I live in the bay area and get my eggs either locally or from Marin Sun Farms. Both of these producers pasture raise their chickens and the eggs are pale yellow not the deep orange you would except.
Is the color really the best indicator of how nutritious an egg is? I have a hunch they are so pale because they feed the eggs flax but I am not sure.
Would love to hear peoples thoughts!
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Yes and no. We had free range hens and color does vary with the seasons, what they are eating and how many bugs and how much green stuff they like is available. In the middle of Summer you should see a deeper yellow yolk in a truly free range hen. Unfortunately free range has a number of meanings. Our hens had free run of the entire farm. Some people put them in cages on grass, some people "free range" them in barns with "access" to grass.
To me the best way to tell if an egg comes from a truly free range hen is taste. It should have a deep egg taste not a blah watery one. It may be paler in the Winter and yet still have that good taste so color isn't always the best way to tell.
Some places feed their chickens marigolds or carrots to make the yolk more orange so I think that eliminates our ability to know for sure.
From my experience orange yolks taste better, but that might be a mind over matter thing and not actually accurate.
It varies by season and breed of chicken. I used to collect eggs from side-by-side eating-the-same-stuff doing-the-same-things chickens, and the different breeds would consistently produce different coloured and sized yolks. It's no the be-all-and-end-all indicator of a happy, healthy chicken.
I used to buy omega 3 eggs at Trader Joe's where it stated on the box that they were fed flax, and those eggs were a deep orange.
I can answer based on my sister's experience on her farm. Her chickens are truly free range. They roam completely free on several acres of property in Oregon with plenty of bugs to eat. Their diet is only supplemented with vegetable scraps and organic chicken feed from the farm store. The yolks have always been very deep yellow, almost orange until my sister bought a different brand of supplement feed once (it was cheaper). The yolks became much paler in color and the flavor of the eggs was slightly different. The feed was the only change and the feed is only a supplement to the diet of the hens. A month later she wet back to the normal feed that she uses and the eggs returned to their former glory.
In general, chickens that only have access to a grain-based "chicken food" diet lay eggs with pale yellow yolks. Chickens allowed out on pasture (or lawn, or what-have-you) during the summer months eat grass and other plants and their yolks become very deep yellow or orange. Some hens like plants more than others, or are more brave about ranging far from the coop, and their eggs are deeper colored than their more "chicken" friends. There are varying schools of thought regarding vitamin content linked with color in eggs. Probably true "free ranged" poultry have higher omega3 and beta carotene, but as WayfinderAli says there are additives that con be combined with feed to artificially deepen the color of yolks. Your best bet is to find a small grower that lets his or her birds "out". You'll pay more, but have optimum color, nutrition and flavor in eggs where the chicken gets to do what her instincts tell her. In winter, I feed table scraps and alfalfa hay to my hens, and the yolk color varies according to what they are supplementing their grain based diet with. Feeding chickens flaxseed to raise omega 3s in eggs is popular, and may be a way for "barn raised" hens to lay more nutritions eggs, but a varied diet of grain, plants and animal protein is probably better for both the chickens and the eggs.
When I buy cheaper eggs the yolk is usually more orange but when I pay more for organic eggs the yolk is a bright yellow, I always assumed this was indication of how much healthier but maybe it's from organic grains for the chicken??