Standard Varieties of Chickens:


Leghorns (fig. 17) are the best known of the egg-producing varieties of Mediterranean class. They are the premiers in laying and the standard by which the prolificacy of other breeds is judged. Of the origin of the Leghorn fowl there are differences of opinion, and there is but little information to be found anywhere concerning their early history. It is generally conceded that a race of fowls bearing a close resemblance in many respects to the Leghorn has existed in Italy and other parts of the Continent of Europe for a long period. That this race of fowls has been widely disseminated admits also of little doubt, inasmuch as at the present day the breed is known in Denmark and other countries as Italians. There seems to be good ground for the statement that Leghorns were first introduced into America from Italy. The story goes that as early as 1834 a vessel from Leghorn, Italy, brought to this country as a part of its cargo a small shipment of fowls, which were at once named "Leghorns." They immediately became popular, their prolific laying and nonsitting qualities being recognized at this early date.

FIG. 17. - Single-comb White Leghorn cock.

White and Brown Leghorns were the first varieties known. Modern breeders are responsible for some of the subvarieties of the breed, and, in point of color at least, exhibition birds of today, even the older varieties, vary considerably from those seen at the present time in Italy.

The Leghorn fowl holds the same place among poultry that the Jersey holds among cattle. The question of profit in poultry has been decided in favor of egg-producing breeds. They are lively, active, and of a restless disposition, the best of foragers, and will pick up a good part of their living during the year. Leghorns are light eaters and the cost of raising them to maturity is about one-half that of the Asiatic varieties. They mature early, feather quickly, the pullets often begin laying when 4 months old, and cockerels crow at the same age. They are the best layers, averaging between 150 and 200 eggs per year. Their eggs are pure white in color, and weight about 10 to the pound (.45 kg). As table fowls they are fairly good. By many they are considered excellent. The only thing that can be said against them is that they are small in size. Altogether, they are one of the most profitable breeds of poultry that can be kept upon the farm, and the cheapness of their keeping will allow the raising of two Leghorns for the cost of one Asiatic. They must be warmly housed in winter to lay well and to protect their pendulous wattles from frostbite.

FIG. 18. - Head of Single-comb Brown Leghorn cock.

In shape a Leghorn cock (fig. 18) should be graceful; body, round and plump, broad at the shoulders, and tapering toward the tail. The tail should be well balanced on a fair length of shank and thigh; the length of leg giving the bird its sprightly and proud carriage. Closeness of feathering adds to the general shape and secures a freedom from angles which always proclaims the pure bred, typical specimen. The breast should be full, beautifully curved, rather prominent, and carried well forward. Neck, long, well arched, and carried erect; back, of medium length, with saddle rising in a sharp, concave weep to the tail; tail, large, full, carried upright; the full, flowing tail, and long, well-curved sickles are characteristics of the bird that are much thought of. The wing is long, well folded, and tightly carried. Hackle and saddle feathers, long and abundant and flowing well over the shoulder and saddle. The legs are bright yellow in color and free from feathers; toes also yellow, but a dark shade on the same is allowable. The head is the prettiest portion of the bird, being short and deep, yellow beak, full, bright-red eyes, and bright-red face. The comb is single, of medium size, perfectly straight and upright upon the head, free from side sprigs, deeply serrated with five or six points, and bright-red in color. The comb should extend well back over the head, with no tendency to follow the shape of the neck. Earlobes, white, or creamy white.

FIG. 19. - Head of Single-comb Brown Leghorn hen.

The Leghorn hen in many respects resembles the cock, excepting carriage of comb and sexual differences. In shape and carriage the hen is even more graceful and sprightly than the cock, very close in feather, and rather small in body, though somewhat long in back. Her breast is full, very round, and carried high; legs fairly long, and shanks think; tail carried closely and well up. The general carriage should be upright. Her comb is the marvel of her beauty; it is single and falls gracefully to one side, but not in a limp manner, or so as to obscure the sight. Fig. 19 shows an ideal comb of Leghorn female Legs, comb, and face are the same color as in the male, but the earlobe is much smaller and more round in shape.

There are six standard varieties of Leghorn: Black, Brown, Buff, Dominique, Silver Duckwing, and White.

The Black Leghorn is a popular bird, and a favorite with those who are partial to their color of plumage. The Black Leghorn is mistaken by many for the Black Minorca, but is, however, quite different in type. The Minorca is larger in size, has a longer body, larger comb, and dark slate or nearly black shanks and toes. The plumage of the Black Leghorn is a rich glossy black throughout. Comb, face, and wattles, bright red; earlobes white; and shanks yellow, or yellowish black.

FIG. 20. - Single-comb Brown Leghorn cock.

The Brown Leghorn (fig. 20) is one of the prettiest, as well as the most bred of the Leghorn varieties. It is the most difficult of them all to breed to feather. They have merited the confidence of poultry lovers for a long time and their hardy constitutions have thwarted rough usage and promiscuous interbreeding to efface their characteristics. They are a fixed breed and their merits are noticeable from the newly hatched chick to the oldest specimen; they are stamped with the indelibility of royalty only to be found in a thoroughbred.

FIG. 21. - Feathers of Brown Leghorns: a) back and hackle of female; b) hackle and wing feather of male.

In mating Brown Leghorns opposites must be considered. Should the male be fine in all points except comb or leg, select females strong in this point to mate with him. The most successful breeders use a double mating, one pen to produce exhibition birds of each sex. Fine birds, both cockerels and pullets, can be bred from the same pen by using slightly different types of females. The same male often will breed the finest of both exhibition cockerels and pullets, but it is a rare case to have a female breed both sexes of a remarkable quality. When two pens are used, at the head of the pen mated to produce the cockerels place a fully developed cock with no serious fault, standard color, especially strong in comb, lobe, hackle, and saddle, a dark undercolor preferred. To him mate hens of a shade darker than standard, with small, evenly serrated standing combs; a trifle brick on wings is no objection, as it will give a brighter color on wing bows of the cockerels. Shafting on the back will also help that black stripe in the saddles. The pullets raised from this pen will be too dark for exhibition, but they will be a great help in breeding cockerels the next season. The male at the head of the pen mated to produce the pullets should be from a pullet strain, and bred directly from an exhibition hen. His color is a trifle light, comb large, but evenly serrated; if thin near the top, all the better; hackle well striped (see fig. 21), but none in saddle may be light gray or white; wing bows should show more purple than red, as too much red shows signs of being bred from a bricky hen. To him mate exhibition females having light brown penciled with darker brown on back and wings, all one shade, free from shafting on back and brick on wings. These hens should have the large comb, lying over, but firm and strong on the head, so it does not lie close to the eye and face. The cockerels raised from this mating are the birds to use for breeding females the next year. By breeding Brown Leghorns in this manner we have two distinct lines of blood, and they should never be crossed.

FIG. 22. - Buff Leghorn cockerel.

The Buff Leghorn (fig. 22) is the most recent acquisition to the Mediterranean class. It is a beautiful bird, and one that will win its way wherever bred. Buff-colored birds have many admirers, and those who have bred them are pronounced in their praise of their qualities. Besides having the general characteristics of the Leghorn type, the Buff Leghorn cock has rich buff-colored hackle and saddle, in shade from lemon to cinnamon, but of even solid color in keeping with the rest of the plumage; the back and wing bow exactly match the plumage; tail is of the same general tint, but richer, deeper buff is preferable, the standard giving for tail a rich, deep buff or copperish-bronze. The remainder of the plumage is of a slightly lighter shade, but even in color throughout, with no semblance to a patchy or mottled plumage. White and black feathers in plumage are objectionable; solid white or solid black feathers will disqualify the bird. The hen is of the same color as the cock.

Dominique Leghorns are not so generally known. Their color is much like that of the American Dominique and Barred Plymouth Rock, and is what is known as "Cuckoo" by English breeders. The body color is grayish white, each feather regularly crossed with parallel bars of blue-black, producing the effect of a bluish-tinged plumage. This color is the same throughout. The ground color of each feather is a clear, light-bluish gray. The shanks and toes are bright yellow and eyes bright red in color.

Silver Duckwing Leghorns are not generally bred in this country, though they are frequently seen in the showrooms. They are considered as profitable as any of the other Leghorn varieties, and in point of beauty they are very interesting and fascinating. They take the name "Duckwing" from the similarity of the steel-blue wing bar to that of the Mallard or Wild Duck, the name being first given to a variety of games - the Silver Duckwing Game. The hackle and saddle feathers of a Silver Duckwing Leghorn cock are pure silvery white, with out the slightest straw or creamy tinge, with a narrow black stripe along the center of the lower hackle feathers. Back, saddle, wing bow and wing bay pure white; breast, under-parts, wing bar, and tail, dense lustrous black. The Silver Duckwing Leghorn hen has a silvery gray hackle, with a narrow black stripe through the center of each feather. The breast is light salmon, shading off to gray toward the sides; the body color when viewed at a short distance should appear gray with a faint bluish tint all over. A tendency to ruddy gray, either in ground color or penciling, is objectionable. The tail is black or dark brown, except the two upper feathers, which are light tray. The penciling or markings are irregular or wavy.

The White Leghorn, like the Brown, is the more generally bred of the Leghorn varieties. It is, no doubt, the most advantageous variety to breed for profit, and the easiest to raise on the farm. Being of one color in plumage they are more successfully raised and cared for than the parti-colored varieties. Their plumage is pure white throughout, and feathers other than white will disqualify them. It has been a matter of much speculation as to which variety of Leghorns is most prolific in egg production. This is a difficult question to properly adjust to the satisfaction of the specialty breeders, but from a conservative standpoint it is generally considered that the Whites have slightly the advantage over the others. Phenomenal individual egg records have been made by most all the varieties, but the above opinion is advanced from the general results obtained from various sources.

FIG. 23. - Rose-comb White Leghorn cockerel.

There are subvarieties in Brown and White Leghorns - the Rose-comb Brown and the Rose-comb White. The only distinguishing difference between the last named and the other varieties is in the comb. The Rose-comb White and Rose-comb Brown Leghorns have a small rose comb (see fig. 23), square in front, firm and even upon the head, tapering evenly from front to rear, without inclining to one side, the top comparatively flat and covered with small points or corrugations, terminating in a well-developed spike in the rear. There is no standard weight given for Leghorns.


The first three images below come from the Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science's Poultry Breeds pages. The fourth image is from the FeatherSite, "an on-line zoological garden of domestic poultry". The Leghorns page at Oklahoma and the Leghorns page at FeatherSite contain further information about this breed's history and more images of these fowl. Clicking on each image takes you to the page specifically about that particular variety.

Single Comb Dark Brown Leghorn Single Comb White Leghorn Rose Comb Buff Leghorn White Leghorn Hen

Image Credits (from left to right): Copyright © 1996, Oklahoma State University Board of Regents; Copyright © 1996, Oklahoma State University Board of Regents; Copyright © 1996, Oklahoma State University Board of Regents; Courtesy of Barry Koffler

Please note: These links point to pages that are being served off of the Oklahoma State University's web server and off the web server, which are not part of the Chickscope project. Because of this, the pages may be missing or corrupted, and control of this is generally out of the hands of the Chickscope development team.

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