Do you remember Foghorn Leghorn? He was the cartoon rooster loved by thousands of kids who watched the Looney Tunes on TV.
He is probably the best known Leghorn chicken in the world!
Originally these beautiful birds were called Italians, but it was changed over the years to Leghorns.
In this article we will explain the Leghorn’s history, temperament and disposition, before discussing its egg laying capabilities and if it’s a good match for your flock.
So, read on to learn more about this lovely bird who lays lots of eggs.
Background of Leghorns
The exact origins of the Leghorn are unknown. There were several small breeds of land race chickens in the Tuscany region of Italy and from these the Leghorn was born.
The name Leghorn is actually the anglicization of the word Livorno. Livorno is the port city in Italy from which the Leghorns were first exported to the USA in 1828 or thereabouts. What happened to these early birds is not known.
A Captain Gates of the US brought Leghorns to the USA. He docked at Mystic Harbor, Connecticut and these birds were the forebears of today’s Leghorns.
After some breed refinement (which included breeding for a rose comb) in the US, the white Leghorn won the New York show in 1868 and the Leghorns were eventually shipped to the UK around 1870.
The English did not like the small body of the Leghorn and so crossed it with the Minorca to give a more robust frame – more like a dual purpose breed. Despite this the Leghorn remains a thin bird, not really suitable as table fare at all.
These crosses eventually made their way back to the US where the larger size made it more acceptable to the budding poultry industry around 1910.
Soon after this time the Leghorn admirers were split into two rival camps – those who appreciated the chicken as it was naturally and those who valued production over everything else.
The division remains to this day with the original Leghorn lines preserved by a few individual breeders. The vast majority of Leghorns today are raised to be industrial hens.
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Appearance and Recognized Standard
It surprises many folks that the Leghorn actually comes in a variety of colors – white is the color that most people think of when they think of a Leghorn.
Another surprising fact is that they have either a single comb or a rose comb! The rose combs were specifically bred in the US to deal with the harsh winters. The large single combs were no match for the harsh winters of the northern states. It is the large floppy combs that are the usual giveaway of this breed!
They have red wattles and either a single comb or rose comb. White earlobes for this breed signal that they lay white eggs.
Eyes are orange/red and the beak is yellow colored. They have yellow skin and legs; the feet have 4 toes.
The overall appearance can be described as long, sleek and aerodynamic – except for that single comb which gives the bird a slightly comical look.
The first members of the Leghorn family were admitted to the American Poultry Association back in 1874.
The designation is Mediterranean class, standard or bantam, clean legged, single or rose comb.
The Italian Association recognizes 10 standard varieties, but do not recognize rose combs.
- 1874 – black, brown and white single comb
- 1883 – light and dark brown rose comb
- 1886 – white rose comb
- 1889 – red and black tailed red Colombian single comb
- 1894 – buff and silver single comb
- 1981 – buff, silver, gold duckwing and black rose comb
The standard fowl weigh in at 7½lb for males and 5-6lb for hens. The bantams weigh in at 1kg for males 0.9kg for hens.
As usual, there is some slight discrepancy in weights between the various associations of each country.
Temperament and Disposition
The Leghorn is an intelligent and resourceful bird, and will find much of its own food if allowed to range.
They are a busy, intelligent and active bird that likes to forage. They are good flyers and will roost in trees if allowed. They can be a bit noisy, definitely not for an urban backyard.
Although they will tolerate confinement try to provide lots of room for them and things to do – they can get bored easily as they are a high energy bird. They have a bit of a reputation for being noisy and highly strung, but this does vary from strain to strain, many Leghorn lines are not flighty, but they do remain aloof from human contact.
It is hard to generalize in a breed that has so many different varieties because not all are created the same. The best way to judge what your chicks may grow up like is to see the parents if possible or enquire to the seller what kind of temperament they have.
If you handle the chicks frequently, they will become more amenable to humans, but don’t expect to make a lap chicken out of them.
Egg Laying and Health Issues
The Leghorn hen is a firm favorite of the industrial poultry concerns. She will lay anywhere from 280-320 eggs per year! This equates to 4+ eggs per week; she is an egg dynamo!
They are reputed to lay well into their third or fourth year too.
She lays white shelled eggs around 55g (2 ounces) each. The eggs get larger as she ages, so her eggs start out as large and may become extra-large by the end of her laying cycle.
Leghorns have been bred to lay not brood, so it is a rare hen that will go broody. They make rotten mothers as they do not set well, so if you want chicks you will have to fire up the incubator.
When chicks do hatch they feather up fairly quickly and are fast maturing.
The Leghorn is an active and robust hen and has no ‘common’ health issues to speak of.
In winter, because they can have such large and floppy combs, you may have to invest in a jar of Vaseline to prevent frostbitten combs and wattles. Alternatively, get the rose comb varieties.
Is The Leghorn Right for You?
If you want a chicken breed that is cuddly and friendly, in general the Leghorn is not it. While some people say their pet Leghorn is cuddly and super friendly, the vast majority are not.
They evolved as feral landrace birds and have retained some of that independence.
If you want a hen that is a regular and prolific layer and doesn’t eat that much – the Leghorn is your bird! The feed to egg ratio is one of the best around, especially if they can free range.
As the Leghorn can be nervous, flighty or shy, I would advise against allowing small children near them unsupervised.
The Leghorn is a beautifully proportioned bird, sleek and well designed.
It’s prowess in the egg laying department has sadly led to this being one of the most abused chickens in the poultry industry.
Many of these hens that are industrial ladies get a second chance at life if they can be rehomed in backyard flocks. Folks who have re-homed these birds say they are delightful creatures. As a backyard hen it will serve you well – giving you lots of eggs in return for minimal feed.
Although they may not be overly affectionate and can hardly be described as a ‘pet’, they can provide you with company and many hours of chicken TV.
If you have taken in some of these ladies, write and tell us your story please in the comments section below…