How to tell which color eggs a hen will lay

How to tell which color a hen will lay“I
don’t see much difference in brown or white eggs, but my wife prefers
brown eggs. Which chickens lay brown eggs? And the best chicken to
survive Vermont winters?

— Brad Reynolds

That’s a good question, and one I hear a lot so I thought I’d post my
answer more publicly.  First of all, when scientists analyze eggs
with brown shells and compare them to eggs with white shells, the
nutritional data comes up even.  Personally, I can’t taste a
difference either.  However, a lot of people agree with your wife
and prefer brown eggs.

Luckily, it’s pretty simple to find hens that lay brown eggs because
nearly all of the varieties sold to backyard chicken-keepers do
so.  Of all the chickens we’ve raised, only Leghorns lay white
eggs.  One easy way to make sure that the hens you’re buying will
lay brown eggs is to check the color of their ear lobes — red ear lobes
mean brown eggs and white ear lobes mean white eggs.

Winter hardiness is another matter.  In general, the best
egg-layers are the lighter breeds, especially hybrids like Red Stars and
Golden Comets.  But heavier chickens seem to fare better in cold
weather.  A good compromise might be Australorps, who have never
seemed to have trouble over the winter in zone 6 (although their laying
does dwindle), and the related Orpington is another popular mid-weight
breed.  Jenna Woginrich recommends even heavier breeds, like
Brahmas, in cold climates, but you should be aware that all of these
heavier breeds tend to lay fewer eggs and will eat more than their lighter

To browse many different heirloom breeds, I recommend this chart
Look for snowflakes in the egg column to denote varieties that keep
laying through the winter.  And don’t forget to figure out some
kind of heated chicken waterer — your flock can’t lay without copious water.

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