Why did the chicken cross the Atlantic? Apparently to lay mountains of pastel eggs. After almost a century in Britain, with a little help from Greenfire Farms the cream legbar has made the leap to the United States, offering a new array of options for America’s backyard poultry enthusiasts. With its spiky feather crest and its penchant for laying vast quantities of sky-blue to light green eggs, the legbar is sure to get an enthusiastic welcome as the new kid on the block. But, the appeal of these obvious features pales in comparison to the revolutionary practicality cream legbars offer Americans: the ability to produce visually sexable chicks, generation after generation. For these reasons Greenfire Farms is pleased to introduce this remarkable breed to America.
Cream legbars are the most popular auto-sexing chicken breed in the world. To learn about their crucial role in the development of auto-sexing chicken breeds, read our section on auto-sexing chickens on this website.
Cream legbars were first introduced at the London Dairy Show in 1947 and received a written standard by the Poultry Club of Great Britain in 1958. Legbars grew in popularity to fill a niche market in the British egg industry for pastel eggs produced by free-range birds. Today a variant of the cream legbar produces eggs that are marketed under the name of the Cotswold legbar –borrowing the name of Britain’s productive and beautiful pastoral region—and are viewed as the pinnacle of locally produced gourmet eggs in that country.
Cream legbars are medium-sized fowl that are known for their active foraging and ability to survive in a free-range environment. The roosters are vigilant and protective of the hens, and the hens efficiently go about the business of gleaning every seed and insect from the fields and pastures they prefer. The hens are rarely broody and produce a large number of eggs. In 1952, seven legbar hens in England were monitored for a year. On the average they each laid 260 eggs. Cream legbar eggs are often deceptive in their appearance. They tend to be more spherical than most chicken eggs, and because of this they look shorter and therefore smaller. But, if you weigh the eggs you will find they nicely compare to other breeds. A dozen legbar eggs selected at random on our farm weighs over 25 oz. which would handily earn them a ‘large’ rating under USDA egg sizing standards.
Given their flamboyant feathering and ability to produce pastel eggs, it’s easy to overlook the enormously practical advantage that cream legbars bring to the backyard poultry breeder; their auto-sexing function. It’s a little surreal to see cream legbar chicks hatch and helpfully provide a clear visual signal as to their gender. It’s a convenience to which we are not fully accustomed in this country. Auto-sexing chicken breeds like the cream legbar breed visually sexable chicks generation after generation.
Many hobbyists are interested in owning and improving cream legbars in America. A group of enthusiasts recently formed the Cream Legbar Club, and they have heavily borrowed from the British standard to create a draft cream legbar standard formatted in a manner consistent with standards adopted by the American Poultry Association. This is not an adopted standard, but it is an excellent attempt at drafting one that might eventually be adopted in America. If you are interested in breeding legbars toward a written standard, here is the Cream Legbar Club’s draft American standard for your consideration:
In the fall of 2010, two breeding groups of cream legbars was imported into the United States by Greenfire Farms. Not only was Greenfire Farms the first to import this breed, we are the only source for unrelated cream legbars in the United States. A year later we imported additional cream legbars with complementary traits. The chicks we are now shipping are hatched from these three groups with the bulk of them coming from the imports that arrived in late 2011. These birds produce lots of sky blue eggs and are a hardy, disease-resistant flock.
In 2012, we traveled to England and viewed the cream legbar flock curated by Jill Rees. Jill’s birds had significantly less of the chestnut color we saw in our first imports, and birds from her flock consistently win top ribbons in the major UK poultry shows including a first and second place at the National Poultry Show of Great Britain. In late 2013, we imported birds from Jill’s flock. The premium line of chicks of Jill’s chicks will be available in the spring of 2014.
These groups of auto-sexing chickens form the nucleus of a potential revolution in the backyard flocks of America. For the first time backyard breeders in America have access to Punnett’s ingenious legacy, and given the American penchant for self-sufficiency and tinkering, the cream legbar opens for breeders a new vista of opportunity in this country. Like the color of the eggs themselves, that means only blue sky for the cream legbar.