Of all the numerous breeds of poultry, the Leghorn is one of the best known from the children’s cartoon character “Foghorn Leghorn”.
It has also been extensively used in the creation of many of our laying flocks of fowl across the world as the Leghorn was regarded as one of the best laying breeds of large white shelled eggs.
Flocks of this breed were used initially as laying flocks. Then they were crossed with other breeds to produce first cross laying flocks, such as Rhode Island Red.
Over the years hybrid flocks were produced purely for egg production with some of these strains still resembling the Leghorn.
The Leghorn is an Italian fowl breed and first came to the UK from America in 1870.
The first colour to arrive was the white Leghorn, followed two years later by the brown Leghorn.
When the breed first came to the UK they were small but, through selective breeding with Minorca and Malay fowl, the breed greatly increased in size.
Now standardised as a light breed, Leghorn cock birds standard weight is 7.5lbs, with the females 2lbs lighter.
With the development of hybrid laying fowl, sadly the Standard bred Leghorn is no longer kept on a commercial basis but only by the poultry hobbyist and exhibitors.
Although not listed as a rare breed, it is indeed at risk as it is now only in the hands of a few poultry enthusiasts.
Although there are 18 standard colours, they don’t appear in large numbers at local shows and when they do it is only in a few of these colours.
The bantam version would appear in much larger numbers at shows.
Although I have been involved in pure bred poultry keeping since the 1970s, and as a child kept Leghorns for a couple of years, I only started keeping the breed again a few years ago in order to conserve them here and help the handful of local Leghorn keepers.
I’m keeping them in white and brown and working on other colours and have been trying to develop a Rosecomb variety, as they are even more scarce than the single combed variety.
In future poultry page articles we will speak to established Leghorn keepers.
For me the Standard Leghorn is a wonderful breed to keep. Yes, they are active and described as flighty, but I’ve found with plenty of human interaction they become a docile, friendly breed, whose heads are often in the feed bucket at feeding time.
As I often say, “everyday is a school day”. This is certainly true about the Leghorn as I have learnt a lot of valuable information from some of the top Leghorn breeders who helped me obtain quality stock and I must thank them for their help and passing on their amazing knowledge of this breed to me.
If you are considering keeping the breed for showing you need at least two breeding pens for each colour you keep as exhibition males have straight combs and females have combs that fall over on one side of their face.
Consequently, so you need a cock breeding pen to produce straight combed cockerels and a pullet breeding pen to produce the correct females.
If keeping coloured varieties of this breed other factors for the correct plumage colour has to be considered.
From my own experience the brown Leghorn cockerel is one of the most wonderful looking birds and is often sought by poultry keepers to place with their assortment of laying hens.
If you are looking at keeping an old breed for egg production this is the one for you as they lay a large amount of white shelled eggs.
If you are looking to preserve an old poultry variety why not look at the Leghorn breed.