Chances are that you have cracked open a funny-looking egg or two.
If you raise your own chickens or if you buy eggs from a backyard chicken flock owner, you've likely seen eggs of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It is totally normal for a hen to lay "imperfect" eggs and to see red, brown, or gray spots in egg yolks.
What are these specks and spots?
Red spots on the yolk surface of an egg are what they appear to be: blood. Blood spots are due to a broken blood vessel in a chicken's reproductive tract during the laying process. They are totally safe to eat, even if they are a little off-putting. Blood spots are typically pretty small and easily removed before cooking. Obviously, if the whole egg is awash in a sea of red, you aren't going to want to eat it, so in that case, just toss it.
While on the subject of spots in egg yolks, if you see a brown or gray spot in an egg, these are meat spots. Meat spots are pieces of tissue (blood vessel tissue for example) from the chicken and occur during egg formation in the laying process.
Red, gray, or brown spots DO NOT mean the egg is fertile.
Many people have a common misconception that a blood spot or a meat spot means the egg is fertile. However, neither one is an indication of a fertile egg. A fertile egg actually has a little white "bullseye" mark on the yolk -- not red, not gray, not brown.
Why do bloody yolks show up more in my eggs than in store eggs?
Commercial egg producers and laying farms always screen their eggs by shining a light (known as candling) through the shell to spot any differences, and then they sort the eggs by size. So, the eggs you see in the grocery store are completely uniform in size, shape, and color, and they are far less likely to have any differences, including blood spots.
Backyard flock owners do not have to worry about making sure their eggs are perfectly uniform (actually, part of the charm of eggs from a backyard flock or the farmers market is the varied color and appearance of these fresh eggs). And, small spots in an egg are perfectly edible. There's no reason to worry about inspecting your eggs for spots or eating eggs with spots according to the USDA and the American Egg Board.
What causes a bloody yolk?
Surprisingly, brown eggs tend to have more blood specks than white eggs. Around 1% of white eggs have blood spots, whereas blood spots occur in approximately 5% of brown eggs. Why is this? First of all, it can be harder to spot differences when candling through a darker shell. Second, heavier breeds tend to have more blood spots (and brown eggs layers tend to be a heavier dual purpose type of breed).
In addition to the egg color or size of the breed, there is some speculation that feeds with smaller size organic grains, free-ranging chickens, and lighting a coop in winter for extra egg production may contribute to an increase in blood spots.
Spots can also be caused by vitamin imbalances (particularly vitamins A and K), fungal toxins in damp chicken feed, startling chickens, and a viral disease known as Avian encephalomyelitis or tremovirus.
How to reduce bloody egg yolks?
To keep dark spots and specks on your egg yolks to a minimum feed your chickens a balanced diet, keep feed dry and off the floor or ground (no more scratch or scattered feed on the floor or ground than eaten in a single day), keep your chickens calm, and avoid artificial laying lights.
So the next time you crack an egg and you notice something that doesn't look quite the same as most of the eggs you see, you'll know what it is, and why it likely happened.
What kind of perfectly imperfect eggs do you crack open? Let us know in the comments below!
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