Chickens Bred for Egg-Laying
Like the Rhode Island Red chicken breed, the Leghorn chicken has been developed especially for egg production. The Leghorn is lighter and more active than dual purpose or meat bird breeds. It is one of the smallest breeds of chicken.
Although the Leghorn chicken originated in Italy, most of its development and improvement has taken place elsewhere. The Leghorn chicken was first shipped to Connecticut, America in 1853. It left from a port on the sea of 'Ligurian' in Italy and it is believed that 'Leghorn' is an Anglicisation of 'Ligurian'. It was first known as the Italian chicken.
The White Leghorn is highly regarded as a prolific layer and is one of the most popular breeds for commercial egg production, although the other colours are just as prolific.
The Leghorn lays around 280 eggs per annum. The red jungle fowl is believed to be the ancestor of all domestic chickens and the mix of brown and orange plumage of the Brown Leghorn is reminiscent of the plumage of its ancestors. This colouring gave effective camouflage against predators. It has also retained good survival instincts and will happily roost high in the treetops overnight. It flies much better than most poultry breeds, being light and agile. This makes them more likely to escape from predators when on free range.
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The Leghorn is an ideal bird for free range, being active, noisy, energetic. If they have adequate space, they will rarely need supplementary feeding. If kept in an unroofed fowl yard, the wings of the Leghorn will need to be clipped. Clipping one wing will unbalance the bird if it tries to fly and will be more effective than clipping both wings.
The Leghorn rarely goes broody and lays large, white eggs. In 1920, a breeder of Leghorns won the Great American Egg Laying Contest. Breed standards were drawn up in 1871 and the American Brown Leghorn Club founded in 1901. During 1938, young Brown Leghorn cockerels were the only chickens served to diners by the Pullman Coach Company.
They have a long productive life and an efficient conversion rate of feed to energy. The cocks weigh around 6 pounds and the hens about 4.5 pounds and there is a bantam version. Single and rose combs (both types may flop to the side) are found on Leghorns.
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Today there are a number of varieties. As well as the common White, Light Brown and Dark Brown Leghorns, buff, red, blue, barred, exchequer, Columbian and others are found. Both the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association recognise a number of different varieties. The types are furthered divided by the type of comb. The Dark Brown is a glossy deep mahogany with dark red and green-black highlights. The Light Brown cock is a mix of orange, bright red and green-black glossy plumage while the hen is a warm olive brown with a rich, salmon-pink breast.
As a backyard bird, the Leghorn is fast-growing and makes a good table bird for a family. Nowadays they are regarded as too small for commercial production as table birds.