Monocle 24: Chile tries to revive natural Easter eggs

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At Easter, people in much of the world paint eggs. In recent years, those in places such as London and San Francisco have been buying naturally pale blue and green eggs. They come from hens called “Easter eggers.” One thing they all have in common is a gene from Chile. Our correspondent Steven Bodzin went looking for the ancestral homeland of these colorful treats.

Chicken house DOWN & UNDER

This chicken house sounds like any other. But the hens here are different. I’m in rainy southern Chile, near the town of Rio Negro. I’m with Yoanna Marquez, a 30-year-old indigenous woman who uses this little hut to breed hens that lay blue eggs.

de 20 gallinas, 20 huevos.

She’s got a total of about 70 chickens, of which 20 are part of a government program to rescue the genetic stock of the Mapuche (are-ow-oo-KA-na) hen. Those hens give her about 140 eggs a week, enough that she can make a bit of money from selling the unusual eggs. She and her mother pick out the best hens and breed them.

ACT (Marquez)
Es mi mama que las que conoce a todos sus aves. Ella sabe cual pone azules, cual es buena mama, cual deja sus pollitos, todo se sabe todo. Y tiene todo identifica’.

My mother’s the one who really knows her birds. She knows which one lays blue eggs, which makes a good mother, which abandons her babies. She knows it all.

Yohanna is Mapuche. The Mapuches fought off the Spanish and kept their independence well into the 19th century. But one thing they lost long before that was the pure blood of their chickens, which may predate Spanish contact. Today, Yohanna is part of a breeding program to rescue a bit of that bloodline.


I visited with veterinarian Jaime Ortiz, who is the government coordinator of the breeding program. [AMBI 2 OFFICE UP] He is working with 64 indigenous families to rescue the genetics of the Mapuche chicken.

ACT (Ortiz)
Nosotros estamos rescantando la raza. No tenemos raza pura en este momento. Tenemos una raza muy mezclada. Nosotros de aquí a 3 años, pretendemos quedar en un 70% de pureza de la raza, que yo creo es lo mas puro que vamos a alcanzar.

We’re rescuing the breed. We don’t have a pure breed. At this point we have a very mixed breed. In three years, we’re hoping to have a 70 percent purity in the breed, which is as pure as I think we’re going to get.

The problem is that there are birds all over the world carrying the special Chilean genes for blue eggs. That’s a challenge for farmers in the program, who want to convince buyers that their eggs are something special.

ACT (Ortiz)
Vamos por un mercado gourmet, los restaurantes, gente con mucho poder adquisitivo. Y puede pagar un 50% mas por un huevo pero saber que estan comiendo un huevo diferente.

We’re going for the gourmet market, the restaurants, people with more disposable income, and who can pay 50 percent more for an egg if they know they’re eating a something unique.


Just to describe these eggs. They are often a bit more green, and the colors can be very pale. Inside the shell, they look like any other egg. And the hens live just like other chickens. In fact, Ortiz says industrial growers have started selling blue eggs from factory farms.


This is the market in Puerto Montt. It’s a major trading post for Patagonia and the agricultural lands of southern Chile. There are bins full of the blue eggs. A truck-driver named Alejandro Arias says he doesn’t care that the eggs are indigenous to the area — he just believes they are healthier.

These are natural farm eggs, so you need to buy them. They’re better for the kids, natural, healthy.

The government is looking into how to protect the blue eggs’ genetic line so they can ensure that these natural Easter eggs always live up to their healthy reputation, and don’t come from factory farms.


Back at Johanna Marquez’s farm, these peeping chicks may already have more Mapuche chicken genes than any bird that’s pecked the earth in centuries.

ACT (Marquez):
Eso es lo que queremos po, es salir al mundo. Y tambien hacer un negocio po, porque somos del campo y queremos vivimos de esto igual y tener para sostenter a las gallinas, a las mismas aves, y hace una economia de nuestras casa tambien. La idea es rescatar igual la gallina mapuche por nuestra cultura. Ocupanos de ese igual. Si no, se pierde y despues, se pierde hartas cosas. Hay tantas animales que se han extinguido, y queremos rescatar esto.

We want this to get out into the world. And to become a business, because we’re from the country and want to live off this and have what it takes to maintain the birds themselves and the economies of our homes as well. The idea is to rescue the Mapuche hen for our culture. Otherwise it’s lost, and so many things have been lost. So many animals have gone extinct. We want to rescue this.

And if they do, pale blue Easter eggs will become easier to find.
For Monocle, near Rio Negro, Chile, I’m Steven Bodzin.


About Steven Bodzin

Steven Bodzin is a reporter. He blogged when he was a freelancer.

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