My very first Leghorn was a feisty, flighty speckled hen – a true force to be reckoned with! She was also talkative, friendly, and gave me a beautiful white egg every day.
Leghorns are interesting chickens and are great for the coop because they can tolerate confinement, are prolific egg layers, and are considered hardy.
Ideal for both first-time chicken keepers and homesteaders! In this guide, we’ll learn about their history, egg laying, temperament, as well as some steps to raise happy and healthy Leghorns.
Background and Breed Refinement
Leghorns are beautiful birds that have made a significant contribution to the egg industry, so to better understand this chicken breed and whether it’d fit in your coop, we go back to where it all started: Tuscany, Italy.
Leghorns are independent, prolific egg layers recognized by their large floppy combs, but how did they come to be the poultry pioneers of egg production in the chicken world?
The true origin of the Leghorn chicken is a bit of a mystery, but they can be traced back to Tuscany in Italy where landrace chickens were the foundation for the breed. In 1828, these chickens, originally called Italians, were exported to the US from an Italian port city known as Livorno.
DID YOU KNOW
The name Leghorn is anglicized from the name Livorno, the Italian Port City.
The USA’s founding Leghorns can be traced back to Captain Gates from the US, who docked in Connecticut with a few Italian chickens. In 1868, the breed was refined to resemble a white-feathered chicken with a large comb.
This is how the white Leghorn became prominent and remains the ‘poster chicken’ of this glorious breed!
They were also bred for a rose comb, but the single comb triumphed. Later on in 1870, Leghorns made their way to the UK.
Once in English territory, the locals weren’t too fond of the small bodies that most Leghorns possessed.
So, they decided to breed it with the Minorca, a fuller, dual-purpose chicken.
When the outcome of this breeding was a large size bird, these Leghorn chickens traveled back to the US and became accepted as part of the poultry standard in 1910.
Today, Leghorns still have a slim body but they are also tall birds. Their purpose is to lay eggs in prolific numbers, which has earned them renown as great layers in the US and beyond.
They can be classified as industrial birds for production purposes or the original chickens, nowadays only bred by a few traditional Leghorn breeders.
What Do Leghorns Look Like?
The history of the Leghorn tells us that this breed has undergone much refinement between its US and UK origins, but today it is a slim and aerodynamic bird that is self-sufficient and beautiful.
These chickens have bright red combs and wattles, with both the rose comb and the single comb accepted into the breed standard.
The typical white Leghorn has a large red and floppy comb, but to help these chickens withstand the cold winters in the US, the smaller rose comb was established in the breed.
What is the Leghorn Breed Standard?
The white Leghorn is the most popular color variety and is recognized by its snow-white feathers. White Leghorns cannot have a speck of brown, black, or any other color in their plumage, as this would disqualify them from the breed standard.
The American Poultry Association first accepted Leghorns in 1874.
The breed standard includes a single or rose comb, pure white earlobes, and yellow skin.
Their legs are clean, featherless, yellow in color, and they should have four toes on each foot.
Both bantam and standard Leghorns are accepted and have a U-shaped body that is slender in appearance. Both hens and roosters hold their tails high up in the air, and they take long strides, which sets them apart from other chickens.
How Big Do Leghorn Chickens Get?
Leghorns are lightweight fowl, with the roosters weighing around 7.5 lbs and hens weighing between 5 to 6 lbs.
The bantam rooster weighs 2.2 lbs and the hens weigh 1.98 lbs.
Both Italy and Britain have different weight requirements for the bantam and standard birds.
The American Standard of Perfection recognizes three color varieties including the black Leghorn, white Leghorn, and brown Leghorn (this can range from light to dark brown).
The French Poultry Federation has categorized four types of Leghorns, including the American White, Old Type, Modern Type, and English Type.
They have 17 different color varieties for the standard Leghorns!
Here’s a mini timeline: In 1883, the rose comb in the dark and light brown Leghorns was accepted, and soon after in 1886, the rose comb white Leghorn was registered.
A bit later on in 1894, the single comb in the buff and light silver shades was also accepted. Almost a century later, the red and buff Columbian lines were listed in 1981.
There is also a variety of pearl white Leghorns, a strain of the white Leghorn.
The pearl color Leghorn is also more common in the poultry industry for production purposes, as it lays snow-white eggs in large numbers.
How to Sex Leghorn Chicks
Day-old brown Leghorns are considered easier to sex compared to white Leghorns because of their unique coloring from the moment they hatch.
This is because the stripes from the top of the head to the tail are darker, broader, and more defined in the little hens compared to the baby roosters.
It is harder to tell the difference between white Leghorn hatchlings because you cannot use color sexing in these chicks, similar to some breeds of Marans.
The differences in pullets and roos that you can look for include changes in the size and color of the comb and wattles. These facial appendages develop faster in males and you should see these differences around three to four weeks of age.
Egg Production & Meat Quality
Since the 1800s, Leghorns have been primarily known as egg laying chickens.
They are slender birds with a streamlined body, and thus certainly don’t make great table fare!
The number of eggs you can expect from the average Leghorn chicken is 4 every week, but the White Leghorn outdoes her counterparts with even more eggs per week!
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the egg laying and meat production of Leghorn chickens.
Are Leghorns Good Egg Layers?
Leghorns are some of the best layers! They lay more than other chickens, including breeds like the Buff Orpington and Easter Eggers.
A Leghorn chicken can lay up to 280 eggs per year, so you’ll always have a pantry full of beautiful eggs.
Here’s a quick video of a Leghorn laying an egg…
Leghorn chickens are popular in industrial egg production because of their ability to produce more than the average bird. These chickens also have a good feed to egg conversion ratio, with a single Leghorn chicken consuming 125g of feed per day.
DID YOU KNOW
The white Leghorn produces 5 to 6 eggs per week compared to the average 4 eggs produced by the other color varieties, such as the brown Leghorn.
At What Age Do Leghorn Chickens Lay Their Signature White Eggs?
You can expect your Leghorn chicken to start laying between 4 to 5 months of age. When my Leghorn started laying, I was astonished at the size of her eggs despite her small and slim body.
What is interesting about Leghorn chickens is that the size of their eggs tends to increase as they mature.
A Leghorn chicken can lay well into her fifth year, so you can enjoy many years of beautiful eggs.
How Many Eggs Do Leghorns Lay?
The average Leghorn chicken can lay 280 to 300 eggs every year but if you own the pearl or white Leghorn, you could receive up to 320 eggs annually!
That’s impressive for such a slight bird weighing 5 to 6 lbs!
You can expect your Leghorn hens to lay large white eggs almost daily. The white egg size can range from medium to extra large and weigh around 2 ounces.
The typical eggs will increase in size as your Leghorn hens get older.
To help your Leghorn chickens continue to produce an abundance of eggs, you could help them by supplying nutritious food that provides a balance of vitamins and minerals, including calcium and protein.
Are Leghorns Broody?
As Leghorn chickens were originally bred to consistently produce eggs, they aren’t naturally broody.
In fact, Leghorn hens are considered lousy mothers, and most breeders will either use an incubator to hatch the eggs or will rely on a broody hen from another chicken breed to incubate the clutch.
After the eggs hatch, breeders will move the chicks to a brooding box to give them warmth and help the chicks develop and grow.
Just in case you need a brooding device, click here.
What Does Leghorn Meat Taste Like?
For those of us who are new to chicken keeping, or at least to keeping Leghorns, one of the most common questions is whether the white Leghorn meat differs from that of the brown Leghorn?
There is no difference between the varieties of Leghorn chickens, and if you were considering this chicken breed for meat production, you’d be terribly disappointed!
Leghorn chickens were not bred for meat purposes, so they have very little on the carcass to serve as a hearty or even a very small meal.
Many farmers use the Leghorn roosters for the pot, but there is no difference between the hens and roosters when it comes to meat quality and quantity.
What is the Temperament of a Leghorn Chicken?
The Leghorn chicken is a wonderful forager, and because landrace chickens are part of their heritage, they have a strong need for independence.
While being a naturally self-sufficient bird is a good thing, if their coop space is too small or they aren’t allowed free range, it can lead to stress. You can find some of the best coop kits I recommend here.
Leghorns are best raised in an outdoor environment where they can scratch and forage for their own food such as grit, bugs, and greenery.
It provides a natural supplement for their diet which also means healthier, tastier eggs.
Is the Leghorn Chicken Breed Friendly?
When the Leghorn is raised with regular human contact, provided a fairly sized coop, and encouraged to free range, they can be entertaining and incredibly friendly chickens.
They are also very talkative and naturally inquisitive, which could make them a little bit noisy but this depends on the individual chicken.
Leghorn roosters can be quite stroppy and defiant compared to the hens, so think carefully before introducing them to a backyard chicken coop in a confined urban area.
Remember that Leghorns can also be flighty birds, which means that they tend to scare easily. To prevent flighty birds, raise them from a young age with lots of interaction – this will encourage their trusting and loyal personalities to come through.
While some Leghorns are shy and others incredibly friendly, providing hours of enjoyment for chicken owners, the personality you introduce to your coop will depend on the individual bird.
What is the Right Coop Size for Leghorn Chickens?
A Leghorn chicken generally needs 3 to 4 square feet of coop space per bird.
They also enjoy plenty of space to roost and can fly quite high up, so if you’re building a run or you want to keep your Leghorn chickens out of your vegetable patch, you’ll need at least 4 to 6 ft high fencing to keep them confined.
A spacious coop also reduces stress and the likelihood of Leghorn chickens acting out or intimidating more timid fowl breeds.
The Benefits of Encouraging Leghorn Hens to Free Range
Leghorns tend to be healthier and happier when they’re allowed enough time during the day to free range.
If you are concerned about predators and protecting your chickens, you’ll be surprised to find that Leghorns are among the best at outwitting predators while free-ranging.
They’re fast, alert, and they can fly, making it easier to evade predators. Regardless, it’ll be a good idea to look into predator-proofing your coop. I’ve reviewed some choice chicken wire options here.
The Leghorn chicken is also one of the best when it comes to finding seeds, and they’ll get most of their daily diet from their natural surroundings.
You can teach young Leghorns to free range through the day and make their own way to the coop at night.
How to Care for Leghorns in Winter
All chickens need shelter in winter, which means access to a dry coop and protection against harsh rain or snow. Although Leghorn chickens are hardy, they cannot tolerate extremes in winter.
The single comb of the Leghorn chicken is prone to frostbite because of its large size. Chicken keepers in the US who live in regions where temperatures drop tend to prefer the rose comb Leghorn.
This is mainly because it requires less maintenance and is less likely to suffer frostbite.
General Care and Lifespan
Common Health Issues
The Leghorn chicken is robust and feisty and can generally take care of itself. They don’t suffer from any common health issues, which is also the reason they are the top choice of backyard chicken for first-time poultry keepers.
By allowing them to forage and providing access to a good feed, you’ll be confident that your chickens will continue to lay white eggs with hard shells and golden yolks.
How Long Do Leghorns Live?
A Leghorn chicken is a generally healthy bird, but has a relatively short lifespan compared to other breeds. The average Leghorn has a lifespan of 5 years, with the general range being 4 to 6 years of age.
The wild or free-ranging White Leghorn has a marginally longer lifespan compared to domestic and industrial Leghorns. They can reach up to 7 years in age!
Conclusion: Is the Leghorn Chicken Right for Your Coop?
The Leghorn Chicken can be quite chatty, a little bit shy, and flighty but they can also be friendly, confident, and sheer entertainers in the coop.
Having played such a vital part in the poultry industry, these chickens continue to make their mark in backyard coops and industrial egg production.
Leghorn chickens would be right for you if you want a chicken that will lay white eggs 4 to 5 times per week and/or you are looking for a fast-maturing chicken. They are also great if you’d prefer a hardy bird that enjoys foraging outdoors!
These chickens are wonderful for first-time chicken owners or seasoned breeders who enjoy a diverse and prolific egg layer with a unique personality to match.
They are also available in different color varieties, including the popular white Leghorn to the lesser-known brown Leghorn.
Feel Free To Share
Please share with your Leghorn loving family and friends (or anyone else you know who is interested in adding the Leghorn chicken to their flock!).
Once they’ve settled into your chicken coop, these unique birds are sure to leave their stamp on your heart.