they’re freaking out, which can be hours of fun.
The Hamburg Chicken can give you up to 200 small white eggs per year and has a striking look that, like the Egyptian Fayoumis, feels like someone took a chicken and rendered it metals and jewels.
Unfortunately, it has a personality pitched somewhere between “Teenager” and “Supermodel,” so be aware what you’re taking on before you go for a Hamburg Chicken.
Ultimately, if you want to produce white eggs, there are plenty of options, but if you want the easiest of lives with an inherently skittish kind of chicken, it’s worth considering that there are more reasons than its phenomenal egg production rate to recommend the White Leghorn.
All or most white egg layers share a tendency towards nervousness and drama. By the standards of the group, the Leghorn might well be a passport to an easier time.