Background On The Brown Leghorn Chicken

The leghorn is a lightweight, long tailed breed of chicken originating in Italy and highly refined in this country. It is known for its production of large white eggs. The poultry breeders of the last century created many varieties of leghorns. The American Brown Leghorn Club, incorporated in 1901, promotes the breeding and showing of light and dark brown leghorns in both the standard and bantam (miniature) types.

In the brown leghorn we find a rare balance between beauty and productivity. The small farmer, the hobbyist and the fancier agree that this breed of chicken exceeds their expectations in the laying pen, in the showroom or just strutting around the yard. Over 140 years of careful selection have ensured an overall high level of quality in today's birds.

Production: The egg industry today relies primarily on white leghorns for the eggs sold in grocery stores and used in restaurants. High productivity is a quality shared by brown and white leghorns alike, and while the brown's different colors make her undesirable to the factory farmer, for the smallholder they are an asset.

Brown leghorn breeders report consistently receiving large numbers of eggs from their pullets. The hens have been known to lay well into old age. Num-bers are not the whole story, however. A flock of hardy brown leghorns will maintain a high yield, even on forage alone. This is one of the premier free range breeds. They are lightly built, but sturdy: capable of moving swiftly and flying well to elude predators, but with a rugged frame that withstands the rigors of year round laying and supports a considerable quantity of meat for its size. On pasture particolored plumage particularly pleases passers by as well as providing protection for the pullet. The subtle earth tones help conceal the bird from predators. In fact, the light brown leghorn coloration is similar to the red jungle fowl, which is presumed to be the domestic chicken's wild ancestor. Given a suitable structure in which to roost and lay their eggs, leghorns will roam far and wide to procure their food during the day and return in the early evening. They also do well in a fenced enclosure, although if the birds' wings are not clipped the yard must be roofed or quite high to prevent them from flying out.

History of the Breed: The ancestors of the American brown leghorn appear to have arrived in Connecticut from Italy in 1853 and were known as "Italians." Widely bred in New England from that time onward, they were first called "leghorns" at Worcester, Massachusetts in 1865. This was a time when Americans were exploring the potentials of breeds from around the world to improve the domestic stock. Lightweight, active Mediterranean breeds, such as the leghorn, the minorca and the ancona were highly sought after for the year round production of white eggs. In those days the farm flock produced meat for the table as well. The leghorn breed, although not extremely fleshy, provided high quality, fast growing fryers for Sunday dinner. In fact, through 1938 the Pullman Coach Company bought only brown leghorn cockerels for fried chicken served in their dining cars.

To ensure the purity of each valuable type of chicken, breeders elected in 1871 to agree upon breed standards and to organize poultry shows at which the individual birds could be judged against each other according to these accepted standards. By the turn of the century competition at these shows was intense. Equally intense were the laying contests held to determine the most productive breeds and strains. Some brown leghorn flocks were able to hold their own in both.

In 1920 one brown leghorn breeder was able to advertise that his famous strain won the Great American Egg Laying Contest with offspring from show birds that had won Best Display three years in a row at the nation's biggest poultry show at Madison Square Garden. These great lines are the foundation of today's birds.

As the brown leghorn was coming into its own, around the turn of the century, breeders prized darker, wine colored male birds while preferring a light olive brown female. This eventually gave rise to two separate varieties. The Dark Brown Leghorns, male and female, are a deep shade of mahogany, accented with fiery dark red and lustrous greenish black. The Light Brown female is a warm olive brown color over the back with a breast of rich salmon.

The light brown male sports a bold combination of orange, bright red and greenish black. The females of both varieties should be stippled subtly with a single comb dark brown hen darker color and both males are extremely glossy. Each variety was further divided between common or "single" combed birds and those with rose combs.

Bantams: Each of these four types was later reproduced in miniature or "bantam" form, thus increasing to eight the varieties we have today. Bantam leghorns can be as vigorous and hardy as their large counter-parts, and although they don't lay those large eggs, bantam breeders proudly say that three bantam eggs equal two large fowl eggs. Their size and thriftiness make bantams ideal for the backyard enthusiast.

The ABLC: The American Brown Leghorn Club was formed in 1901 declaring as its three objectives "to increase interest and demand for high quality brown leghorns; to disseminate information on reliable and successful methods of breeding, raising and manage-ment; to bring about united efforts, harmony, integrity and good fellowship in promoting the interests of brown leghorns." The club entertains special meets at poultry shows around the country and hosts an annual national meet which travels to a different region of the U.S. each year. In addition, the ABLC sponsors programs to interest people in brown leghorns and help get them started. Such programs include sources of stock and hatching eggs, newsletters, yearbooks, advertisements in various publications, and the distribution of fact-filled brochures.


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