The Secret Behind Blue Eggs
It's Easter every day for our Arkansas blue egg layers whose genetics hold the secret behind their eggs unique coloring
We brought our Arkansas blue egg layers, Elsa and Daisy, home with three black copper marans Valentine's Day 2017. Since establishing a brood of Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island reds the year before I had been on the lookout for more hens. When I found colored egg layers in Hunterdon County, I told my husband I was going to pick them up...and that I might need his help building another coop for them to acclimate.
Slowly, we integrated them into the flock. After a few months, Elsa worked her way up to the top of the pecking order. From the start these smaller chickens were a bit different than the others - independent, lighter, more “bird-like”, more social with each other. And, of course, they lay some of the most beautiful eggs.
Like the Araucanas from Chile or the Dongxiang and Lushi chickens in China, our Arkansas blue egg layers rely on their creations' pleasing pastels to avoid stigma from the strange secret behind their unique color. Surprisingly, it's a single gene and not pure magic that gives us this special poultry product.
The success of the gene, callee oocyan, is owed to a retrovirus called EAV-HP. Supplied with RNA, retroviruses are able to write their own DNA which can be integrated with the existing DNA sequence. In the case of callee oocyan, the new DNA chain is programmed to produce biliverdin, a bile pigment from the chicken's uterus, during the formation of the eggs shell. As a heme catabolism (similar to the molecules that turn a bruise green), the biliverdin and creamy shell combine to make the prized powder blue eggs.
Lost your appetite? Don't worry, a study published by Stanford confirmed the gene is completely harmless to humans and the environment (hint: compost them!). The oddity has long occured in wild and domestic fowl alike, the science that makes it possible was just undiscovered until 2013.
Now if you find a blue egg in one of our cartons you'll know a little more about how they are made and the special chickens who create them.
Last week we lost Elsa to a hawk attack. The death of livestock can be heavy. It sinks into your gut, the feeling of personal affection complicated by the loss of value they provide as workers. It's a tender reminder of how delicate these relationships often are, and how reliant I am on life's evolutions.
Elsa was the leader of our hens for the past four months. Her and Daisy were inseparable, although Elsa did sometimes pick on her. Elsa's enthusiasm and boldness were an integral part of the Coeur et Sol homestead. She will be missed dearly.
Now our focus must shift to new problems - not one, but two hungry hawks stalking our yard. It is time for some repairs to the run, and perhaps an extension, so we can keep the chickens secure until the leaves fill in on the trees. We are also moving into our most productive egg laying season and being down one of our layers when we are already struggling to meet demands adds to the stress.
Farming is often as much about spirit as it is about realism. It requires all of your heart, and all of your resilience. Often the hardest work on the farm is accepting the full experiences this life effortlessly gives. Other times it brings gifts, like blue eggs, and the gratitude flows freely.