Your Ultimate Guide to the Leghorn Chicken
The world-famous status of these Leghorn chickens may have you rushing to the nearest hatchery, but you may want to consider your fence height, climate, and neighbor’s noise tolerance before getting a flock.
Read our ultimate guide to Leghorns and decide if these Italians belong in your backyard.
Leghorn Chicken Breed In A Nutshell
|Country of Origin||Italy|
|Purpose for Breeding||Eggs|
|Size / market weight||4.5 – 6 pounds|
|Notable Features||Large red wattles, Single/rose comb, white earlobes, yellow legs|
|Egg production||Excellent (280-320 eggs per year)|
|Egg color & size||White, large size|
|Ease of care||Low maintenance|
|Ideal meat production time||Not ideal for meat|
|Pullet Maturity time||24 – 28 weeks|
|Activity level||Very active|
|Sociability with other chickens||Good (except with other roosters)|
|Sociability with people||Can be tamed|
A Brief History Of the Leghorn Chicken
The Leghorn chicken is named after its place of origin. Livorno (Italian for Leghorn) is a port city in the Tuscany region of Northern Italy.
Captain Gates brought the Leghorn breed to the United States in the mid-1800s. Their egg-cellent laying ability and small appetite made them the best-kept egg chicken of Americans.
Despite the attempts to develop the Leghorn into a true dual-purpose chicken, their true nature prevailed.
What Does a Leghorn Chicken Look Like?
This Mediterranean chicken breed has a small body, with striking large red wattles, white earlobes, and yellow legs. The Leghorn breed can have either a single or rose comb and come in standard and bantam sizes.
Leghorns are not big birds. These chickens only weigh between 4.5 – 6 pounds when fully grown.
The American Poultry Association (APA) recognized many varieties of this heritage chicken breed, depending on size and comb type. Here’s a simplified version to help you out.
Bantam and Large Fowl (single and rose comb):
- Dark Brown
- Light Brown
Bantam (single comb only):
Although Brown Leghorns were the first variety introduced to the United States, the White Leghorn chicken is the most popular.
They are pretty much the poster chook for the eggs you see in the supermarket.
The 2 Most Popular Leghorn Chicken Colors
Among the many Leghorn varieties, there are two that stand out in production and exhibition quality. They are the Brown Leghorns and the Whites.
1. Brown for Meat & Exhibits
Brown Leghorns are slightly bigger than the white variety, meaning more potential to be a meat source.
Exhibition breeders love the plumage on the brown variety.
They also like the challenge of breeding this variety to standard. It is difficult to get right, but when you do, well, you get bragging rights to go with your winnings.
On a more practical note, the brown plumage is a defense mechanism.
The earthy tones of their plumage help protect the Brown Leghorn from predators.
The brown variety’s downside is that they don’t lay as many eggs as the White Leghorns.
The difference is not big enough to break your bank, and this small difference is still highly debated among experts.
2. White for Eggs & Exhibits
The White Leghorns are another popular variety.
Unlike the browns, it’s easy to spot flaws because their uniform white plumage is the standard. Any tinge of discoloration is an automatic disqualification (1).
On the flip side, their striking white plumage means they get easily targeted in a green field.
There are upsides and downsides to each variety, but in the end, they are all still Leghorns, and the deciding factor is your preference.
What’s It Like To Own Leghorn Chickens?
From their character and production to breeding, here’s everything you need to know about keeping Leghorns in your farm or backyard.
- Excellent layers
- Small eaters (can live on foraging)
- Fast maturation
- Highly fertile
- Not ideal for meat
- Roosters are aggressive
Leghorn’s Personality And Temperament
The Leghorn is not like the Silkie in terms of friendliness.
The roosters are aloof birds that like to be left alone with their hens.
These macho birds like to be on top of the pecking order, so keeping them with other roosters (regardless of the breed) isn’t a good idea.
They are competitive and sometimes aggressive towards other roosters.
If you want to keep a flock of Leghorn with roosters for breeding, you will need to place them in their breeding pen.
Leghorns are not the cuddly type too.
They are not a fan nor crave physical interaction and affection from humans.
If you have young kids who like interacting with chickens, try the more docile Orpington for your flock.
Unlike broody breeds like the Polish, Leghorn hens focus on laying eggs and not sitting on them. Prepare to get an excellent incubator to hatch your white eggs.
Leghorn chickens are not broody because they are very active birds.
They spend most of their time scratching about, looking for food. Keep an eye on your flower beds.
Leghorns are not careful foragers.
Unfortunately for you or your neighbors, they are noisy birds too. They cluck and forage all day, every day.
There’s just no reason to sugarcoat it – Leghorns don’t have likable personalities.
It is what it is.
Leghorns Set The Bar For The Egg Industry
The Leghorn hen is a natural egg-laying machine. These Italian ladies can pop out 280-300 large white eggs per year!
There are other prolific egg layers like the Speckled Sussex or Golden Comet.
But the Leghorn is still one of the best chickens for eggs, especially on the commercial level (2).
Of the 12 varieties, the single-comb White Leghorn is more popular than all the other leghorns combined; the world’s leading egg producer.
Why? Because Leghorns are small eaters, consuming less feed without compromising their egg-laying abilities.
They are also cold hardy, able to maintain production even through the winter.
Another good thing about White Leghorns is that they mature quickly. Pullets will start laying eggs as early as 18-20 weeks (3).
Leghorn Chicken As A Meat Source
The leghorn would have been the ultimate chicken if there were more muscle to them.
But as they say, you can’t have it all.
Since they are small-framed birds without a rounded chest, Leghorns’ original strains don’t make very good meat birds.
However, the modern Leghorn is proving to show some potential in the poultry industry. A study shows that they make a tasty and economically viable fried chicken (4).
If you want a true dual-purpose breed, try the Wyandotte or Plymouth Rock.
How to Take Care of Leghorns
Okay, so Leghorns are not people-chickens.
Luckily, they’re low maintenance, so you don’t have to interact with them much.
1. Make sure to have a high fence or a roof
Leghorn chickens are adaptable to both confinement and free-range systems.
Whether they stay in a breeding pen or spend the day roaming free, Leghorns need a coop with a nesting box and roosts at the end of the day.
When choosing a coop, keep the Leghorn’s flighty nature in mind.
Being on the small side, these chooks can fly (5). Be sure to have high fencing for your yard or a roof for their pens.
Leghorns are capable of considerable flight and often roost in trees if given the opportunity.
Needless to say, don’t let your chickens roost on trees.
Nocturnal predators are real! Owls and snakes can quickly snatch them up in their sleep.
A predator-proof coop is always best.
2. Opt for a bantam size if space is limited
If you’re limited on space but still want a Leghorn, opt for the bantam chicken size.
Being extra small means a typically small backyard becomes a big space.
You don’t have to compromise much when you go small with this breed.
While other bantam chickens decrease in productivity along with their size, Leghorn bantams will still lay between 5-6 medium eggs per week.
Another advantage to Leghorn bantams is their personality.
Some keepers say they are still active but calmer.
Maybe it’s because bantams are usually bred more for exhibition and are used to being handled.
Whatever the reason, that is a plus on your tally sheet.
If exhibiting bantams is more your thing, you’ll be happy to know that there are more color varieties for bantam Leghorns than the standard size.
If this section about mini chickens piqued your interest, check out our article on other bantam chickens.
3. Let them forage freely
It’s a no-brainer to give your penned Leghorns fresh chicken feed and water every day.
However, If you have a big safe space, by all means, let these active chickens forage freely in your yard.
They consume little feed and can thrive on foraging alone.
This allows for big savings, and the eggs yield a hefty profit. WIN. WIN.
If you just want a chicken that lays lots of eggs but doesn’t consume much feed, then the Leghorn is right for you.
4. Don’t trim their combs
The Leghorn is a hardy bird that is not prone to contracting a disease.
From Australia’s hot climate to North America and Europe’s cold winters, they can thrive in almost any environment.
One feature that makes them vulnerable in the winter is their combs.
Frostbite is the enemy of single comb Leghorns. To protect the comb through harsh winters, rub some petroleum jelly on each one.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, well, can’t I just trim the combs off?”
Combs are not like your appendix that has no function. The single comb of Leghorns is essential in thermoregulation during hot summers (6).
Alternatively, getting rose comb Leghorn varieties would eliminate the frostbitten comb problem if you live in a cold climate.
The compact rose comb helps chickens retain heat.
That being said, think of combs as nature’s way of indicating where a chicken truly belongs.
Protruding single comb is for warmer climates, while the compact rose comb is for colder climates.
Leghorns, depending on comb type, adapt anywhere.
If you are raising Leghorn from chicks, they are also easy to care for and grow quickly.
The chicks will start feathering within a week, with combs appearing when they turn four weeks old.
where Can You Buy Leghorn Chickens?
Given the worldwide popularity of the Leghorn chicken breed, they are very easy to source.
You can most probably buy hatching eggs or adult Leghorns from your local poultry shop or tractor supply.
You can also order these chickens online from hatcheries and registered breeders.
Check out these hatcheries and web sources:
Prices vary from 2USD to about 14USD for an adult variety of Leghorn. Hatching chicks average about 4USD.
Leghorn chickens have been an integral breed in the poultry industry, providing the most commercially available eggs.
Despite their high egg production, Leghorns are a relatively easy breed to raise in your backyard.
Their hardiness, space adaptability, and minimal feed requirement make them ideal for beginner and expert keepers alike.
Although Leghorn rooster’s strong personality isn’t for everyone, the hens make a great addition to all backyard flocks.
Foghorn Leghorn is a Leghorn rooster. This Looney Tunes character is a big chicken with a strong devious personality and a loud voice.
The writers did get some of the characteristics right. Leghorns do have a strong personality (they do like to pick fights, after all). These chickens are also LOUD crowers and cluckers.
Leghorns aren’t huge in real life, but they make up for their size with their big personalities, often dominating a flock.
There isn’t much difference between White Leghorn roosters and hens apart from size. Full-grown roosters are bigger and heavier than hens, just like other chicken breeds.
However, unlike other chicken breeds, single-comb hens have prominent combs like the roosters. You can still tell them apart because the hen’s comb droops off to one side, kind of like a combed bob hairdo.
Although they have the same uniform white color, the hackles and tail feathers of the White Leghorn rooster are longer than that of the hens.
The American Poultry Association classifies Leghorns as a Mediterranean chicken breed.
These breeds are naturally prolific egg layers. Developers of the breed eliminated the broody trait to focus solely on egg production.
Other characteristics of Mediterranean breeds are:
Large white egg size
Leghorns are the only Mediterranean breed that is popularly known to have bantam sizes. This is an American influence. Other breeds rarely have bantams because smaller chickens are less productive and have less value aside for show.
- Standard Varieties of Chickens: Leghorns. Retrieved from: https://chickscope.beckman.illinois.edu/resources/standard_varieties/leghorns.html
- Leghorn. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/animal/leghorn
- Gail Damerow Discusses a Hen’s Laying Cycles and Life Span. Retrieved from: https://blog.mcmurrayhatchery.com/2018/08/02/gail-damerow-discusses-a-hens-laying-cycles-and-life-span/
- A Comparison of Leghorn Fowl and Fryers for Precooked Battered Fried Chicken. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0032579119344451
- Poultry Breeds – Leghorn Chickens. Retrieved from: https://afs.okstate.edu/breeds/poultry/chickens/leghorn/index.html/
- All About Chicken Comb Types. Retrieved from: https://www.chickenwhisperermagazine.com/health-and-wellness/all-about-chicken-combs
Tana grew up around island farms and pine forests. Her love for nature lead to her degree in Biology and mission to lessen her environmental impact. Now she grows food in her backyard and shares what she learns from Eco Peanut with others.