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A storied dual-purpose American breed returns from oblivion to grace our backyard coops.
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Lamona Unsexed99.00
In 1912, Harry Lamon, working at the USDA’s research center in Beltsville, Maryland, envisioned the perfect chicken for America: a dual-purpose breed that would abundantly lay for a year and could then processed as a meat bird for the dinner table. He sought a bird that would lay white eggs, have a meaty body with yellow skin and white feathers so it would produce an attractive dressed carcass, and sport red earlobes so it could easily be distinguished from another popular egg-laying breed, the Leghorn.

Thus began Lamon’s decades-long quest to produce this ideal bird. He took three well-established chicken breeds –the silver-grey Dorking, the white Rock, and the white Leghorn-- and by crossing them began the tedious multi-generational process of selecting birds that exhibited the desired checklist of qualities. It took 16 years for him to achieve his goal, and USDA Secretary named this stunning new breed after its creator, Harry Lamon. In 1933 the Lamona was admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection, notably one of the handful of breeds developed in modern America that enjoyed this distinction.

While Lamon’s breeding skills were impeccable, his timing was less so, and in the 1930s single-purpose chickens that were often crosses or proprietary strains began to take hold in the agricultural economy. Leghorns grew to become the quintessential commercial egg-layer, and Cornish-Rock crosses became the de facto meat bird for America. The Lamona along with many other breeds was relegated to the backyard flocks of poultry hobbyists.

By the 1970s the Lamona population had dwindled to critical levels, and a few hardcore Lamona enthusiasts were all that separated this breed from extinction. One of these enthusiasts was Steve Gerdes, an Illinois poultry breeder who had shown Lamonas since the 1960s and in 1978 his Lamona hen was a chosen as a champion in the American class. Gerdes was credited as being one of America’s top Lamona experts in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Here, things get murky. At least one author has reported that the Lamona breed went extinct in the 1980s. On its website the Livestock Conservancy hints that it may have located two isolated flocks around 2005. There is a rumor that the last two flocks of the original Lamon line of Lamonas died in two separate tragedies, a barn fire and a weasel attack on their chicken coop. At any rate, since the 1980s there have been vastly more Bigfoot sightings than credible Lamona sightings.

Thankfully, at the turn of the century Steve Gerdes took it upon himself to create Lamonas again. Because the precise genetic recipe for Lamonas was well-known – a silver-grey Dorking, a white Rock, a white Leghorn—and given his vast knowledge and hands-on experience with the original Lamona lines, he was able to eventually breed a very convincing Lamona. In about the same time it took Harry Lamon to create the Lamona a century ago, almost miraculously Steve Gerdes was able to produce a Lamona.

It’s probably worth addressing the authenticity of Gerdes’s Lamona line. In most cases a re-created chicken breed is just that; really just a facsimile of an extinct breed based on what may be an imperfect understanding of the original breed. It’s impossible to know if the birds are genetically similar or even in some cases very close in appearance, performance, and behavior. But, in the case of the Lamona we know the exact genetic recipe needed to create the breed, and luckily for the Lamona, the new line of Lamonas was created by someone who had decades of direct experience with the original line of Lamonas. Gerdes’s Lamonas are genetically virtually identical to Lamon’s Lamonas, and in appearance the Gerdes Lamonas look virtually identical to Lamona specimens from almost a century ago. Greenfire Farms has shown the Gerdes Lamonas at APA-sanctioned poultry shows, and judges have accepted them as authentic Lamonas and awarded them ribbons. If any distinction is even warranted, we would suggest that the Lamonas broadly fall into two categories: pre-1980 Lamonas that are from the Lamon line, and post-1980 Lamonas that are from the Gerdes line.

Sadly, Steve Gerdes, the benefactor of this rare breed, passed away a few years ago. But luckily, he left his then-existing Lamona stock with his son, Kurt. After some correspondence Kurt was kind enough to sell us a trio of Lamonas (about half the birds he owned) and we began working with the birds to familiarize ourselves with and improve the breed. We did an exhaustive amount of research on the breed, combing through libraries to find any historical references that offered information about Harry Lamon’s original work. It’s fun to read the early articles about Lamonas with the overheated descriptions about the “chicken breed of tomorrow” with their glowing retro-futurist claims.

But, to a certain extent the Lamonas deserve some hyperbole. They were prolific egg layers, and they are beautiful birds. Our birds produce fairly uniform chicks, and as adults they generally look exactly like Lamonas: red earlobes, meaty bodies, and yellow skin. Defects are rare, but occasionally we’ll get a chick with five toes (thanks, Dorking), and sometimes the eggs are tinted rather than white (thanks, Rock). But, the vast majority of birds look Lamona to the core with their thick muscular bodies, flowing tail feathers, and glowing white plumage. They are not just another white chicken. They are quite stunning as they calmly free-range around our farm.

We’re very pleased to have been involved in the process of bringing back the Lamona to America’s backyard coops. And, here’s your opportunity to build on that legacy and be one of the few people in America who have ever seen, let alone owned, that ghostly legend of American poultry, the Lamona.