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This variety has made greater progress since the conclusion of the Great War than any other of the Leghorn family, and its advancement gives a complete denial to the old adage, " Unity is Strength," because the advance of the Black Leghorn has been brought about by the, lack of unity. A number of breeders who considered that the Black Leghorn was following in the wake of the White variety and being bred away from the true Leghorn type, seceded from the Black Leghorn Club and formed a body which they Styled the British Black Leghorn Club, and the rivalry between the old club and the new has drawn considerable attention to the variety, increased its followers, and given it an all-round impetus, the new club alone having between 400 and 500 members.
Those who broke away from the old Black Leghorn Club argued that the awarding of the leading prizes at the shows to the birds which had excessive combs and lobes was having a deterrent effect on the variety, which was losing type, and also its utility properties.
Writing on the matter, Mr. B. Birkhead, the secretary
of the British Black Leghorn Club, says :
" Black Leghorns have proved that bred to the B.B.L.C. Standard they can compete and win both in the laying tests and the show pens, as a perusal of last year's events will show.
" In the two years' test at Bentley, Blacks finished second, although for sixteen months there were only seven birds in the pen, against eight in the other pens. At the Midland test Blacks were second, in the Tottenham test they were first, in the Northern test first, and in the National second, thus proving conclusively that it is possible to have type and egg production combined in the same bird. If further proof were needed, it only remains for me to State that the winning pullet at the Club Show in a class of 52 was bred by the owner of the pen which finished second in the Bentley two years' test."
From this it will be seen that the break in the Black Leghorn Fancy has proved of great benefit in more ways than one. Blacks have improved and made much headway as exhibition birds. They are smarter and neater than they were, and compare most favourably with any of the family. Judging by the entries at shows, one is forced to the conclusion that the Blacks are today more numerous than any other variety of the Leghorn family (Whites excepted). This is not to be wondered at when one considers how suitable they are for town dwellers, as the smoke and grime which spoil the appearance of the lighter coloured varieties has little effect upon the Blacks. They are particularly active, small eaters, they lay a large white egg, which is nearer 2½ ozs. than 2 ozs., whilst their rich red combs, faces and wattles, creamy white lobes, and rich yellow legs, form a delightful contrast to their lustrous green black plumage. Above all, they are very hardy and easy to rear.
It is somewhat peculiar that the Black Leghorn was so long coming into its kingdom, as before the split in the Black Leghorn Club it was not a great favourite. Indeed, in the Fourth Edition of The Leghorn Fowl, by L. C. Verrey, which was published within the present century, it is placed in the chapter for " The Minor Varieties." In The Poultry Manual, by the Rev. W. T. Sturges, issued not long before the Great War, it was given greater prominence, but then the author had himself been breeding Black Leghorns for twelve years, and thus had a strong prejudice in their favour.
It is said that the Black Leghorn was first introduced into America in 1871, but they have never been so popular as the Whites.
In this country it was not till the present century was well launched that the breed became at all popular or even attracted attention. During the first decade of the century a number of fanciers began to take interest in the Blacks, and they were soon improving in size, shape, body colour, head properties and leg colour. Before that time they were small in body, dingy in colour, and seldom did one come across a good yellow-legged bird. In America the position was the same.
The general characteristics of the Black are the same as the other varieties, and if for white we substitute black in the colour, the Black Leghorn is the counterpart of the White. There is not much doubt that some twenty-five or thirty years ago the Black Leghorn was crossed with the Minorca to increase its size, and also add to its head properties. The crossing was not altogether a success, and led to many fanciers giving the variety a wide berth. Another thing which militated against the Black for some time was the introduction of the double-mating system, but that was gradually overcome, and to-day the exhibition Black Leghorn is bred from cockerel and pullet breeding pens in the same way as the Whites and the Browns.
In breeding for cockerels the head of the pen has to be a first-class exhibition bird, and his mates pullets, or hens, which are a very dense black underneath. If they have good yellow legs, so much the better, but it is not needful to be too particular on this point.
The pullet breeding pen should be headed by a cock, or cockerel, with rich top colour with abundance of sheen, the more the better. If he is white in under-colour, or even white in tail, he will be none the worse for the breeding of pullets, but rather the better. He should be bred from a pullet breeding pen, and if so bred, will throw good exhibition pullets. His mates must be first-class exhibition pullets.
In breeding yellow-legged Black Leghorns, the breeder is fighting hard against one of the most strongly established principles of Nature, as the natural coloured leg of a black fowl is black, dark slate, willow, or bronze. When it is sought to introduce the yellow leg, the yellow pigment attacks the black plumage, destroys its intensity, and produces white.
Another curious point is that the yellow leg is more easy to breed in the cockerels than it is in the pullets, and whenever the yellow pigment is strong the black is correspondingly weaker, and so we get the white under-colour. In the females the black pigment is much stronger, and so we get better under-colour, and with it comes dingy leg colour. It will thus be seen that the breeder of exhibition Black Leghorns has to be very careful how he mixes his colours so as to secure both exhibition cockerels and pullets.
Writing on the breeding of Black Leghorns, that experienced and successful breeder, Mr. W. Hurst, says: " Heads and tails are the outstanding adornments of the Leghorn. It took many years of careful breeding to bring heads and tails in the Black to a point of perfection. That dreaded white in the sickles and under-colour of cockerels was a nightmare to many breeders, to say nothing of white in face.
" Soundness in colour of cockerels has made decided improvement of late years. In fact, it is common to see half a dozen sound cockerels with yellow legs in one class. A testimony to the zealous and untiring efforts of men who had the breed at heart.
" In the selection of stock for breeding sound cockerels, pick out a male, himself sound in colour, clean in face, active looking, comb well set on head, broad at base, evenly cut with five spikes and standing away from the back of the head. Here let me say, a comb touching the bird's head at the back invariably turns the comb over, which is a defect in the standard. Let him possess a good flow of hackle saddle, and tail feathers sound in colour, carried at an angle of 40 degrees, one with good shoulders, medium tail, good length of thigh, and yellow legs.
" Let your hens be sound black to skin. Avoid any greyness whatever in flights and hackle, sound, clean and hard in face, lobes full and free from folds, good depth of body, broad in shoulders, round on breast consistently with symmetry and type. I do not object to hens dark in leg for breeding sound cockerels (but avoid birds with greenish coloured feet), eye active, comb well cut, not large, I do not mind if erect, thick at the base, running sharp away from the beak.
" It is in respect to pullets we need to turn our attention. I am no advocate for a craze for size. What we want is a medium bird with corresponding all-round quality, one which will merit general approval.
" Quality and character should be embodied in a good breeding pullet, she should be bright and close in feather, arch shape in comb, red eye, clean and sweet expression of face, lobe about the size of a shilling, smooth and kid-like, good depth of body, broad at shoulders, round breast, running shapely to show a fair amount of thigh, clean yellow legs, feet well spread, not forgetting the points of power to lay. To complete a pen, I would select a sire alert, stylish, with a thin comb, not over large, soft and pliable, red eye, bright in colour, well developed front, legs well apart. From such stock it would be fair to assume that triumphs even for amateurs would be recorded and steps in the right direction would be made in our pursuits to bring about a merited perfection of ideals."
Mr. Jas. B. Salmond, the well-known Scottish breeder of Black Leghorns, and who recently left this country for Australia, is a specialist in pullet breeding, and writing on the subject says : " My reason for selecting pullet breeding is you do not require the housing nor room that you do in cockerel breeding, as you can run them in lots, and even when showing you can return the pullets to their old quarters and they settle down as if they had never been away.
" In the mating of a pen for breeding show pullets I care little whether I breed from hens or pullets, provided the latter are well matured; in fad, some of my best have been bred from pullets. In selecting the females I like to get them with as much daylight under them as possible, with bright red face. I am not in love with those gipsy hairy faced fraternity with the dark eyes ; they must also have well cut combs and good quality lobes. I fancy I hear someone say : Oh ! these are perfect birds; well, let perfection be your guide, and get as near it as possible.
" For these hens or pullets I would try and select a cock or cockerel excelling in the points lacking in his mates. I am partial to a yellow beak in the male. You can depend on getting beautiful leg colour from such a source. I don't worry about how much white he has so long as he has good top colour. If he possesses some red in hackle or saddle that is all in his favour, but he must have (and this is where I put great stress) a rich green wing bar, and the colour on your pullets will give you no cause to worry. I like a cockerel that I have to dub early due to his comb falling over; in fact, I dub all my stock cockerels, it is imperative if you wish to retain vigour.
" To the young budding fancier about to take up the Black Leghorn, I would say do not go here, there and everywhere in quest of stock, but ask one of the foremost exhibitors to fix you up with a small pen and pay a fair price and listen: ' The best is always the cheapest.'
" Perhaps a note on rearing may not be out of place. I find all my best pullets are reared between the middle of March and middle of April, those hatched then never look round and get all the good weather to grow. Keep a sharp look out for vermin as nothing retards the growth of chicks like these pests, especially found on head. Once chicks get a check from that source they never seem to make it up again.
" I let both sexes run together in the field till the cockerels begin to get troublesome. These I separate and put into an open run and put an old cock beside them to aft as boss and keep order. This allows them to grow big frames, which they certainly would not have if allowed to run with the hens.
" When the pullets are, say, about five months, I begin to pick out the likely ones. I never pen up till I actually cannot help it, as I do not believe in forcing them on ; in fact, I find all my best are those that never seem to move in head till a good age ; if I see a pullet springing her comb early I give up her chance of ever making a champion. However, with the show season approaching in November I place a few in the pens in pen house and begin to give feed more liberally. T find nothing to equal bread and milk the last six weeks, nothing to equal it for growing rich, silky feather, and now and then a little sulphur mixed with it. Soak all Sale bread in cold water, squeeze thoroughly dry and pour sweet milk, boiled, all over it. Give this, say, four times a week. If I do wish one for a special event, I give a feed of same, say, about 9 p.m., this will work wonders. Now you cannot hope to keep those birds fit if penned up always. I always give mine a couple of hours daily in garden, and this is where the exhibition pullet breeder scores, he can let all out together and they soon get accustomed to each other."