Leghorns get a bum rap February 18, 2012
Most backyarders and chicken fanciers just don’t like White Leghorns. They’re too plain, many feel; too bourgeois; too flighty; too poorly suited for cold weather. Folks want breeds with heritage, highfalutin parentage, and varieties with lots of color. Unusual combs and feathered feet or crested heads are preferable. Birds that lay tinted eggs are all the rage — pink, olive, chocolate, blue! Leghorns and their white eggs are as common as a penny, and have been for a hundred years.
Plus, with so many of us only able to have 4 or 6 or 12 birds in our urban and suburban lots, is it worth allocating a spot on the roster to the “boring” White Leghorn?
Just like you, I go crazy for new and exciting breeds, particularly if they lay a beautiful-colored egg. Every day, invariably, a contended sigh escapes as I ogle my egg basket complete with chocolate-brown eggs from my Penedesencas and Black Copper Marans; green and blue eggs from my Easter Eggers, Splash Ameraucana and Favaucana; medium and light brown eggs from my Cochin, Rhode Island Red and Red Star; cream-colored egg laid by my lone Silkie.
But I have such respect and love for Leghorns.
First, they’re smart — the smartest birds I’ve had, by far. My first year with chickens, a neighbor complained about the flock hopping the fence, so I erected a camping-style screen tent. Each day I’d move the tent to fresh pasture and carry in the girls one-by-one from the coop. The White Leghorn figured out how to escape in about 32 seconds. The first two weeks I tried different ways to keep her in, and each day, it took her, oh… 32 seconds to find a new escape route. Once I realized that she’d figured out the mechanics of the tent, and nothing short of pouring concrete would keep her enclosed, I stopped trying. I just let her have her way. Meanwhile, the other girls weren’t even smart enough to piggyback on her jailbreak. They’d just chase her around the edges of the tent hoping they’d magically be transported outside, too.
I thought it might have been just that particular bird (who finally passed away this past summer at the ripe age of 6, bless her heart, victim to an attack by a @&#!! raccoon), but my newest White Leghorn is a smartypants, too. That’s what we’ve named her, actually. Smartypants. This fall, a wicked fall snow storm caused part of our run to cave in, but of all our birds, only she figured out how to use the cave-in to her advantage and escape. To her credit, the Ancona was clever enough to join her after a few days. Alas, the rest of the flock apathetically lollygags in the run until we let them out to join the advanced-placement Mediterranean birds at midday.
Another reason Leghorns rule? They lay eggs EARLY. I’m talking 17, 18, 19 weeks. When the rest of your flock is still looking like a bunch of juvvies, the Leghorns are churning ‘em out. So many of them are double-yolk “twins” in those first months, too – a fun surprise. Leghorns keep popping out those eggs solidly for a few years, and amazingly, the eggs which started out extra-large attain jumbo status. By the end of their productivity, you cringe wondering how on earth a bird that small pushed out something that big.
And while Leghorns were bred in Italy to withstand the heat, and people SAY they are not cold-hardy, we live in New England, and with no insulation, no supplemental heat, and not even a dab of petroleum jelly for those combs on even the coldest nights, none of our birds have ever suffered a speck of frostbite in seven winters. Go figure.
I won’t lie — I twitch in excitement weeks before I acquire new and unusual breeds of my own. I’m not nearly as excited about new Leghorn chicks. Been there, done that. But I never fail to be pleased at the hens they become. Mine have been universally friendly and docile to humans and chickens alike, the first to crouch down and let us dole out some love. And let’s not forget — those beautiful green, blue, and chocolate brown eggs we all adore so much wouldn’t be nearly as striking without a bright white egg by their side to show them off.
With that, I raise my glass. Here’s to you, my friend the Leghorn.
(Readers: I’m interested to hear YOUR Leghorn thoughts and stories, too! Please share!)