By Kimberly Willis, Robert T. Ludlow

For home flocks, brown-egg layers are popular. The brown eggs these birds lay can vary from light tan to deep chocolate brown, sometimes even within the same breed. As hens get older, their eggs tend to be lighter in color. Some of the best brown-egg layers follow:

  • Isa Brown: This hybrid makes up the world’s largest population of brown-egg layers. Isa Browns are a genetically patented hybrid chicken. Only a few hatcheries can legally produce and sell the chicks, which means chicks hatched at someone’s home or at a hatchery other than a licensed one aren’t selling real Isa Browns.

    Isas are a combination of Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White chickens — which are considered to be separate breeds, not colors — and possibly other breeds. Isa Brown hens are red-brown in color, with some white under-feathering and occasional white tail feathers; the roosters are white.

    The hens lay large to extra-large brown eggs that range in color from light to chocolate brown. These calm and gentle birds are easy to work with and are also good foragers. They may be production birds, but they have great personalities and are people-friendly. The disadvantages are that they can’t be kept for breeding (they don’t breed true), and the roosters don’t make good meat birds.

  • Amber Link: This breed is a close relative to the Isa Brown, with a slightly darker brown egg that tends to be medium to large in size. Amber Links are white with some gold-brown feathers in the tail and wing area. They’re productive and hardy, and they’re also calm, gentle birds. You’ll probably be able to find them only at hatcheries that sell Isa Browns.

  • Red Star, Black Star, Cherry Egger, and Golden Comet: All these are variations of the same breeding that produced Isa Browns. Some were developed from New Hampshires or other heavy breeds other than Rhode Island Reds. They’re prolific layers of brown eggs, but they won’t sit on eggs.

    They also don’t make good meat birds because of their light frames. They’re usually calm and friendly birds. If you’re not going to breed birds and you just want good egg production, any of these chickens will fill the need.

  • Australorp: A true breed rather than a hybrid, Australorps lay a lot of medium-size, light-brown eggs. Before Isa Browns, they were the brown-egg-laying champions. Both the hens and the roosters are solid black birds with single combs. They’re calm, they mature early, and some will sit on eggs. They were developed in Australia from meat birds, and the roosters make moderately good eating.

  • New Hampshire Red: New Hampshire Reds are similar to Rhode Island Reds, and the two are often confused with one another. True New Hampshire Reds are lighter red, they have black tail feathers and the neck feathers are lightly marked with black.

    They’re more likely to brood eggs than Rhode Island Reds. New Hampshire Reds are usually calm and friendly but active. The breed has two strains: Some are good brown-egg layers, whereas others don’t lay as well but are better meat birds.

  • Rhode Island Red: Rhode Island Reds were developed in the United States from primarily meat birds, with an eye toward making them productive egg layers as well. They lay a lot of large brown eggs. Both sexes are a deep red-brown color and can have a single or rose comb. They’re hardy, active birds that generally aren’t too wild, but the roosters tend to be aggressive.

  • Rhode Island White: Rhode Island Whites were developed from a slightly different background than Rhode Island Reds, which is why they’re considered separate breeds and can be hybridized. They lay brown eggs. The birds are white with single or rose combs, and they’re calm and hardy.

  • Maran: These birds aren’t recognized as a pure breed in all poultry associations. Sometimes referred to as Cuckoo Marans, cuckoo refers to a color type (irregular bands of darker color on a lighter background). The breed actually has several color variations, including silver, golden, black, white, wheat, and copper. Marans were once rare, but they’re now popular for their very dark brown eggs (remember, though, eggs of different colors don’t taste any different!).

    Not every Maran lays equally dark eggs. The eggs vary in size from medium to large. Most Marans are good layers, but they’re not as good as some of the previously noted breeds. The various strains exhibit a lot of variation in the breed in terms of temperament and whether they will brood.

  • Welsummer: Welsummers are also popular for their very dark brown eggs that are medium to large in size. The hens are partridge colored (dark feathers with a gold edge), whereas the roosters are black with a red neck and red wing feathers. As members of an old, established breed, Welsummers are friendly, calm birds. They’re good at foraging, and some will sit on eggs.

    [Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake]

    Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake