Most everyone has at one time or another seen a Leghorn chicken. Just think about it for a minute—one of the most loved characters of Saturday morning cartoons was Foghorn Leghorn—he was so named because his breed was that of a Leghorn chicken.
In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the most famous Leghorn chicken in the world.
No longer considered just for commercial egg-laying, the breed is making a massive comeback as being one of American backyard flock owner’s favorite heritage birds.
They were originally referred to as Italians, but over the years, that changed to the now-familiar Leghorn.
Suppose you are considering adding Leghorn chickens to your flock. In that case, this article will provide some insight into the breed, such as temperament, disposition, egg-laying characteristics, as well as a little historical background thrown in for good measure.
History Of The Leghorn Chicken Breed
The specifics on the actual origins of the Leghorn chicken are pretty much unknown. The current breed of Leghorn originated from several small breeds of landrace chickens located in the Tuscany region of Italy.
The name Leghorn is an anglicization of the Italian word Livorno. Livorno is a port city in Italy, from which the Leghorn breed was first known to be exported to the USA around 1828. What fate be failed those original birds after being shipped is not known.
The individual credited with bringing Leghorns to the US is Captain Gates. He docked with the birds at Mystic Harbor in Connecticut, and the birds he arrived with were to be the forebears of the Leghorns we know today.
After some working with the breed’s genetics, including working to achieve a rose comb once the birds arrived in the US, the White Leghorn was the winner of its first show in New York in 1868. After that, in 1870, the Leghorns were shipped and made their way to the UK.
However, it seems the English were not too fond of the small stature of the Leghorn, as they decided to cross it with the Minorca to produce the robust frame of the Leghorn of today. This crossing gave the breed a more dual-purpose quality. Even with the cross-breeding, the Leghorn remains a somewhat thin bird that is not considered suitable for table fare.
Eventually, the cross-breeds developed by the English eventually made it back across the waters to the US. The new size, larger than what was already here, made the breed acceptable to poultry’s later budding industry in the 1910s.
As with anything in life, those who admired the Leghorn breed soon found themselves in two rival groups—those who took notice of and appreciated the chicken and how nature had created it and those who put production above everything else.
To this day, the rivalry continues, with only a few breeders working towards preserving the original genetic lines of the Leghorn. Even so, most Leghorns that we see today are raised with the intent of being industrial hens.
Appearance Of The Leghorn Chicken Breed
Many, to this day, when they think of a Leghorn chicken, assume they are all white. As it turns out, the breed does present in a variety of colors.
Another feature of the breed is that they will present with either a single comb or a rose comb. As mentioned before, the rose comb was a specific feature bred into the breed when in the US.
The rose comb was to aid in dealing with the harsh winters. Large combs on a chicken are no match for the frigid temperatures that the northern states are known to receive. As such, a dead giveaway of this breed of chicken is their relatively large, floppy combs.
The breed presents with red wattles, and as mentioned before either a rose comb or a single comb. The white earlobes of the Leghorn are an indicator that they are white egg layers.
As for their eyes, they will be orange/red, and the beak will have a yellow color. Their skin and legs are yellow in color as well, and they have four toes on their feet.
The appearance of a Leghorn has often been described by many as long, sleek, and aerodynamic. This description is with the exception of the single comb, which is said to give the Leghorn a somewhat comical appearance.
Leghorn Chicken Breed Standards
The first members of the Leghorn breed were officially admitted, in 1847, into the American Poultry Association.
The designation was as a Mediterranean class, either standard or bantam size, clean legged, and a single or a rose comb.
On the other hand, the Italian Association currently recognizes ten different standard varieties, but not those with a rose comb.
- 1874 – black, brown, and white single comb
- 1883 – light and dark brown rose comb
- 1886 – white rose comb
- 1889 – red and black-tile red Colombian single comb
- 1894 – buff and silver single comb
- 1981 – buff, silver, gold duckwing, and black rose comb
Standardly, the Leghorn fowl will weigh in at 7 ½ pounds for males and between 5-6 pounds for hens. On the other hand, the bantams will usually weigh in at 1kg for males and 0.9 kg for hens.
As is usually the case, there are those that can have a slight discrepancy in the official weights between each country’s various poultry associations.
Leghorn Chicken Temperament
Leghorns, as a breed, are very intelligent and very resourceful. If left to free-range, this breed can find much if not all of its own food. Due to this ability, feed costs for Leghorn’s typically run low.
They are an active breed that, as a result, likes to keep themselves busy. Their favorite activity is that of being able to free-range and forage.
Leghorns are very adept at flying, and if the opportunity presents itself, they will roost in the nearest tree. They are not the best choice for an urban backyard flock, as they are a somewhat noisy breed.
The hens tend to be chatty Kathy’s and will cackle and cluck most all the time. The roosters of the breed can be pretty talkative as well—they work to keep up with the hens.
Although they can tolerate confinement, it is essential to remember that they are a high-energy breed. That is why it is essential to remember to provide these birds with lots of room and activities for them to-do while confined—they will get bored very easily and very fast.
The Leghorn breed has a known reputation for not only being a somewhat noisy bird but high-strung as well. However, this tendency seems to vary depending on the strain of bird that one has.
Many of the Leghorn strains are not particularly flighty by nature, but they are aloof when it comes to any possible human contact.
Because of the wide varieties in the Leghorn breed, it is hard to generalize temperament or attitude, as not all the strains are created alike. The method of judging the attitude that your particular chicks may grow up to express is by looking at their parents. Through this manner, you may be able to get a good idea of just how friendly or non-friendly they may be.
There is the fact that the more they are handled when they are young chicks, the better the chance they will have a good temperament.
Leghorn Egg Production and Broodiness
If you find yourself considering the possibility of supplementing your income by selling eggs, you can not go wrong with having a few of this heritage breed in your flock’s mix.
The hens of the Leghorn are hands down the favorite breed of the poultry industry. Hens are known to lay as many as 280-320 eggs each year of their life. With this fantastic rate of averaging out to 4+ eggs per week, these hens are easily egg laying dynamos and undoubtedly the best laying breed of any line of fowl.
The Leghorn hen is a durable layer, as they typically will lay well into the third or even fourth year of their lives.
The eggs that the hens produce are solid white and will typically lay around 2 ounces each. The longer a Leghorn hen lays, the larger her eggs are known to get. Typically, the eggs are large in size, but they can easily become extra-large in size towards the end of her laying cycle.
Because Leghorns primarily a laying breed, it is somewhat rare for one of the hens to go broody. On the off chance that one does, they make awful mothers. They do not have the tolerance or patience for sitting on the clutch, so if you are wanting Leghorn chicks, you will have to enlist the use of an incubator.
When it comes to the chicks of the Leghorns, they are quick to mature, and as such, will develop their permanent feathers rather quickly.
Health Issues Known To Leghorn Chickens
The Leghorn breed is both robust and active, and as such, has no known “common” health issues to be aware of. They are all-around healthy birds.
However, the Leghorn is prone to frostbite in the frigidly cold winter months because of its rather large and floppy combs. The best way to prevent frostbite from forming is to keep the combs, and wattles, covered in Vaseline. Alternatively, you could choose the variety with the rose comb, which is more tolerant to the cold.
Are Leghorn Chickens A Good Choice For You?
If you have decided that you want a friendly and cuddly bird accepting of your attention and your affections, you need to look elsewhere—as Leghorn’s are not a breed for this. Although there are those exceptions to the rule, for the most part, Leghorn’s are not “people birds.”
Because the breed initially evolved from the landrace birds, which were known as feral, there is still a somewhat turn towards independence in their genetic makeup.
On the other hand, if you fine you are looking for a hen that doesn’t eat much but is a reliable layer, then the Leghorn is the bird for you. If given a chance to free-range, you will find that their feed to egg ratio is one of the most economical out there.
Because they are known to be flighty, nervous, and shy, it is not advised that small children be allowed around them unless highly supervised.
The Take Away On Leghorn Chickens
The Leghorn is a well-designed, sleek, and well-proportioned bird.
Because the hens are both a reliable and long-lasting layer, these qualities have resulted in the breed suffering abuse by the poultry industry.
There are those hens that have been production hens in the poultry industry that, from time to time, are given a new lease on life. There are chicken owners that choose to adopt the hens and rehome them with their own backyard flocks.
Those individuals who have rehomed the industrial hens have stated that they are lovely creatures, and they will continue to serve their flock owners well by providing lots of eggs in return for their new homes.
As said before, the Leghorn breed is not an affectionate breed, and they will never achieve “pet” status. However, what they will provide their flock owners with is some exceptional company and some of the best hours of chicken TV around.