The humble egg – that orb of protein, energy and essential vitamins – can come in surprisingly diverse colours, as entries to last month’s Preston & District Poultry Egg Society show highlighted.
Is there potential to extract more margin using pure breeds to create coloured eggs that differentiate from the commodity off-whites and browns adorning multiple retailers’ shelves?
“Maybe,” said Guinness Book of Records title holder George Taylor of Crook, near Windermere. Having won 536 “firsts” in competitive classes in a single year to earn his title of Egg King, there’s little he doesn’t know about making the humble egg appeal.
“I don’t know much about retail, but in competition it’s about matching egg size, shape and colour,” he explained. “You can get standard brown egg off a Warren, white off a White Star, blue from an Araucana crossed to a Leghorn, and a green or khaki egg from crossing the Araucana on to most brown hens.”
But the problem of how to commercialise what’s achieved in the egg show arena is simply down to numbers, he suggested. “Pure breeds just aren’t as prolific as hybrids, so immediately your costs go up as they all eat feed. Some people say what you feed a hen can change the colour of an egg, but I don’t think there’s anything in it.”
There is potential to single out gene lines for breeders of layers looking to capitalise on colour to differentiate one egg from another. “Sometimes it can be down to a particular hen. I have a bantam that produces eggs with a mottled colour, but many [of similar breeding] that don’t,” he reflected.
But there is no denying a plate of three eggs with differently coloured shells appeals. The tactic was used at the show by Geoffrey Johnson of Shifnal, Shropshire, to encourage granddaughter Molly to enter. “Thanks to help from friends Ted Johnson and Mark Lea, we put a plate of a green, a white and a brown egg, which has won the title for Best Contrasting Colours, so it has merit,” said Mr Johnson.
But as many commercial breeders of laying hens will know, shell colour can change between an egg being laid and it reaching the retail shop, a factor that can affect in-pack uniformity. Exhibitor Freddie Lockwood of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, has to contend with this on a weekly basis. “Just wiping an egg can reveal a different colour,” he said.
“A lot is down to bird type, but there is no guarantee of results,” he added. Having gained experience and subsequent show success in both chicken and waterfowl egg classes, Mr Lockwood suggested matching colour would be problematic for marketing purposes. “This season has been particularly difficult due to the cold weather’s impact on the number of eggs laid, which is well down. Quite often I’ve had two different coloured eggs and not a third on which to make up a plate.”
Another aspect is the cost of rearing pure bred birds to point of lay, explained Dave Traynor, who won the Maran breed classes. “Typically, it costs £20 to get a pure bred to point of lay compared to say £5-6 for a commercial hybrid. And then you’ve got the issue of prolificacy adding to producers’ costs – roughly a third of output of a hybrid.”
Even so, Chris Parker – former president of the Poultry Club of Great Britain and president of the Preston & District Poultry Egg Club – said a push to diversify egg colour could be good news for pure breeds. “Because you have to start with specific pure breeds to achieve certain colours it can only help secure some breeds’ futures and that is always to be encouraged.”
Having picked up another first for a plate of six eggs of the same colour with an entry from White Star hens – as well as most points accrued during the show – Mr Taylor was philosophical about the potential. “I’ve picked through 20 dozen eggs to get just 30 plates together for this show, so it gives you an idea of how picky you have to be if you want uniformity.”
But the potential is there, exhibitors agreed. If the experience of Mr Traynor is an indication of potential consumer interest, then early adopters could soon be sitting on a golden egg.
“Having taken boxes of mixed coloured eggs to charity events, people soon flock round fascinated to see the variations, which usually leads to spirited bidding.”
Shows in June
2 June – East of England P/C
Tel: 01205 870 689
6-8 June – Royal Cornwall A/S
Tel: 01726 651660
9 June – Craven Poultry Breeders Club
Tel: 01943 830 923
18-19 June – Cheshire A/S
Tel: 01565 650 200
26-27 June – Royal Norfolk A/S
Tel: 01603 748 965
30 June – Reading & District Bantam Club
Tel: 07710 653 124
Preston & District Poultry Egg Society Winners
Best in Show
C & W Oldcorn Three large whites
F Lockwood Three goose eggs
Best Egg Contents
R & J Swinnerton
Best Maran Exhibit
Best Welsummer Exhibit
Best Araucana Exhibit
Best Contrasting Colours
Best Waterfowl Eggs
Best Internal Contents/External Shell
Best bantam eggs
Most points in show
R&J Swinnerton’s first prize exhibit for large egg contents
Geoffrey Johnson’s contrasting egg colours
Tom Cunliffe won best external appearance/internal contents
George Taylor won first-prize white eggs
Poultry Facebook page