Are you in the market for a bold, spirited, and adventurous chicken who will give you plenty of eggs? The Leghorn might be the flock addition you seek!
What are Leghorn Chickens?
Leghorn chickens originated in Italy and their authentic name is “Livorno” or “Livornese”. They have also been referred to in the past as “Italians”. They remain one of Italy’s most common chicken breeds.
The Livorno was originally bred in Italy’s northwest and was a small chicken which ate little but produced a lot of eggs. It was originally brown.
Livorno chickens were first exported from Italy to the USA in the early 1800s and by 1853 was bred as brown or white. It was the white variety which was renamed Leghorn, and it was exported from the USA to England in 1870. The brown followed soon after.
The English did not appreciate the smaller body of the Leghorn, so cross-bred it with the Minorca chicken for a more robust result.
In the early 1900s, Leghorns were Australia’s most common breed of purebred fowl.
Leghorn Characteristics and Temperament
Leghorns are too small to be considered a table bird – their value to humans lies purely in egg production.
Chicks are born covered with fluffy down which is quickly replaced with feathers. As such, Leghorn cockerels and pullets are more cold-tolerant than other juvenile chickens.
Adult Leghorns are classically beautiful and:
- Are small, compact birds; hens weigh 2.5kg
- Feathers are soft and silky
- Have a single, large, jaunty red comb
- Male combs usually stand upright
- Hen combs flop to one side
- Have a large red wattle
- Eyes are bright and orange in color
- Earlobes are white – which signify that they lay white eggs!
- Legs are yellow
In terms of temperament, Leghorns are busy, clever, happy, and independent birds. They are very active. Not always the friendliest breed, they can be skittish and nervy; they are not a lap chicken. Unless you raise a Leghorn from birth, it will reject being picked up or handled. They are good fliers so require a secure coop, run, and fenced foraging area; otherwise, they will roost in trees.
Leghorn hens are not at all broody and do not make good mothers at all.
There are many varieties of Leghorn plumage:
Bantam Leghorns are available and these hens are docile compared with their standard counterparts. Some US Leghorns are bred to have rose combs to withstand cold conditions better and avoid frostbite. Leghorns have been used for many years as the base breed for many hybrid chicken breeds.
The only breed which lays more prolifically than the Leghorn is the ISA Brown.
Why Keep Leghorn Chickens?
- Leghorns are strong and healthy and do great in both hot and cold conditions and will survive most climates. They are bred to cope with extremes and do great in hot summers and very cold winters, though their large comb may be susceptible to frostbite in sub-zero conditions. Keep your coop moisture-free, especially in winter, to protect the large comb and wattle from frostbite.
- They are amongst the most prolific layers in the chicken world! The average Leghorn hen in her prime will deliver 300 eggs annually. They don’t go into laying decline during winter and still lay well at age three or four years. Eggs are large and have a pure white shell.
- Despite their size, Leghorns are happy to live in a relatively small run, as long as they can forage during the day.
- Leghorns are outstanding foragers and they are happiest scratching around for treats in any type of soil. They will supplement their diet themselves with bugs and grubs. Just keep them out of your flower beds.
- Although they lay a lot of eggs, Leghorns eat relatively very little.
- They do not go broody – ever.
- Chicks (which almost always need to be hatched from an incubator) will mature very quickly.
Leghorns are widely used as battery hens. As such, they are a breed frequently available to rescue and adopt as they get older and begin to lay less.
If you’re looking for a child-friendly, cuddly pet to snuggle with, Leghorns are not your best option. If, however, you want a non-aggressive, resourceful, compact bird with an interesting personality who will eat little but give you plenty of eggs, Leghorns are a great choice. They are fun to watch free-ranging around your garden and add another level of personality and diversity to your backyard flock.