Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leghorns - An egg-laying legend

Leghorns have become my favorite chicken. They're not particularly cuddly -- in fact, they're a little flighty and panicky -- but for egg-laying capacity, they can not be beaten. I keep a mixed flock of leghorns and several other breeds, and so it's pretty easy to compare the leghorn against the barred Plymouth rock or the Rhode island red, so here's the rundown of the breed as I see it.
The first thing you should probably know about the white leghorn is that this is the smartest chicken in your flock. You can see the wheels turning in their heads, and if there's a way to get out of the coop, or get into the food sooner, or get into a place that a chicken shouldn't be, that's where you'll find the leghorn.
Now that's not to say that chickens can be compared to other animals in intelligence - it is a chicken after all - but the leghorn is the mental giant of the flock.
I had a sack of feed in my parking area; I unloaded it from my trailer, but had to go pick up some other stuff before I could put it away. So the supersack of feed sat for a few hours one afternoon. Coming back, I found it FILLED with leghorns. Stuffed so completely with leghorns that the bottom ones were getting killed by the weight of leghorns above. All of the other chickens were still trying to figure out what was going on, but the leghorns had it nailed... well, as far as leghorns think. They're not really good on future tense. "How can I eat food this instant" is pretty much a leghorn thought. "I might die in 5 minutes if I get into the bag with 55 other leghorns" is too much of a leap for a leghorn.
Leghorns come in a variety of colors, but they all have that upright stance and general body shape and weight. Here's a pearl white leghorn hen and a red leghorn rooster. The red leghorn is also a pretty smart bird; I keep him mainly for decoration. Leghorns really don't have much meat on them, so they're not really worth eating.
Here's a white leghorn hen next to an meat chicken of the same age. the meat chicken weighs in at 6lbs live weight. the leghorn is around 2lbs.
Leghorns do great on forage, but given their lack of foresight I have to watch that they don't put themselves in harms way. Running after the tractor and scratching in the plowed dirt behind it is great. Figuring out which way the tractor is going and waiting in front of it, not so good.
A good white leghorn hen will produce 300 eggs a year. They'll lay a month sooner and a month after every other breed. Their lower body weight means that they don't have the calorie needs that larger breeds do, but produce eggs that are just as big. They're a very efficient way to turn feed into eggs.
The only drawback is convincing customers that white eggs can be free range, and organic. Most customers have been led to believe that free range eggs are brown, and that's that. Which is a pity. I'd like to see more farms adopt leghorns as part or all of their laying flock.


sheila said...

If you want cuddly get Buff Orpingtons. They are the friendliest birds I've ever raised. Egg production isn't very good, but I don't care, I'll end up with too many eggs for my house anyway. I've had Leghorns in the past and my kids hated how jumpy and crazy they were and I couldn't keep them out of the garden either. Plus we ended up with so many eggs that it was ridiculous.

Production Reds or the sex linked breeds are the way to go if your customers can't be convinced that white eggs are just as good. Either that or you get to be the one to educate your customer base about your flock of free ranging white egg layers, AKA Leghorns.

Emily said...

We couldn't have too many eggs around here. Leghorns would sound pretty good, but with small kids and long cold winters I think they might be too flighty. I've been pretty impressed with the sex linked breeds, and we enjoy the various colors of brown. It is unfortunate that white eggs are so misunderstood.

damae said...

Amazing how easily people are programmed. I had a leghorn once, it was my son's favorite chicken. Dunno why, he just made a decision. A dog killed it and have never gotten around to getting another.

Anonymous said...

I have 6 white leghorns - 5 hens and one rooster ( plus a black austrlorpe which was swapped for my other rooster). My leghorns are very beautiful and friendly and so much fun to watch. I put food toys in their run and watch them work out how to get the food - doesn't take them long!
I think they are the best breed, much more fun than other breeds!

Trish said...

Well, I run free range chickens and the majority of my flock is leghorns. It is my experience that they are the perfect bird for true free ranging, as you say they are great food converters, extremely intelligent and are useful in teaching other breeds what a chicken should do.

People are coming back to white eggs, once they taste them the quality of the egg talks for itselg. Go the leghorns

Trish said...

I run a free range egg place in the New England (Au), where the temps range from -20C to 30C, I run many leghorns and leghorn crosses. These birds are perfect for free ranging, they are great at teaching other breeds how to be a chicken in terms of foraging and roosting. I find them a prefect bird in terms of egg laying and size!. It ismy experience that people are coming back to white eggs, initially the sell on brown eggs overrode, but I now find more and mroe people asking for the ;'white' eggs. I also have no problem with the leghorns or crosses around the grankids so letting them truly free range does work! I cannot keep up with the supply of leghorn crosses that people are asking for so goooo the leghorns ! As far as personality I would not go past my leghorns or aracunas :)

panhead said...

I have leghorns in a mixed flock with barred rocks and americaunas. I hope to sell eggs in dozens with mixed colors to convince people that white eggs are no different than brown or blue-green eggs. Anyone have this experience. Leghorn lover.