free ranging foraging: bug, worm and grass eaters

free ranging foraging: bug, worm and grass eaters

It’s science fair season in this house and my eighth grader’s project on egg yolk nutrition has us all stumped. Our dinner table conversation is altered and our minds are a little blown. We’ve been undermined by marigolds!

The project included 20 chickens fed different types of feed: vegetarian feed, free ranging vegetarian feed, free ranging and foraging, free ranging with non-GMO feed and raw organ meat feed.

My son’s main objective was to show the obvious lack of nutrition in eggs fed vegetarian feed – because chickens aren’t vegetarians.

I’m going to be honest, my son is a chicken freak. His school breaks don’t include going to the bathroom like normal people, he goes to visit the chickens. He talks to them, he names them, he even rides his bike with them on his handlebars. We call him the chicken whisperer. When he found out they were being fed vegetarian feed he wasn’t just baffled, it broke his heart. 

So he set out to prove the travesty. What he found was baffling.

free ranging vegetarian fed

free ranging vegetarian fed

What should have happened was the vegetarian fed yolks would be pale in color, lacking vitamins A and D and other nutrients from the diet not designed as chickens eat. The vegetarian free rangers should have had darker yolks, the free ranging non-GMO feed a bit darker, the free ranging and foraging darker still and the raw organ meat fed chickens the darkest yolks.

The problem was the vegetarian fed yolks were almost the same in color as the raw organ meat yolks. So, in an effort to find some answers, he picked up the phone and called the companies. After 3 companies were contacted he found they were all fed corn and soy, no matter if the eggs were labeled vegetarian or not. Since all their yolk colors were different there was more to the story. Yes, the type of chicken house makes a difference, if they are in cages or roaming a dirt floor shoulder to shoulder or if they are outside on pasture. But these yolks he tested, the yolks that competed with his raw organ meat fed chickens, were from chickens in chicken houses. They were not basking in the sun. They were not eating ticks and worms along with grass and weeds.

My son further researched the reason for the intensity of the yolk color and found that a lot of store bought eggs have been manipulated to give darker and more vibrant yolks.

He found that all the way back to 1966 people have been doing experiments on this very same subject. Poultry Science published an article about adding carotenoids to chicken feed to change the color of their yolks to a darker yellow, “β-Cryptoxanthin biofortified maize increased β-cryptoxanthin in the yolk and contributed to yolk color.”

free ranging forager (eating bugs, worms and grass) vs free ranging forager fed raw organ meats

free ranging forager (eating bugs, worms and grass) vs free ranging forager fed raw organ meats

Feeding the chickens dark colored carrots or tomato paste made the yolks darker and more vibrant, appealing in color.

Feeding the chickens dark orange colored marigolds resulted in darker yolks but the eggs were smaller for an unknown reason.

Putting red pepper powder and pigment in the feed increased the weight and color intensity of the eggs.

Flax seed is a carotenoid, (xanthophyll) but it lightened the color of the egg yolks. Since the companies were not looking for lighter yolks, as darker yolks are favored since they reflect more nutritious yolks in free ranging chickens, flax was dropped form the feed while the colored feed was emphasized to increased yolk color. 

He found the major chicken egg companies feed darker colored corn and soy to their chickens to get a darker and more vibrant yolk to make it more appealing to the consumers.

Companies have been trying to manipulate the yolk color for years using colored food methods as well as visible light spectrophotometer.

The Journal of Science and Food Agriculture reported supplementing the feed of egg-laying hens with coloured carrots efficiently increased yolk colour parameters and carotenoid contents, which gives opportunities for improved nutritional value of eggs from forage material-supplemented hens.

Journal of Lipids reported the use of dark colored marigolds (Tagetes erecta L.) was reported to be a good source of xanthophylls and used for pigmentation of the egg yolks and poultry skin

vegetarian fed store bought

vegetarian fed store bought

Xanthophylls are typical yellow pigments of leaves, oxygenated carotenoids

Asian-Australian Journal of Animal Science reported the results of the present experiments indicate that dietary inclusion of both red pepper powder and pigment were successful in increasing the egg yolk score of laying hens which would make these eggs more attractive to potential consumers. Neither product produced any negative effects on laying hen productivity and both products had a tendency to increase the weight of the eggs from treated hens.

Poultry Science showed adding flax to these diets seemed to depress yolk lutein content. 

Journal of Agircultural and Food Chemistry showed yolks from hens fed orange maize had scores indicating a darker, orange color.

Although he set out to show proper nourishing feed would cause a darker yolk reflecting a higher nutritional value, my son found that manipulating the feed with

free ranging - bug, worm and grass eaters

free ranging – bug, worm and grass eaters

tomato paste, colored marigolds, red pepper flakes, dark orange carrots and colored corn was by far cheaper, yet manipulative.

Lesson learned.

*Nourishing Plot is written by Becky Plotner, ND, traditional naturopath, GAPS who sees clients in Rossville, Georgia. She works as a Certified GAPS Practitioner who sees clients in her office, Skype and phone. Since her son was delivered from the effects of autism (Asperger’s syndrome), ADHD, bipolar disorder/manic depression, hypoglycemia and dyslexia through food she continued her education specializing in Leaky Gut and parasitology through Duke University, finishing with distinction. This is not a news article published by a paper trying to make money. This blog is put out by a mom who sees first hand the effects of nourishing food vs food-ish items. No company pays her for writing these blogs, she considers this a form of missionary work. It is her desire to scream it from the rooftops so that others don’t suffer from the damaging effect of today’s “food”.

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988.



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9 Responses to Egg Yolk Nutrition Undermined By Marigolds

  1. Karen says:

    We have a large farmer in Northern Virginia who swears that their eggs have a darker color in spring because the grass goes to seed. Be fun to find out if that’s related.

    • Becky Plotner says:

      I’m not so sure I agree with the farmer on that one because our yolks turn darker once the grass pops up, the bug come back to life and worms resurface. This is long before the grass is tall enough to go to seed. I will mention to my son that this could be another potential experiment. Feeding on the grass seed. It’s funny watching them eat the seed. Since they don’t have to bend over to eat it if you are at a distance and can’t see the seed it looks like they are pecking the air.

  2. Laurel says:

    We have begun to feed our chickens organic flax seed meal over the winter and the color of their yolks has not lightened at all.
    I love when winter lessens and our ladies can be out foraging full time!
    So glad to have found your blog; I’ve really enjoyed your posts!

    • Becky Plotner says:

      They reported the same thing that is why they stick to the colored marigolds, colored carrots, etc. They reported the flax nutrition was good, just didn’t give the color which was what they were looking for – to make they look healthier.

  3. MadelineHere says:

    But – the original issue of chickens not naturally being vegetarians..

    Like your son, I’ve always wanted to shout out loud “Hey people! A chicken living as a chicken should – is NOT vegetarian!”

    but lets face it – most commercial feeds are ugly, boring, and just yucky – the chickens have to eat it because they have no other option..

    In that monotonous world of pellets, crumble or mash – perhaps the vegetable proteins the makers and commercial buyers are willing to pay for/use are “healthier” seeming to us label readers then things that say “animal by products” and such…
    So vegetarian feeds do ironically become “healthier” for the birds / us.

  4. Kathy BBoucher says:

    My question is about the eggs nutrition. Omega3 eggs claim to be superior because of the diet of the chickens. Is that true? We want to eat the healthiest that we can for our best health. (I also wonder if the inclusion of the caratinoid elements in feed make any impact on chicken health or egg nutritionor is it just a cosmetic effect) Not a chicken person, but for chickens in north some kind of winter feeding is necessary when foraging is not practical.

    • Molly says:

      Thank you for keeping comments open on older posts like this because this topic is so fascinating to me! Were you able to conclude that yolk color does not necessarily reflect an egg’s nutritional density, but it’s just that we’ve been groomed to believe so? Or do darker yolks still confer nutrient density, so long as the feed has not been manipulated?

  5. jstar45 says:

    Where can I get the best eggs in the Boston Area?

    • Becky Plotner says:

      The best thing to do is contact your local Weston A Price Chapter Leader, which can be found on

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