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Are You Getting Duped by Egg Yolk Color?

written by

Desiree Nelson

posted on

May 15, 2023

This past winter, a conversation about egg yolk color came up on the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) listserv.  We have been members of this organization since 2013 and value the knowledge of the producers who are in this group.  The topic of egg yolk color has come up before, but I never put a lot of thought into it, because I’m pasturing our hens and giving them the best ability to put nutrition back into their eggs.  But this conversation peaked my interest, mainly with the rise in “pasture raised” eggs becoming commercially available and distributed nationwide by companies. 

After reading along and then listening to a podcast (The Fighting Farmer) by APPPA members, I felt that I needed to let my customers know that there are products out there to enhance egg yolk color.  The company Kemin Industries has been working on products to use carotenoids to enhance the color of egg yolks for more than 20 years.  KEM GLO, ORO GLO, Organic ORO GLO and now Organic KEM GLO.  KEM GLO uses paprika and ORO GLO uses marigold petals.  The company claims that their products deliver lutein in the egg yolks and increase the nutritional value of the egg.  And this is just one company I found.

Carotenoids in plants will affect the color of egg yolk.  We can say our egg yolks stay a light orange, pale yellow color through the winter because of the corn and alfalfa meal in our chicken ration.  As opposed the someone feeding a no corn feed, that may be made up of wheat and other plants that have little to no carotenoids.

We know that pasture raised eggs are nutrient dense. Karsten (2010) found pastured raised eggs to have twice as much vitamin E and long chain omega-3 fats, 2.5 times more total omega-3 fatty acids and less than half the ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fatty acids compared the caged hen eggs.  In addition, the vitamin A was 38% higher in the pastured eggs.  Interestingly this study had 3 pastures set up that the 75 hens were rotated through, (1) alfalfa, (2) red and white clover and (3) mixed cool season grasses.  They spent 2 weeks in each pasture treatment.  They found eggs from the hens when they foraged grasses was 23% higher in vitamin E compared to their eggs when foraging clover.  The other nutrition did not differ between the 3 different forage pastures. 

Mother Earth News has also done nutritional values on pasture raised eggs and has found the following:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
• 4-6 times as much vitamin D

They have done testing in 2005 & 2007.   Source: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/eggs-zl0z0703zswa

With all this said, it is important to know your farmer.  A farmer you can ask the question too.  “Do you add anything to the chickens feed to enhance egg yolk color?”  On our farm, the only thing in the feed that is affecting the egg yolk color is the corn.  The brighter colors of yolk in the spring and summer are a result to what the hen is eating on pasture.  And you may notice, not all egg yolk colors have the same hue.  Each hen eats what she likes or can get to first.  It’s very competitive out there on pasture, mainly due to the nature of the laying hens.  Some people call it neurotic.  They have an instinct to chase anything that moves, insects beware!  Our pastures have prolific insect populations of crickets and spiders.  All of our chickens, broiler meat birds included, love these little insect tidbits that are packed with protein.  But there are no yolk color enhancing properties in black crickets or spiders. 

Here’s a breakdown of Nutritional value:

Insect               Protein %         Fat%

Crickets                       6.7                   5.5

Termites                      14.2                 NA

Caterpillars                  28.2                 NA

Weevil                         6.7                   NA

Large Grasshopper      14.3                 3.3

Silk Worm Pupae         9.6                   5.6

Giant Water Bugs        19.8                 8.3

Very Large Spider       63                    10

Source: http://www.planetscott.com/babes/nutrition.htm


That seems to be of some value, that only a chicken raised on pasture and moving to new insect habitat regularly will ingest.  And the egg yolk color won’t tell you how many crickets that hen ate.  A big company selling pastured eggs from many farms, will specify what those hens will be fed for grain.  So, they can sell a consistent product.  Do all those egg yolks have a similar golden hue because there is no variety in that hen’s diet? 

Layinghensonpasture-(1).jpg

Laying hens on pasture at Nelson Grass Farm in Ogilvie, MN

REFERENCES:

H.D. Karsten (a1), P.H. Patterson (a2), R. Stout (a3) and G. Crews (a4). "Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens." Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 January 2010

More from the blog

Why Support a Pasture Raised Egg Farm in the Winter

I have a few reasons for you to support your local pasture raised egg farm in the winter. We farm in Minnesota, we obviously have winter with cold and snow. This isn’t suitable for chickens to be on pasture during our winter months. On our farm, they go inside a building to protect them from the wind and snow. It also allows us to have thawed water for the hens with below freezing temperatures outside.  It’s still local to you. Imagine how much energy and fuel it takes to get a pasture raised egg to MN from the Southern United States, compared to your local farm.  You want your farmer to still be in business come spring and summer. Careful planning by the farmer enables them to have year-round eggs to sell, and year-round cash flow. Also, if a farmer has too many eggs in the winter, they will downsize their flock size and not have the extra eggs during the summer months.  The hens typically still get stored/dried forages. Chickens being omnivores, don’t get all their nutrition from forages. The pasture, and the insects, are a supplement to their formulated balanced production grain feed. It’s relatively easy to continue feeding forages to the chickens through the winter, in their winter housing. This is something we do on our farm.  You can’t depend on yolk color to determine how the bird was raised. The egg industry as a standard knows the consumer wants nicely colored egg yolks, so there are yolk color enhancers added to feed. Even your big box store brands of “pasture raised eggs” feed yolk color enhancers in their feed to have a consistent product between all the farms they buy eggs from for their brand. (Yolk color enhancing feed additives needs its’ own post.) Here is a reason knowing your farmer is an advantage, because you can ask them. Can you ask the grocery/co-op store? Will you get an answer with integrity from the big brand aggregator?  It still is a high quality, highly nutritious egg product. We feed the same high quality grain feed in the winter that we feed in the summer. We may be changing the protein or energy levels slightly to help the hens adjust to the temperatures. But it’s still the same whole grains as the majority used in our ration, custom milled at a local feed mill, and not all grain byproducts = less complete nutrition = less expensive grain. We don’t cut costs at the expense to nutrition. The small family farm is a very small percentage of the “farms” producing food in our country. Small family farms, defined by grossing under $350,000 annually by the USDA, produced about 18% of the production in 2021. That’s only 18% of the food distribution system that is decentralized, localized and not susceptible to collapsing if a couple of those farms go out of business. Or their business is shut down. Are you ready to grow everything you want to eat if we aren’t here? Number one reason to support small family local farms. Here are how our hens spend their winter in Minnesota: We have two groups of laying hens, one stays in our mobile range coop all winter, and the other flock is inside a pole shed building with access to outside with our cows.

with customization by Grapevine Local Food Marketing