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Feeding Chickens for Orange Yolks

When you crack open an egg and see a vibrant yellow or orange egg yolk, most people assume that’s a sign of a fresh, especially nutritious egg. And it might even taste better.

Jacquie Jacob is an Extension poultry associate at the University of Kentucky. She says a dark yellow or orange yolk doesn’t typically mean it’s healthier or fresher. These yolks are higher in beta carotene, which is a vitamin A precursor. But whether this has biological significance or not is debatable. Jacob says the color of the yolk is a sign of what the chicken ate.

"We usually find oranger yolks with chickens raised on pasture with nice lush grass, or legumes that they eat," says Jacob. "The pigment, the xanthophyll from that foliage, gets deposited into the yolk, giving it an oranger color."

If your chickens aren’t pastured, Jacob says you can supplement their diet to get an orange yolk.

"The commercial guys when they want a darker yolk, they use marigold petals, the powder from it. You can also use dehydrated alfalfa if you don’t want to go that route because you’re getting the dry foliage that still has the pigments in it," says Jacob. "So, typically a diet high in dehydrated alfalfa will give you darker yolks."

You can also give your chickens treats that are high in xanthophyll, such as carrots, apricots, pumpkins, red cabbage, and the leaves of most green plants.

Some chicken breeds that have yellow skin and are fed diets high in xanthophyll will also have darker, more richly-colored feet and beaks, because any excess pigment not used to produce eggs is stored. This is why roosters with xanthophyll in their diet tend to have very yellow feet and beaks.

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