The present study investigated the effects of xanthophyll supplementation on production performance, antioxidant capacity (measured by glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, total antioxidant capacity (T-AOC), and reduced glutathione:oxidised glutathione ratio (GSH:GSSG)) and lipid peroxidation (measured by malondialdehyde (MDA)) in breeding hens and chicks. In Expt 1, 432 hens were fed diets supplemented with 0 (control group), 20 or 40 mg xanthophyll/kg diet. Blood samples were taken at 7, 14, 21, 28 and 35 d of the trial. Liver and jejunal mucosa were sampled at 35 d. Both xanthophyll groups improved serum SOD at 21 and 28 d, serum T-AOC at 21 d and liver T-AOC, and serum GSH:GSSG at 21, 28 and 35 d and liver GSH:GSSG. Xanthophylls also decreased serum MDA at 21 d in hens. Expt 2 was a 2 × 2 factorial design. Male chicks hatched from 0 or 40 mg in ovo xanthophyll/kg diet of hens were fed a diet containing either 0 or 40 mg xanthophyll/kg diet. Liver samples were collected at 0, 7, 14 and 21 d after hatching. Blood samples were also collected at 21 d. In ovo-deposited xanthophylls increased antioxidant capacity and decreased MDA in the liver mainly within 1 week after hatching. Maternal effects gradually vanished during 1–2 weeks after hatching. Dietary xanthophylls increased antioxidant capacity and decreased MDA in the liver and serum mainly from 2 weeks onwards. Data suggested that xanthophyll supplementation enhanced antioxidant capacity and reduced lipid peroxidation in different tissues of hens and chicks.