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March 13, 2011

How Do You Make Duck Egg Yolks More Orange?

Originally posted by John Metzer on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 @ 05:00 PM 

The color of a duck's egg yolk is strictly dependent on their diet.  Xanthophylls (pronounced zanthofils) are natural plant pigments and the more xanthophyll in the diet, the more orange will be the yolk.

The four most common poultry feed ingredients with high levels of xanthophylls are alfalfa meal, corn, algae and marigold petals.  The only reason dried marigold petals are added to poultry feed is to make the yolks more orange in color.  Green grasses have good levels of xanthophylls, too.

High levels of xanthophylls also make the skin more orange.  In some parts of the United States, the demand is for a more yellowed skin broiler.  In other parts, a more whitish colored skin is desirable.  If you want a yellow skinned bird, feed predominantly corn.  If you want a white skinned bird, feed predominantly wheat or barley.

The color of the yolk or skin has nothing to do with the freshness of the egg,  nutrient content of the egg or meat, health of the bird or any type of cooking characteristic.  It only indicates the feed eaten by the bird had higher levels of xanthophyll.

It is interesting that an orange billed duck, like a Pekin, that is in high egg production, will lose color in its bill and feet as the xanthophyll is transferred from its bill and feet into the yolk of the egg.  Once they slow down in production and their consumption of xanthophyll is more than what is used in their eggs, their bill and feet become more orange again.  Oftentimes you can use this as a way to determine which of your ducks are laying eggs.  See our blog on this subject.

So what can you feed your ducks to get darker yolks?  The easiest would be to allow your ducks access to green grass.  This can be brought to them as lawn clippings or you can allow them on a pasture or lawn to graze.  If you are in a colder climate with no fresh grass during the winter, you can give them alfalfa hay as a daily treat.  If you have a choice of feeds at your local feed store, you can choose more yellow feeds (meaning a high level of corn) – making sure the feed is still completely balanced in its nutrients.

 If you want to grow vegetables that are especially high in xanthophylls, try spinach, kale, cilantro, romaine lettuce, parsley, orange peppers or scallions.  These will be good for you and your ducks!

In next week's blog, I will show you some of the projects we are doing here at Metzer Farms to prepare for another busy spring in 2011!


  1. I had chickens way back in the 70s and I saw that when I put more corn in their diet during winter that the yolks were darker yellow but I thought it was just the color of the corn. This is very enlightening AND helpfull. Thank you.
    Phillip Mieszala-Inyokern,CA

  2. I do not feed my poultry any corn or soy, to stay away from GMOs. They free range, should I add anything to their diet?

  3. Yes, you can feed a balanced diet without corn and soybeans. You just need a quality protein so they have all the amino acids (protein building blocks) they need. You cannot get sufficient protein if you only feed grains such as wheat, millet, oats, rice, etc. Check with your local feed mill. IF they have a helpful nutritionist, they should be able to give you some pointers.

  4. As far as chickens, you can feed cooked pumpkin or squash during the winter months to keep the dark color in the yolks. My ducks don't show great interest in this though, so I guess i will give them some leafy alfalfa hay.

  5. You can try a cooked and organic brown rice, soup beans and organically grown corn diet. I have been treating my hens and two pekings to some in late afternoon when I want to call them back to the pen for the night. They love it and now I don't have to go out with my herding stick to bring them back into the pen for protection from the wild animals. A local farmer uses organic roasted beans in his homemade organic laying mash along with the products from Ferrel company, Nutrient Poultry balancer, Kelp powder, etc. I let my poultry out each afternoon (after I know they laid all of their eggs as they would go into the woods to lay) to free range while I clean the pen, fresh water and I always have feed in their 24/7 but perhaps I should take it out before dark. Right now in Michigan, there is no snow and before the cold spell came back, a few days back I was starting to have 7 to 8 eggs for about 3 days in a row, showing the hens don't like cold. I have 6 mil plastic around the pen but half of the top I don't have anything as no money and I also used my feed bags, sewed to gether for the front to prevent winde coming in, I am tring to sew more bags together for the rest of the top of pen to protect from the snow and rain. The hens and ducks love going in the garden or anywhere there is loose soil and have their dust baths and picking up seeds of tomatoes and weeds too. Their eggs are mostly a dark orange. They love watermelon rings, tomatoes, etc that I share in the summer, but they will destroy your largest tomatioes, etc if they have access to the garden. My chickens and ducks don't much care for my cooked squash. If you can find an organic farmer raising corn, try the rice, corn, bean diet. (beans have to be cooked or roasted as they can poison poultry) My local organic bean grainery sells roasted black beans by the truckload, along with lack of funds, it is diffictult for me to make my own right now. I use to feed equal parts of the Brown rice, corn and bean diet with ground up Monkey chow and bird seed sprinkled over it to my exoctic birds and they were all very health and shiny plumage. Use equal parts of each ingredients. I also place Vionate bird vitamins into it too so that helps.

  6. Would eating a lot of tad poles make their yolks more orange? That's been the only change I've seen to our ducks & we have bright orange yolks now