By Kelly Klober
For most Americans the white-shelled egg is their traditional egg. It is virtually the only kind of egg that has been available in the retail trade for at least the last three generations of consumers. The white-shelled egg is nutritionally the same as the brown-shelled version and everything done to add value to the brown-shelled egg can be done with the white-shelled one, too.
The white-shelled eggs can be produced organically, cage free, and on range. With the breeds as they are currently available, it may actually be possible to produce more large and extra-large eggs from the white egg layers than the brown. The large, chalk white egg was the business card of the Leghorn breed and has been one of its selling points for decades.
At this time, I would not include the White Leghorn on a list of recommended heritage white egg layers. With only a handful of exceptions, the presently available laying lines have been bred for generations for a life in cages. I can’t recommend this breed at present, even though this is the bird that shaped and defined modern poultry production. The thinking and planning behind this breeds early development went on to shape the management and care given to a great many other livestock species. But the role of trailbreaker has not been very kind to the White Leghorn breed.
My list would, though, include the Light Brown Leghorn, Ancona, Black Minorca, Buff Minorca, and then a possible selection from among one of the many colored Leghorn varieties.
The Light Brown Leghorn
Light Brown Leghorns bred exclusively for exhibition will have sacrificed at least some productivity for the sake of size and intensity of color. The producer seeking to build a flock with this breed may have to shop widely and trial a number of lines to find the one that best fits his or her needs or they may have to build by combining birds from two or more different lines.
With the single comb Leghorns come concerns for comb and wattle damage in cold weather. Such injury is very seldom fatal, but it can disfigure birds and leave them infertile during the early part of the breeding season. Until the freeze damage heals, the bird may run a low-grade fever and the elevated body temperatures often kill sperm. To maintain good breed character you must select for a well-formed comb of good size in both males and females. Some old hands believe that a wide, well developed base to the single comb can better sustain the comb in very cold weather.
The Exchequer was sometimes called the “Scottish Leghorn” and was known as perhaps the largest of the Leghorn varieties. They have become more common in recent days, but color and size could be better and there is some real concern with leg color with this variety. Others exist in perhaps even smaller numbers and even mere mention of Black Tailed Red birds has been known to spark some real debate in some circles. I have owned Dark Brown, Buff and Black Leghorn birds in the Single Comb variety and would like to have seen them all a bit bigger, but none lay on a par with the White and Light Brown varieties. Still, I think that all of the colors and patterns present in this breed offer elements of challenge and distinctiveness that should have more producers taking them up. They are birds that could do much to give white-shelled eggs a bit more pizzazz and an added hook with consumers.
The Black Minorca
The Black Minorca is perhaps the largest of the readily available white egg breeds and is certainly the largest of the Minorcas. This is a bird most striking in appearance and has been a favorite with both backyard breeders and exhibition breeders. It too is bred in both the single and rose comb types.
With the Black Minorca, bird size and egg productivity must be kept in balance while building a flock true to the breed and its history of productivity. Producers should select birds not just for height, but real substance throughout the body. These birds are showy, but not avian wimps and some veteran showmen raise them using techniques that were once common in developing birds for the pit including penning males in individual, all-wire cages to develop.
The Minorca is also bred in buff and white varieties with the Buff Single Comb being the most commonly found after the black variety. The White Minorca is very rare. The buff variety will be smaller than the Black and a bit finer made as well.
The challenge with the Minorcas will be to find good birds with which to build a line. Good Buff Minorcas will have a strong undercolor right down to the skin and I have been a part of discussions on this color that have literally gone on for an hour or more as producers share their thoughts on how to manage this color.
The Ancona is a mottled, largely black with white tipping evenly distributed on the feathers that is also bred in single and rosecomb varieties. The rosecomb variety is not widely available. However there have been some small size issues with this breed. This was once a good sized, hard ranging breed that would forage well and had the mottled camouflage needed for additional predator protection.
Ancona have a reputation for producing proportionally large, chalk white eggs in relation to hen size, but this breed has languished for a great many years. I acquired a few not long ago and while the single comb gene pool for this breed is of some size — the birds had size, coloring and laying issues. Flock builders need to do some basic selection for size and vigor, beginning from the instant the chicks are removed from the hatcher tray.
There are a number of other white egg producers including the Buttercups, Campines, Catalanas, Egyptian Fayoumis, Hamburgs, Barred Hollands, La Fleche, Lakenvelders, Redcaps, Norwegian Jaerhons, Appenzeller Spitzhaubens, and White Faced Black Spanish.
The Barred Holland were developed to be both a good layer of white eggs and to be a bird of some size. The Fayoumis may be the youngest to lay of all of the purebreds, although they produce rather small eggs throughout the whole of their lives. The Hamburgs were once termed “everyday layers” although they, too, produce a smaller egg. In Europe there has been some interest in the marketing of a smaller egg and there might be some market for it here in the United States among consumers concerned with portion control for health or diet reasons.
Source: Talking Chicken