by Brin Jackson
One of the most popular egg-laying breeds in the world, the Leghorn has exceptional laying ability, adaptability, and hardiness.
A Brief History Of The Leghorn Chicken
The Leghorn chicken is in the Mediterranean class of chickens, originating in Tuscany where it was called Livorno or Livornese. They first came to North America in 1828 from the city of Livorno and were originally known as Italians. They later became known as “Leghorn”, an anglicization of “Livorno”.
Leghorn Breed Characteristics
Although the white Leghorn chicken is the most common, other colors include red, black-tailed red, light brown, dark brown, black, buff, Columbian, buff Columbian, barred, and silver. They have yellow legs and white ear lobes.
Most Leghorn chickens have single combs. Although a rose comb is permitted in some countries, it is not in Italy.
Known for high production egg laying, with a high level of fertility, hens however, are not broody and aren’t the best mothers. They are not a meat production bird.
These birds are known for their hardiness. They tolerate both heat and cold, though the rose-comb variety is better suited for cold as the large single comb is susceptible to frostbite.
They are light eaters and excellent foragers and can be raised on a variety of soil types. This makes them a profitable and economical breed of poultry.
Because of their light weight, Leghorn chickens are capable of flying short distances and will roost in trees.
Leghorns mature early and feather quickly. The pullets often begin laying at 4 months old, and cockerels crow at the same age.
Leghorn Chicken Laying Capacity
These birds lay large to extra large white eggs, laying between 150 and 320 eggs per year. Often 6 – 7 eggs per week! Unlike some varieties of layers, the hens don’t slow down in the winter, tending to slow down only if it gets very hot or during a molt.
The egg industry has used white Leghorns to create productive egg-laying hybrids. Because they are such prolific layers, the lifespan of a laying hen is only 4 to 6 years.
Temperament of the Leghorn Chicken
They are busy, active, noisy chickens and can become restless if kept in a coop. Leghorns prefer to forage; actively hunting and scratching much of their diet from the soil in pasture, flower and vegetable gardens, and compost piles. Ideally, they need lots of room to roam and a large secure coop when they are to be confined.
If keeping a mixed flock of chickens, they should be kept with breeds of similar temperaments rather than more docile breeds.
This is not a breed for beginners or children who want pets they can cuddle. They can be noisy, so not a choice for an urban or suburban location.
Single-comb black, white, and brown Leghorns were the first varieties to be included in the American Standard of Perfection in 1874, followed by:
- Rose Comb Dark Brown – 1883
- Rose Comb Light Brown – 1883
- Rose Comb White – 1886
- Single Comb Buff – 1894
- Single Comb Silver – 1894
- Single Comb Red – 1929
- Single Comb Black Tailed Red – 1929
- Single Comb Columbian – 1929
- Rose Comb Buff – 1981
- Single Comb Duckwing – 1981
Today’s exhibition birds and even the older varieties, vary considerably from those seen presently in Italy.
Caring for Leghorn Chickens
Raise these birds from chicks as you would any other. Heat lamp or infrared chick heater, brooder box, then move to the secure hen house. Adequate space must be allowed – a minimum of 3, preferably 4 square feet of coop space each, and sturdy roosts. Provide nesting boxes at least 12” X 12”.
Feed ration depends on age. From starter to grower pellets, then when they reach pullet age, 16% layer pellets should be fine. During the molt however, you might want to increase the protein percentage to help them through this time.
Fresh water should be given and checked daily, as with grit and oyster shell.
Assuming you allow them to free-range, these are economical birds to keep. They are light eaters and adept at finding food while foraging, thus supplementing their diet.
Purchasing Leghorn chickens
Chicks can be found at most reputable hatcheries with prices ranging in the neighborhood of just over $3 for unsexed birds to over $4 for females. Male birds are just under $3. (2023). Be aware there may be a minimum limit per order and you may need to order in advance. Pullet age understandably is more expensive.
Pros and Cons of Raising Leghorn Chickens
- High egg production
- Light eaters/love to forage
- Hardy; will tolerate heat and cold
- Not broody
- Noisy (not a good choice for urban/suburban environments)
- Can fly and roost in trees
- Not a bird for children or beginners
- On the smaller side; not known as a table bird
- Not broody (if you are looking for a breed that will sit and hatch chicks)
Though we may not know the breed name, we are all familiar seeing the white Leghorn with her floppy red comb.
Hens are prolific layers of large to extra-large white eggs laying throughout most of the year.
They are economical birds to keep as they are light eaters and prefer to free range foraging for food.
This is a restless, noisy breed of chicken, not good for children as pets or beginners, or as a backyard bird in an urban or suburban environment.
They are good flyers and will clear fences easily. They will roost in trees.
A medium-sized bird, Leghorns reach about 16” in height and weigh between 5-8 pounds when fully grown. The roosters weigh slightly more than the hens.
If you are looking for a chicken who is a consistent layer, this is a great breed!
Want to learn more about raising chickens? This Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens (+Pro Tips) will help you ask yourself all the right questions, and it will also give you a realistic idea of what to expect as a chicken owner.
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