Leghorn Chicken: All You Need To Know

Leghorn Chicken All You Need To Know Blog Cover

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

Leghorn ChickensThe 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.

Leghorn Rooster Purchase Leghorn Chickens

Appearance and Recognized Standard

Roaming Leghorn ChickensIt 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.

Standard

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

Leghorn RoosterThe 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.

Health Issues

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.

Summary

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…

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Comments

  1. Leigh Leaming says

    I have 2 chickens in my backyard “flock” 1 is a dark brown Leghorn. Iris is her name and following me everywhere, chattering, is her game. Iris just turn one in April and lays med/large eggs. She will let me pick her up if I catch her squatting. She come running any time she sees movement in my house. Quite comical how she keeps an eye out for us. Her coop mate (although they are let out to free range sun up to sun down) is Hazel the Ameraucana who lays huge blue eggs, is very quiet and does not follow unless I have treats. When Hazel is on the nest to lay, Iris the Leghorn sits on the roost in coop loudly cackling the entire time. She’s a funny girl and we really get a kick out of her antics.

    • Tara Eve Ritter says

      That is so funnyMable is exactly the same… She is white and her sister is a golden laced wyandotte… She is super hilarious a complete instigator very vocal and a leader til push comes to shove… She skids to a halt chasing me… Absolute character ?

  2. Linda Williamson says

    I have one in our backyard which is an orchard. We call her Miss Prissy. She is so much fun to watch, but sometimes her nervousness makes her antics slightly destructive. But she gives us eggs regularly and has been doing so for some time. She is only a year old.

  3. Rachel says

    I worked at a school that hatched a bunch of leghorn chicks and rehomed them to a local farm. I took in three of them to start my own little flock in my backyard. We live in northern Illinois and their first winter was rough, even with the Vaseline. But they are a hardy group. They follow us around where ever we go, but they are definitely not cuddly or especially friendly. They are wonderful foragers but not the brightest bunch compared to a couple of other breeds I now have. But they really are egg laying power houses. A little noisy, I thought one of them must be a cockerel when they were small. Nope, just noisy. A fun bunch.

  4. Henry Knue says

    I have a flock of 23 Sexlinks (22 hens and a rooster) gathering 16-18 eggs per day. They are a joy and I’m having a blast giving away (sharing) fresh eggs with friends & family.

    If I were to add to them would leghorns “get along” with Rudy & the girls?

    • sue norris says

      Difficult question – sexlinks are pretty laid back while Leghorns could be described as nervous or neurotic – take your pick.
      I would say they are likely to maintain ‘separate lives’ and probably not fully integrate – it would also depend on how much time you spend with them.

  5. Isabelle Fourie says

    I have about 25 Brown Leghorns on a little farm in Namibia. For Africa, where chickenfeed is very expensive, we let our chickens roam free. We have a lot of big and small predators, but the leghorns are the only ones I have no losses of. Not even the eagle can outwit their fast reactions. A perfect laying bird for Africa, which does not get sick easily and is happy with whatever they can forage. They get food, but prefer to be the bug control in my garden. They are not cuddly, but content.
    Because we need a bird that is weary and wake up, we chose the leghorn and because the brown leghorn hens have a nice earthy coloring, they can camouflage quite well when the need arises. The roosters are one of the proudest looking birds I have ever come across and are extremely protective of their hens, which again makes them the perfect bird for free roaming in Africa. They will easily and readily take on a cat, mongoose or dog.

    To say it in one sentence: I have lost my heart to this magnificent free spirited bird!!

  6. Mike Silas says

    I have a mixed flock with two pearl white leghorns,it’s amazing that being such a small bird that they can produce such a large egg…my young leghorns just started laying a few weeks ago,and they lay an egg everyday,and for the past week the eggs are large to extra large eggs,they are larger than the grocery store eggs. Leghorns are the best of the best layers

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Have you gotten the long elongated egg yet? Just wait if not, it amazingly comes out elongated and then you know she will soon reach her max egg size in the upcoming weeks.

        • JoHN says

          That’s an old wives tale, well farmer. Us chicken tenders notice what our girls do, some lay a certain shape egg, a certain tint and some shiny but most are matte. Male or female can not be identified by egg shape

    • Kate S. says

      I realize I’m a little late to the conversation, but I’m wondering how your Peal White Leghorns are in terms of their character? Are they as noisy or difficult as regular Leghorns have been described?

      Thanks! ~Kate

      • Annette Bell says

        I have leghorns, Brahmas and Buff Orpingtons. I brought the Leghorn for large white eggs. I found the them to be the most carefree and entertaining. SMART. I just order more for my folk.

  7. Nick valerino says

    My leg horn was gone for 5 months thought she dead lived in woods by herself then one morning heard her cracking then she came home

  8. Marlyn Herrera says

    Hello i have two leghorns and one of them just started laying eggs. In this types of chickens are they both females? Or is there males too? If so how can you tell the difference of a male and female?

  9. Richard James says

    Got a 4 month old Brown Leghorn. She just started laying small eggs. She’s very vocal when she wants something. Just got a 4 month old White Leghorn hen. So far Brown showing who’s boss.

  10. Angela says

    We have 8 white leghorns (3roosters, 5 hens) and 9 light Brahmas. The leghorns are about 6 months old and the brahmas are about 4. They seem to get along ok so far.. until recently the one of the two big roosters constantly chases the other, even if he’s just laying there. A couple days ago we had to break them apart, now one is limping and I’m concerned it’s only going to get worse. We don’t want to set up separate coops or runs. They free range from sun up to sundown. Any suggestions other than rehoming one of the roosters?

  11. Michelle says

    I think I have the exception to the Leghorn “indifference to human” trait.

    I have a 18 month of Leghorn named Gladys who seems to think she’s a puppy. She lives w a very mixed group ranging from RIR hens, Barred Rocks, Austorlorp hens, a turkey, two Bantys, etc.

    She started squatting for me about 6 months ago so I would scoop her up and chat w her.

    Now it’s every single night. She watches the back door and waits for me to come lock the door on the coop.
    I have to carry her in and let her choose where to sleep.
    Sadly, I think she’s very low on the pecking order so she never gets to sleep on the roost w the “big hens”

    She’s very talkative and let’s me pick her up several times a day.

    Maybe she’s cool w me since most of the other hens pick on her?

    • HappyChicken says

      Yes, sometimes chickens can be friendly when its said that most people have had a different experience with the breed.

      Claire

      • Donna says

        I have a small flock of silkie bantams and the neighbour’s had one last leghorn from their flock due to hawks , the lovely girl constantly flew over the very high fence and joined our girls each evening I would return her home after they roost . After 3-4 returns and clipped wings she still came back ! So the neighbors have relinquished ownership of Snowy and she fits in great with our silkies , but looks very much the odd one out !

  12. Lisa says

    I have 8 leghorns one of which is a rooster. They are a trip. They somehow manage to get in my house every day. They would prefer to be inside. They jump on our Laos when we sit outside with them and when we take walks with our dogs they insist on joining us. I have one problem. The feeding post have me 2 Plymouths. I figured no problem. Well one died and the other I have tried everyday to get her with the others but they want to kill her. She thinks she’s a dog because we have kept her inside. She’s the sweetest little girl. She watches TV sits in front of the heater, yeah I’ve created a monster. Any suggestions, I think it would break my husband’s heart and mine if I was to re-home her. I’ve tried everything.

  13. Nira Kahn says

    My Leghorn did bullet eggs then semi elongated eggs. All of a sudden one day she passed away. What could have happened? She was always a busy body and was the alpha

  14. Karen L Mack says

    I have a mix of white Leghorns and Easter eggers. I love the huge white eggs my Leghorns lay and I don’t have a big issue with pecking if I don’t overcrowd my pen. I can only let my flock out a couple hours a day where I live. I am going to start getting other varieties of Leghorns. If you take a chub of raw hamburger out with you, those little velociraptors will get VERY friendly I promise! At least until the hamburger runs out.

  15. Jenni Clayton says

    This was lovely to read. We ended up with a white leghorn by default! We were gifted a “chicken” which turned out to be a loud and agressive cockerel. No good for us with onsite holiday accommodationa and guests who don’t always want to get up with the cockerel crowing at dawn! We took him to our local farmer, who gave us a pretty white chicken in return. We named her Mary Shelley and she has been with us 3 years now. I had no idea she was a leghorn until I read this, but it describes her very accurately! She is a beautiful chicken, with gorgeous eggs. 🙂

  16. gwenthewhiteleghorn says

    I have a white leghorn who is very friendly. She enjoys escaping. I have found this information very helpful as I am doing a project on my chickens as part of my home learning. Thank you for telling me about these lovely chickens.

  17. Trevor Mullennix says

    We got 9 of them with other chickens and they got big fast they tore up the back side of the other birds and had to be separated after their full size they will have to go. We have over 60 other birds and have not had this problem with any other of our breeds. My kids held them like the rest of our birds. The other ones will run up and sit on my kids lap and let them hold them. So i would say if you get them and you have other birds keep an eye on them.

  18. Linds says

    We purchased 6 ladies from a local farm store. They are our first shot of having chickens in our backyard. Yes the seem quite shy and actually tend to hide their eggs from us at times however we believe they are happy as they are growing back feathers and were given a second chance on life. Your article helped me with some more information so thank you. Some family members gave us the wrong information on their combs saying they should be standing up high etc. I just hope our girls are healthy and feel loved. Our children like them too even though they tend to shy away from the kids. They do give us about 3-5 eggs each day so bonus for us.

  19. Marmite says

    We have a leghorn that was given to us – she is a very mischievous but extremely loveable charecter – often making a lot of noise and escaping her pen. She’s very skittish and seems most content when romaing around the garden. However, she will let me pick her up when she wants to go back into the pen.

  20. Michelle Welden says

    We have only had leghorns die to the fact that that was what was available when we went shopping. I’ve raised 4 flocks since and they’re mostly leghorns. I do miss w/Silkie’s and buff Orpington but only b/c I accidentally also recorded those breeds and love them. But leghorns ate my favorite for certain! If you love them and treat them like other chickens they will absolutely act like other chickens. They follow me, they are sweet, they love ppl, and they are great layers!!! Highly recommend them- just love and treat them like any other chicken breed!!!

  21. Christina says

    I have 1 Gold Star Sex Link Hen and 5 Red Leghorn hens. They are all very friendly, let me pet them, and come when I whistle. They also all know their names and have individual personalities. They just turned 5 months old today. So far only the Gold Star Hen has started laying eggs, she lays almost everyday. Her sisters seem healthy, and they forage in the backyard all day in addition to their chicken feed and treats. Should I be concerned?

  22. Barbara Parker. says

    A couple of months ago I purchased 2 beautiful white leghorn X chickens. One is pure white, the other has a few specks of black in her feathers.
    The pure white one, I named her Lily, looks a bit older than the other one, and so far she has been laying an egg every day for the past 3 weeks. Still excitedly waiting to find 2 eggs in the coop,
    Lily let’s me pat her and I pick her up give her cuddles and kisses, talk to her and tell her how much I love her. Lily seems to love the attention. The other one, Ivy is her name, is getting less flighty now but still doesn’t want my attention. Which is fine.
    I love my girls and get so much enjoyment from them both. They free range every day, and if I’m out in the garden they follow me everywhere. Maybe they think I’m their mother. Lol.
    I love reading other peoples stories about their experiences with their girls, and boys.
    Thanks for listening.

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