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Raising brown leghorns.

At the tender age of three I could be found looking through the chicken wire fence of our neighbors, watching their chickens for hours. I was fascinated by the way they moved their heads and "talked" to each other.

Ten years later I found a little bantam hen along the roadside. She had fallen off the truck headed to the fair. My mom let me keep her. That began my keeping of poultry, something I have done off and on for eighteen years now.

I love purebred poultry. Thanks to the American Poultry Association, various breed clubs (like the American Brown Leghorn Club) and individual breeders, we still have access to a wealth of purebred poultry of diverse genetics.

I still find it amazing that some people order chicks every year. Keeping a cock and a few hens is inexpensive, and an easy way to sustainably produce your own eggs and meat. Some breeds that were once important to family farms still can be. I favor purebred varieties to hybrid for this one reason. Today we are too reliant on "factories" to supply us with everything. Why not chickens, too?

If you are interested in purebred chickens there are a few other things to know.

1: You can make a little cash by showing them at the local fairs.

2: A hybrid bird is worth up to $5; purebred birds can go for $10 to $20 each (and some few for up to $200 each).

3: You can produce your own chicks for pennies. A $30 incubator and you're in business for years. Or if you have a few broody hens, an incubator is unnecessary.

4: You can produce your own eggs and meat and know what's in them.

5: Your original stock is a one-time cost and you can count on consistent results year after year.

If you are interested in getting some purebred chickens, what breed should you consider? My favorite is the Brown Leghorn.

The Brown Leghorn comes in eight varieties: light brown and dark brown, which can be single comb or rose comb, bantam or large fowl.

The Light Brown Leghorn most closely resembles the basic black breasted red color pattern of the jungle fowl chickens are believed to descend from. The males are a brilliant orange-red shading to golden yellow on the neck with black breasts and long lustrous black tails. The females are a soft seal brown with fine stippling of a black or brown on the main body plumage. The female breast color is a warm salmon. Historically the light female was sought after for show purposes.

The dark brown is a deep shaded bird often appreciated by people with refined tastes. The male's neck and saddle feathers are lustrous green-black laced with a rich mahogany red. The female is mahogany brown with black stippling even on the breasts. Historically the dark male was sought after for show purposes.

Both color varieties evolved from the same original birds with the dark males and the light females winning at shows. In 1923 they were recognized as two separate varieties of Leghorn, and now light brown males and dark brown females may be shown.

They have been bred in both single and rose comb shapes, the rose comb being less likely to take frost damage during severe cold, due to the comb being lower on the head. However, single combs have been bred by fanciers in Canada for many years with great success.

In addition to these four color/comb possibilities, we now have the bantam versions as well as the large fowl. The bantams may even be more suited to urban areas, as neighbors are less likely to find them noticeable. The large fowl is still hard to beat for producing eggs and meat, both cheaply.

The eight varieties of Brown Leghorn "comprise a group characterized by great activity, hardiness, and prolific egg laying qualities. The females are "non-sitters," very few of them exhibiting a tendency to broodiness. Aside from the manifold points of beauty in type and color, their excellent productive qualities are valuable assets to the breed."(*) When you figure the cost of feeding Leghorns compared to larger varieties, Leghorns are without a doubt the best layers of any breed.

The chicks come striped like chipmunks, the dark brown chicks shading to almost chocolate. They are alert, active and love to race around the brooder box.

Brown Leghorn chicks grow quickly compared to most purebred chicks. Cockerels are fryer size in 3-1/2 to 4 months of age; pullets start to lay around 5 months of age. This is slower than today's Cornish/Rock cross that grows to fryer size in two months and roaster size in three months. But with Brown Leghorns you can raise your own chicks from your own stock!

And the flavor is much better (in my opinion). In fact, through 1938, the Pullman Coach Company bought only Brown Leghorn cockerels for the fried chicken served on their trains! So much for a Leghorn not being both a meat and egg fowl, though I feel one bird is good for about two grown adults (depending on the dish).

The standard weights for Brown Leghorns are: large fowl cock, 6 lbs.; hen, 4-1/2 lbs.; bantam cock, 38 oz.; bantam hen, 34 oz.

During the early 1900s it became a popular sideline (or mainline in some cases) to raise poultry to sell the eggs. Chickens were kept in houses on range and allowed to roam fields and woods to supplement their diets. No chickens can exceed the Brown Leghorn here! They are real hustlers, always moving about looking for something. Their natural color makes them harder for hawks and other predators to spot. Their active nature makes them more alert and wary. Their light frame and strong breast muscles give them the ability to fly up into trees to avoid predators. Plus the eggs!

I once thought all Leghorns were white. The White Leghorn came into play as the Brown's competitor in egg flocks about 1930. The Whites worked well in a confined area, but were at a disadvantage on the range. Both laid equally well, which brought about competitions for the top egg producer.

In the end, the Brown lost due to commercial preference for plucking white birds, not to egg production.. (The pin feathers are less noticeable, which is why most layers and broilers are white.)

Are they any good on range today?

I once gave a friend five cockerels, 3-1/2 months old, that he intended to eat when they reached full size. He kept them in an old shed and let them roam all day, shutting the door at night. He never fed or watered them for three months! They caught bugs and pulled grass seed off the field grass, and they went down to the creek for water. (He did take them there the first time). In the end they were delicious! These five had been hatched and brooded by me and never roamed outside before.

I also gave a few pullets to a 4-H family. Every morning the pullets clear the 6-foot chain-link fence and go about hunting bugs and treats. They keep a few other "large" breed chickens, but I have been told the Browns lay the best.

Where did they come from? In 1853 a Captain Gates on the ship Harriet Hoxie brought from Leghorn, Italy, to Mystic, Connecticut, the first recognized importation of Brown Leghorns. They were left with Mr. Russell Brown, a stable-keeper, who bred and disseminated them over New England.

At the beginning Brown Leghorns were of one color: later they were divided into Single Comb Light Brown and Single Comb Dark Brown. Still later the rose comb versions were added, and finally the four bantam versions were created. They have been bred for over 140 years with the idea of being both productive and beautiful. The body size is larger than the original and the egg laying ability has been enhanced.

The characteristics peculiar to the Brown Leghorn are the natural color pattern, the alert active nature, the general hardiness and disease resistance, the ability to fend for themselves, and prolific egg laying abilities (they are also known as winter layers). They have had these characteristics since the beginning and Brown Leghorn breeders have preserved them.

Let us not forget the grace of carriage and beauty of line. These things make the Brown Leghorn the homesteading choice for me.

For more information about Brown Leghorns, or a list of breeders, contact the American Brown Leghorn Club, 2152 Amity Hill Rd., Stateville, NC 28677.

(*)From the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection.
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Title Annotation:chickens
Author:Schrider, Don T.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1994
Previous Article:How we drilled a well.
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