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In Northern Italy, near the port of Leghorn, were to be found a landrace of fowls, known as Livornese, that were smallish in body, but which lay very many eggs. In 1852, Captain Gates entered the harbor at Mystic, CT, and arrived with the first importation of Leghorn chickens that were to be ancestors of today’s flocks. The birds were what we now call Brown in color. In 1853 F.J. Kinney received an importation of Brown Leghorns at Boston Harbor, while Mr. Simpson received a shipment of White Leghorns. From this point forward Leghorn chickens began to win America’s heart.
Leghorns are active, even ambitious chickens. They are always willing to work, hunting and scratching, giving no prejudice to flower beds or dunghill; if there is scratching to be done, Leghorns are the chickens for the job. On range they are splendid foragers and small eaters. The breed is prolific, highly fertile, and hardy. Leghorn chickens lay very large numbers of white eggs – in fact, they lay as well or better than other breeds. It is the combination of hardiness, rate-of-lay, and small appetite that about 1870 turned American poultrymen’s heads and won the Leghorn chicken lasting popularity.
The first Leghorn chickens came to England from America. Mr. Tegetmeier imported White Leghorns in 1870 and Lewis Wright imported Brown Leghorns in 1872. English breeders embraced the breed for its excellent laying ability, but they did not value its small appetite and smallish size as Americans did. So Minorca chickens were crossed into the English Leghorns to increase the breed’s size – much closer to that of a dual-purpose farm fowl. And thus English Leghorns came back across the Atlantic to America to help fuel the transition of farm fowl to commercial poultry industry, about 1910 and onward.
During the early part of the 1900s, poultrymen were concerned with beauty as well as production. The Leghorn, with its spritely carriage, long flowing curves, and long flowing tail certainly resembles a living work of art. But soon a rift in the poultry industry occurred. There quickly formed two camps of thought – those that believed production was the only measure of worth; and those that believed form and function should be maintained together.
Today a majority of Leghorns are of the industrial type and dominate white egg production in America. The remaining non-industrial Leghorn chickens are in the hands of small breeders all across the country and still retain their foraging and productive nature. The breed offers many wonderful attributes: high rate of egg production; high level of fertility; hardiness; vigor; chicks are easy to raise and feather quickly; the breed can be raised on almost any soil type.
Leghorn chickens were admitted to the American Poultry Association’s standard in these varieties: Single Comb Light Brown and Dark Brown, 1874; Single Comb White, 1874; Single Comb Black, 1874; Rose Comb Light Brown and Rose Comb Dark Brown, 1883; Rose Comb White, 1886; Single Comb Buff, 1894; Single Comb Silver, 1894; Single Comb Red, Single Comb Black-Tailed Red, and Single Comb Columbian, 1929; Rose Comb Black, Rose Comb Buff, Rose Comb Silver, and Single Comb Golden Duckwing, 1981. Males weigh 6 lbs and females weigh 4.5 lbs. Depending on the strain they can lay between 150 up to 300 eggs a year.