Ok, ok, apologies for the bad pun!
But we finally did it – sold most of the laying flock so we can devote time and infrastructure to breeding our own olive-egger chickens.
The mechanics and genetics of chicken eggs can be complicated. Generally-speaking, the shell wall is made in a solid color all the way through. When you crack an egg, you can see the white, light brown, green, or blue color inside and out. But some breeds of chicken add a finishing touch. As the egg is nearly through the ‘assembly’ line, a final coat of paint is deposited on the surface of the shell.
Welsummer and Marans hens can lay eggs as dark as the ones next to the blue eggs in the picture above. Some of the color is in the shell, and some on the surface. Depending on the individual hen and how each egg is formed, there can also be dark speckles over the base color. Ameraucana chickens (among a very few others) lay eggs with blue shells. When chickens from a blue base color laying breed are crossed with chickens from a ‘brown paint applying’ breed, the result is some shade of olive green egg.
Breeding for this egg color has become a hot topic in the backyard flock community, and this is one trend in which we are poised to participate. Easter-egger chickens are a mutt-breed that lay green, blue and/or pinkish-brown eggs. Not generally the best for making Olivers, but we had some, so crossed a few with Chewie, our Black Copper Marans (a dark brown laying breed) roo.
We also took the step of ‘importing’ some hatching eggs from an Oliver breeder online. The chicks that hatched from these eggs are what’s known as F-1s, crosses of Ameraucanas and Marans breeds. Another fine point of Oliver breeding is that a pea-comb has a close genetic association with the gene for blue eggs. It gets more complicated from here, and we still have a lot to learn, but a first step is to select breeding stock with pea combs.
We don’t know if he’s a home-grown cross or ‘imported’, so we have to rely on test breedings to find out if he’s a long-term keeper. But he has a pea comb, good conformation, great coloring, and is nice to his ladies. If he is home grown, he is Chewie’s son, and that limits the hens we can use for test breedings. Luckily we have some mature, unrelated Welsummers and Cuckoo Marans that are laying pretty eggs, and we hope to get some in the incubator soon.
We ended up keeping 6 pullets from that October hatch, and we won’t know until they start laying which will end up part of our breeding program. The olive-egg-laying ladies will be crossed with Chewie, and their female offspring should lay even darker olive eggs.
Not only are we breeding for pretty eggs, but also for pretty chickens. Balanced conformation, unique colors, heavy facial feathering, and pea combs.
Of the 3 black chicks we hatched, one was a rooster, one (though beautifully conformed) has no facial feathering, and a straight comb, and will go into the non-breeding flock, and one has the combination of factors for test breeding.
We also ended up with a lovely blue pullet, but again, not one with the right combination for the breeding flock. If she ends up laying an exceptional egg, we might change our minds, but in the meantime she’ll go with the B team. We really appreciate our patient customers. Seven Trees Farm has been selling eggs for many years, and a good many people have been with us from the beginning. But as any small business owner knows, sometimes you just need a break. We’re going to enjoy experimenting with our Olivers, and hopefully sell any of the results that pass muster, both eggs and poultry.
Stay tuned for updates, especially once we get to that nail-biting 21-day marathon of incubating our next batch.