Leghorns

by
Sheila Holligon
Costa del Sol, Spain

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2000, 5(4):8-9

The current British Standard lists the Leghorn as being Mediterranean, a light, soft feather breed which lays white eggs. The Leghorn originally came from Italy, and the first specimens of the White variety reached the UK from America round about 1870, with the Brown Leghorn following it two years later. These early specimens were small compared to today's birds, but UK breeders began to cross them with Minorcas and Malays, with the result that the Leghorn weight was then brought up to the heavy breeds of that time. After the war years in Britain, commercial and utility breeders produced a variety of Leghorn of their own, which is the one currently popular. The White Leghorn had proved invaluable in the breeding of egg-producing hybrids.

In the 1930s the Leghorn was a very popular breed, demonstrated by the fact that the Players set of cigarette cards produced then included four cards showing Leghorns -- the White, Buff, Brown and Black. The reverse of the cards describes the breed with enthusiasm, saying that "Leghorns, without doubt, hold first place among light breeds. They stand confinement very well, but are at their best where they can forage for themselves. They hold very good records in egg-laying tests: the eggs are large in proportion to the size of the bird, and should be pure white." The breed was also included in the Anglian Mixture set of cards from 1927, which show three varieties -- the Brown, Black and White, describing how the breed is distinguished by large white earlobes, pure yellow legs and a sprightly bearing. There has always been a very great variety of colours in this breed, and both these sets of cards describe them as numerous, with the Players set speaking of sixteen standard colours while the Anglian Mixture set mentions thirteen. The current British Standard lists the existing colours of the Leghorn as Black, Blue, Brown, Buff, Cuckoo, Golden Duckwing, Silver Duckwing, Exchequer, Mottled, Partridge, Pyle and White.

In all these colours and in both sexes, the beak should be yellow or horn coloured, the eyes red, the comb, face and wattles a bright red and the earlobes pure opaque white or cream, with white being the preferred colour. Legs and feet should be yellow or orange, and the Leghorn Bantam follows the Large Fowl standard in all respects. Carriage is very sprightly and alert, but without any stiltiness and is well balanced. The body must be wide at the shoulders and narrowing slightly to the root of the tail, and the breast is round and full, with large wings, tightly carried and well tucked up. The head is again well balanced with a fine skull, a short beak and prominent eyes, whilst the comb can be single or rose. The neck is long, carried upright, and the legs are also moderately long. There are four toes, well spread, and the plumage is silky without excessive feathering. The female's characteristics are similar to those of the male, allowing for the natural sexual differences.

The Leghorn Club in the UK was one of the earliest, being established in 1875, when there were separate clubs for the different colours, a sign of how many Leghorns there must have been at that time. During the years of the first and second world wars, numbers did drop but with the growth of the modern hybrid as a commercial layer in the early 1950s, the Leghorn once more came into its own and played a very large role, proving its value as a very high egg producer which needed only a small food intake. These qualities have been retained to the present time, and although breeding for exhibition has ensured the continuation of many early breeds which would have otherwise disappeared, the Leghorn is one breed which has continued to do the job which poultry was kept for in the first place -- to lay a plentiful supply of eggs. And its qualities in that respect went into the autosexing researches of the 1930s in the UK when the Gold Legbar and the Cream Legbar were introduced -- birds typical of the Leghorns of the 1920s, small and laying heavily.

Here in the UK, David Applegarth from Beverly in East Yorkshire is doing excellent work with Autosexing breeds, which are now experiencing a revival of interest, working with stock linked back directly to the Cambridge University programme of autosexing breeds of the 1930s. The Cream Legbar is a very rare breed now, made in 1930 with birds from Chile, which passed into the Leghhorn cream plummage, a crest on the head and blue eggs. The value of autosexing is that the chicks can be sexed at hatching, with the down colour of the pullet chicks of the Legbar being dark brown with three black stripes whilst the male chicks are much paler with a "washed out" looking down. David Applegarth is always ready to help with information and possibly stock for anyone interested in how the Leghorn was developed here in the UK into the Legbar breeds. His address is as follows: David Applegarth, Uplands, Walkington, Beverly, East Yorkshire, HU17 8SP England. For those admirers of the Leghorn who want to start up with stock in the US, there are two clubs for you to contact. AMERICAN BROWN LEGHORN CLUB, Don T. Schrider, Secretary Treasurer, 13794 Hollowell Church Road, Waynesboro, PA 17268 USA and AMERICAN WHITE LEGHORN CLUB, Ted Schwabrow, 334 Moonlawn Road, Troy, NY 12180 USA. The logo of the Brown Leghorn Club shows a pair of Leghorns over a large egg with the phrase "More eggs." It is good to see that the value and utility of the Leghorn is still being retained so long after the variety was introduced to the American Standard as far back as 1874.


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