All around the Mediterranean can be found landraces of fowls small in body and which lay a large number of white eggs. Several of these have a tradition of being bred for centuries. Often geographic isolation contributed to the unique qualities of a group. The Ancona chicken is one such.
Ancona chickens have a distinct plumage color pattern – black ground color mottled white. On the ideal bird, one out of every five feathers is tipped with white. As with other mottled colored breeds of poultry, there is a tendency for the mottles to increase in size and quantity as the chicken ages. Ancona chickens have yellow legs, often with a few black mottles; reddish bay eye color; yellow beaks with black stripes on the upper mandibles; and white ear lobes.
The breed takes its name from Ancona, Italy, where for centuries such chickens were bred. The first Ancona chickens arrived in England about 1850. The breed was maintained there from that time until a second importation was made in 1883; from 1883 onward the breed gained some popularity. By about 1888 Ancona chickens from England arrived in America. The first importation was made by Francis A. Mortimer of Pottsville, PA. In 1906, H.C. Sheppard of Berea, OH, also imported Anconas and they soon became a well-known and popular race of chickens.
The breed has many similarities to Leghorn chickens, and has even been referred to as Mottled Leghorns by some poultrymen. They are the same size as Leghorn chickens and nearly the same shape. However, they differ in that the back on Ancona chickens slants downward from shoulders to tail and shows a slight angle where these two sections of the body meet. While the Leghorns may be referred to as “flighty”, Anconas go a step farther and may be referred to as “pheasant-like.” Both breeds are non-sitters and excellent layers of white-shelled eggs.
Ancona chickens are very hardy, fertile, and prolific. They can be a bit wild in their habits – easily flying to avoid potential dangers and ranging over a great area when foraging. They stand frost and snow quite well and will surpass Leghorn chickens as winter layers. The chicks hatch a canary and black in down color, feather and grow quickly, and pullets will often begin laying at five months of age.
Like other mottled chickens, mottling increases with age – referred to historically as “going gay.” So darker birds are preferred when young. Older breeders that were nicely mottled when in their prime can be used for breeding even after exhibiting too much white in their plumage. But a word of caution, young stock should not be culled for excessive white too early, as many, when mature, will be found to be nicely colored.
Ancona chickens were recognized by the American Poultry Association as a standard breed in 1898 in the single comb variety, largely on the strength of their popularity in England, and in 1914 in the rose comb variety. Males weigh 6 lbs. and females weigh 4.5 lbs.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.