Reputable heritage poultry breeders
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Understanding The Dark Egg Properly, In Context
Sometimes a new pullet who is just starting to lay will have an egg "stall" going down her oviduct, giving the egg an abnormally long time to get coated, making for an abnormally dark egg. But further into her laying career, she is never able to produce these eggs again. Therefore, it is important to understand the basic method of rating egg color in a Marans layer.
To even qualify as a Marans specimen, a layer must be able to produce a #4 or darker egg reliably for a period of her laying season. The French do not even grade egg color on newly laying pullets until they have produced at least a dozen eggs, then they rate the eggs that come AFTER the first dozen. This helps to disqualify the pullet whose first eggs may be slow through the oviduct, thus resulting in abnormally dark color that later in her life is never reproduced again.
Egg Color - What You See in Pictures is Not Really What You Get, All The Time
The ability to lay dark eggs waxes and wanes. The pictures you see of beautiful dark eggs are the best of what the hens lay, and no hen will lay such eggs every time. While some breeders will claim to know, the truth is that no scientific proof is yet recorded that proves that egg color is related to diet, hormones, age, light exposure, etc The only thing we KNOW is that it is somehow complexly, related to genetics. And we do know that throughout a hen's laying cycle, the first eggs are typically the best, and she may then go on to lay eggs of lighter color, which can then darken again after a laying rest, or after a period of broodiness, etc. If you think of her oviduct as a spray-paint tunnel, then conditions that slow down the speed of each egg through the tunnel, or cause fewer eggs to pass through the tunnel, will enable more "painting" on the egg, and therefore a better, darker color. Conditions that cause lots of "painting" (such as many eggs in a row with no days to re-build pigment supplies) will use up the paint reserve, leaving only what can be generated on the spot to "paint" onto the eggs.
How to Breed For the Best Dark Egg Production
But what we ultimately breed for in Marans is for the tunnel with the heaviest spray painting! Through some combination of genetics, diet, hormones, low-stress, and healthy light exposure, some hens produce more "paint" more consistently than others. So when evaluating a hen, or a flock, for egg quality, one has to look OVER TIME to see what eggs they produce, and FOR HOW LONG. A hen that lays a single spectacular egg is of little use to breed, because that egg is most likely the result of an abnormal condition, such that it got caught up and slowed down in her oviduct. What we need to breed for is the hen whose oviduct consistently produces a lot of pigment, over many eggs. The hen to choose for a breeding program is the one who consistently produces many fairly dark eggs, for a long part of her season, and for more than her first laying season.
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