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Green with Envy over Olive Eggers

6CT FOOD & FARM / SPRING 2020

Over Olive Eggers

BY AMYJO LABBE

LISA NICHOLS PHOTOS

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s children we read

Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, but we never realized that green eggs were real! Eggs come in an endless variety of shell colors including brown, white, pink, blue, chocolate…and yes, even green!

When we started raising chickens on our homestead, our goal was to have fresh eggs for ourselves and some leftovers to share with friends and family. The real journey began as we started hatching our own eggs and selling the extra chicks. Eventually, it turned into a small business we dubbed “The Hatching House,” selling baby chicks from the farm. We now sell thousands of chicks each year, ranging from rare breeds in need of conservation to traditional heritage breeds, breeds we show, and even special, fancycolored egg layers. “Colored egg layers?” you might ask. The answer is a resounding “yes!”

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“There is not a specific breed of hen that lays a green egg. Instead, the green egg shell is the result of cross breeding.”

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We admittedly never paid much attention to egg colors when we first got started. We were always focused on beautiful birds and using our breeding skills to perfect them in their body type, genetic diversity and feather pattern. But as a small business, we have to give our customers what they want. And they kept asking for green eggs, a la Dr. Seuss. In fact, green was our most asked-for shell color in 2016. So we began our research.

This was not an easy task. There is not a specific breed of hen that lays a green egg. Instead, the green egg shell is the result of cross breeding. Mating a dark brown egg-laying chicken to a blue egglaying chicken results in a chick that will grow up to lay a light green egg. You have to wait about six months for that chick to mature and lay her first egg to see what color you will actually get. (Frustratingly, one out of every sixteen chicks will grow up to lay a plain ‘ole brown egg).

Eggs from this first generation of hens are most likely to be a light, almost avocado green. But, lighter green eggs are not our goal. We want a nice, rich green similar to an olive!

Eggs come in an endless variety of shell colors including brown, white, pink, blue, chocolate…and yes, even green!

To achieve that shell color, those light green egg-laying hens must then be bred to a bird with chocolate colored shell genetics, hoping to darken up the color in the next generations. And again, you wait another six months or so to let the babies grow up and see what color green you get. It’s easy for this step to go wrong, ending up with a brownishcolored egg that’s more Army green than olive. (Cue the frustrated groan).

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In that case, you might breed that hen to a blue-gened chicken and wait another six months for those chicks to grow into hens and lay their first eggs. Can you see how time-consuming this project is? The ultimate goal is to create a shade as close to an olive as you can, and the actual name for this hybrid type of chicken is the Olive Egger.

When we started our quest we decided to skip a step and start with the bird called the Silverudd’s Blue Isbar. This rare and endangered breed from Sweden already lays a green egg. Crossing these to Black Copper Marans, the most common chocolatecolored egg layer, enabled us to get to an olive green color much faster. To perfect our color, we crossed in other cool-toned breeds like the blue egg-laying Ameraucanas (fun fact: they also have beards) and Welsummers, which have speckles on their brown egg shells. The end result for us was a medium-sized bird with a great personality that lays a lot of eggs! The Olive Egger has become the most popular chick sold from our farm.

Olive Eggers are a hybrid, with some calling it a designer breed. Each breeder has their own recipe and path to creating their olive green eggs. Once you master the breeding basics, you can have fun creating layers with lots of egg shell colors. While olive is our

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The Olive Egger

“ our farm

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has become the most popular chick sold from

.”

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The beauty of experimentation is in the experience, the learning, and

the colorful

results!

favorite, we have created a wide variety of egg colors over time: pastel green; deep, rich avocado; various shades of chocolate and blue; terracotta; rose pink; mauve; and lilac. We’re currently working on a platinum shell color.

There are entire Facebook communities built around egg envy and creating the perfect rainbow-colored basket. There is no reason behind it other than fun and variety in your egg basket. The eggs all taste the same, regardless of shell color. The beauty of experimentation is in the experience, the learning, and the colorful results!

Amy Jo Labbe and her husband Sean are farmers at The Hatching House, part of Ole Yankee Farm, located in Canterbury, Connecticut. They breed and sell both standard bred and rare poultry.

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