Believe it or not, chicken eggs are quite scientifically classified…and most people will be surprised to know that it’s not so much size that denotes the classifications of Pee-wee through Jumbo, but weight. Weight, that is, pretty much down to the ounce. Six ounces sets apart small from large, and large from jumbo. Precise weight measuring is how grocery stores determine which eggs go in which cartons and get charged what prices. This chart, as documented by the Egg Safety Center, shows different size and classifications of chicken eggs.
What determines egg weight? Of course certain breeds, which we will outline later, are selectively bred for egg size. All hens start egg production laying Pee Wee or Small eggs and gradually increase to a mature egg grade size of Medium, Large or bigger. In modern breeds, most hens are laying Large, Extra Large or Jumbo eggs by 40 weeks of age. Within these breeds, however, it’s important to realize that there are conditions that make any hen lay larger and healthier eggs. While you cannot alter the basic pattern of how egg size changes as hens age, the feeding and management of your hens can have a measurable impact on egg size and timing of when optimal size will be reached.
Chicken Feed for Larger Eggs
A hen’s body weight is the biggest factor for increased egg size, so for your best overall chance of having the largest size eggs, you want your hen to be the largest, healthiest bird she has the capability of being. Giving her a diet that supplies all nutrients should be used to manipulate and produce the preferred early egg size. This is facilitated mainly by securing high protein levels.
Protein level in chicken feed can be used to alter egg size at different stages of production. In the first couple of months of egg production, feeding a high, 18% to 20% protein layer ration will increase egg size. After the flock has reached maximum egg production, high protein diets no longer promote large increases in egg size, in fact continued high protein levels will cause unnecessary weight gain, and this carries with it a whole host of problems for hens. So after 8-10 months, cutting protein down to 15%-17% will be the most healthy option for maintenance. Here is a chart to tell which feed has the levels of nutrients needed for your chickens to lay bigger eggs: http://www.poultrydvm.com/feeds.php
Light, both natural or artificial will influence egg size by accelerating or delaying the age at which hens start to lay eggs. The younger a hen is when she starts egg production, the smaller her eggs will be during her first year of life. The start of egg production can be delayed by providing 10 hours or less of light each day to 19 weeks of age. Decreasing the daily hours of light at any time after 10 weeks of age will also delay the start of egg production.
Skeletal size has some impact on egg size. Hens with bigger and longer bones tend to become bigger hens and lay bigger eggs. Naturally, breeds with genetically directed larger skeletons are those we consider as the bigger egg layers, but protein level in the ration fed before 10 weeks of age is also a factor influencing skeletal size in ANY particular breed of hen. If you want pullets with bigger skeletons, feed a starter diet until 8 or 10 weeks of age instead of just 6 weeks of age.
Since feed intake has a direct impact on the hens’ intake of nutrients and the size of eggs that they produce, any factor that limits feed consumption, such as crowding, heat stress or inadequate water supply, will reduce egg size. Aside from food issues of food inadequacy, the biggest single stressor a chicken will face in its life is the constant looming fear of predators. Being on lookout for predators takes time away from foraging, and sends feedback for the hen to put energy into potentially fleeing for safety rather than constructing an egg. Creating a space that is optimal for keeping your chickens away from predators is key. Knowing she has a safe place to roam and a safe place to sit (for up to 30 minutes!) to lay an egg will greatly improve her chances of laying good size eggs consistently.
These factors have a strong influence on how soon the hens start to lay Large instead of Medium eggs and how many hens will lay Extra Large or Jumbo eggs.
ALL THAT BEING SAID, your bets will indeed be hedged towards larger egg size if you choose breeds genetically designed for larger egg size. So let’s investigate some of the best bigger eggers!
List of Top 10 Chicken Breeds That Lay Largest Eggs
The Minorca is the largest of the Mediterranean breeds of chicken. It has beautiful glossy black plumes and a rich red face with white earlobes. It is also the friendliest and easiest to handle of the Mediterranean breeds. The hens usually lay 200 or more eggs per year, and are well known to be some of the largest white eggs of any breed.
Sticking with the jumbo white egg category, the Leghorn is a good choice for both size and quantity of egg laying. Most of the eggs in grocery stores are produced by White Leghorns because of this, and depending on the age of the age of the hen, often lay 250-280 AT LEAST Extra large, frequently Jumbo white eggs per year.
3. Lohmann Brown
Lohmann Brown chickens are one of the best hybrid chickens for egg laying. They were developed by a German genetics company from the selective breeding of New Hampshire chickens with other brown egg laying hens.
These chickens are champions at what they do. Lohmann Browns begin laying jumbo sized eggs after 4-5 months from hatching. You can expect around 300 beautiful brown and very very large eggs a year from your Lohmann brown hen.
4. Production Red Chickens
Production Reds are Rhode Island Red Industrial Production strain. They are bred mainly to be very productive layers, but are heavy enough to be good meat birds, too. While Rhode Island Reds have their own benefits of great temperament and laying reliability, the Production Reds have the added plus of being expert layers. Large brown eggs consistently, you can expect 300 or more eggs per hen per year.
Welsummer were bred as a dual-purpose chicken that laid a lot of large dark reddish-brown eggs (almost terracotta color) and are also known for quick maturation in the meat category. Welsummer eggs from adult hens consistently hit the large and extra large USDA weights, and so combined with their beautiful dark color, these eggs are a favorite at many local farmer’s markets. Welsummer hens are not, however, very excited about cold dark winter months, and will typically slow production during this time.
The Barnevelder is a medium-heavy breed of chicken, named after the Dutch town of Barneveld. It is one of the breeds of chickens best known for its ability to lay very dark, and large to extra large brown colored eggs. They are winter hardy and vigorous egg layers which assure a constant supply of these excellent sized, beautifully colored eggs.
The Delaware breed was developed in 1940 by crossing mainly Barred Plymouth Rocks and New Hampshire Reds to create this beautiful brown egg laying white bird. They are good egg layers, starting from as early as 20 weeks, the Delaware lay large to jumbo brown eggs, and continue throughout cold months as well.
Originating in the United Kingdom, Orpingtons are a heritage breed that’s well loved because of its sweet, calm nature, beautiful feathers, and functional purposes.
Buffs mature moderately early and are decent (you can expect about 280 per year) layers of large beautiful pearlescent brown colored eggs. Although these chickens are quite cold hardy, they don’t do as well in the warmer temperatures.
The Speckled Sussex is a good egg layer and will keep laying even during cold weather, when many other breeds will stop. Sussex are great layers of large to extra large light brown eggs–and they lay right through the coldest weather. They are dual purpose birds, actually, and in addition to their large and greatly numbered eggs, they are known mainly as meat birds in England.
10. Golden Comets
Last but certainly not least we have the Golden Comet. Golden Comets are a modern day egg laying strain of chicken. They are a hybrid cross between a Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn chicken, and my particular favorite right now. Comets are fast to mature and start laying at a younger age than most other chickens. Golden Comet eggs are very large and often a deep, red brown color. On top of egg size, Comets can lay up to 330 eggs a year. I can personally vouch for this fact, as we have had a small flock of Golden Comets over a year now, and their ability to lay consistently even in dark winter months is a delight only second to the amazing large size that my egg customers marvel at! Double yolkers are not uncommon with my egg customers, and many times I have to use rubber-bands to close egg cartons because my Comet eggs are too large to fit!