Leghorn Chickens – Breed Profile & Facts
Nowadays, you have several breed options when venturing into poultry farming. Nonetheless, you should have a clear picture of what to expect of a chicken breed vis-a-vis your needs before settling on it. If you love classic cartoons, your first encounter with a chicken breed might have been in animation.
There was a loudmouth rooster who loved pranks and ruled the Warner Bros.’ barnyard for years starting in 1946. The rooster is Foghorn J. Leghorn, and he might have charmed millions of people into poultry keeping. Today, the leghorn is among the leading chicken breeds in the U.S and a pivotal point for the country’s egg industry.
If you want to rear a leghorn, here are a few facts to answer your questions on this breed and tips on how best to keep it.
The History of Leghorn Chickens
The leghorn chicken breed originated near the port of Leghorn in Northern Italy. The name leghorn is an English version of ‘’Livorno’’, the port city in Italy. Though its ancestors are not clearly known, leghorns were introduced by Captain Gates to America in the mid-1800s.
From America, the breed was introduced to Britain. Most experts believe that the chickens were derived from light breeds in rural Tuscany. The birds were initially called ‘’Italians’’ because of their country of origin but were renamed Leghorns in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1865.
Captain Gates docked at the Mystic Harbor in Connecticut with the first leghorns from Italy. These birds underwent some refinement in the U.S to make the white leghorn that won a New York show in 1868.
The English wanted better than the small-bodied leghorn introduced to them around 1870. As such, they crossbred it with the Minorca to get a bird with a robust frame. The crossbreed was introduced to the U.S in 1910.
The American Poultry Association (APA) recognized leghorns in 1874. The APA and American Bantam Association recognize silver, buff Columbian, barred, light brown, black, dark brown, Columbian, buff, white, red, and black-tailed red leghorn varieties.
In Britain, the recognized leghorn varieties are partridge, lavender, buff Columbian, blue-red, buff, exchequer, Pyle, black, blue-white, mottled, cuckoo, silver duckwing, and golden duckwing. The French Poultry Federation has four leghorn varieties, including the modern type, the old type, the English white, and the American white.
Characteristics of Leghorn Chickens
Below are the main characteristics of leghorn chickens.
– Size and Weight
The average size of your leghorn depends on its sex and age, with the females being somewhat smaller than males. As expected, chicks have to mature into grown birds, and several elements influence their healthy growth. If your leghorn is fed on a suitable diet for its age and has adequate access to heating, light, and optimal care, it can attain its suitable size and weight.
A fully grown leghorn rooster above six months old should be about 3.4kg (7.5 pounds), while the hen should be 2.5kg (5.5 pounds). A growing cockerel less than six months old should weigh about 2.95kg (6.5 pounds), whereas a pullet should be 2.25kg (5 pounds). Bantam leghorn roosters weigh 1.02kg (2.25 pounds), while hens weigh 0.9kg (1.9 pounds).
Adult leghorns reach average heights of sixteen inches, including their combs from the average of three inches at birth. However, if the comb flops over, this can add an extra inch to your bird’s height.
The cartoon, Foghorn Leghorn, was renowned for its brilliant but usually ill-fated plans. This matches the fact that leghorns are quite intelligent, with a few experts describing the birds as “resourceful” because they tend to find food on their own when left alone.
Foraging is one of the favorite activities for leghorns because they are active birds. They prefer free-ranging but can adapt after some time when raised in confinement.
The leghorn will fly and roost in trees when allowed to do so. It is a noisy breed that might not be the best choice for people living in apartments and urban areas. The cockerels and roosters will crow cheerfully throughout the day, starting before dawn, while the hen clucks and cackles all day.
Unlike most chicken breeds, leghorns will not interact much with humans because they are shy. Nonetheless, if you handle them frequently, leghorns can become more open to humans though they will not become lap birds.
Experts advise against leaving small kids unsupervised around these chickens. Though a leghorn will not actually harm children, the bird will frighten them more so when the kids do not have much experience with animals. Rooster leghorns are quite protective and usually perch on high spots to stand guard then warn their flock of danger.
The life expectancy y of a leghorn is shorter than that of standard birds because it is a productive egg layer. The bird will thus live for around 4-6 years.
– Egg production
If you want to start an egg-selling business, you will not go wrong with the leghorn. The breed is a prolific layer producing 200-300 eggs annually which translates to about five eggs weekly. Four leghorns will assure you about six dozen eggs monthly. These impressive numbers place leghorns among the front lines of the best-laying breeds.
The two main classes of leghorn colors are white and brown. White leghorns are ideal for egg production. These lay white eggs weighing about 2 ounces (55g). The eggs will often get larger as the hen ages, so they might become large and sometimes extra-large as the laying cycle nears an end.
Leghorns are reputed to lay many eggs in their third and fourth years, after which the number of eggs they produce starts reducing.
Egg production generally reduces in the winter because leghorns need about fourteen hours of light for egg laying. Add artificial light to your coop in the winter to encourage egg laying. Leghorns have been bred for laying rather than brooding, so your hen will rarely brood.
This makes leghorns bad mothers. If you want chicks, it is best to consider an incubator. Thankfully, when your chicks hatch, they will feather relatively quickly and mature fast.
– Meat production
Leghorns mature in 18-20 weeks and weigh about 4.5-6 pounds. The ideal varieties for meat production are the brown ones because they are somewhat bigger than the white ones. Moreover, they do not lay as many eggs as white leghorns.
However, leghorns are not routinely kept for meat production because they are lighter than other chicken varieties. Brown leghorns are harder to care for than white leghorns, but their color makes them less visible to predators.
Leghorn Chicken Care
To get the highest benefits from your leghorn, you should take optimal care of it. Here are some pointers to help you.
– Feeding and Nutrition
Thankfully, leghorns are light feeders, so you will not go broke feeding them. Moreover, they are good foragers, so when you let them free range, they will glean lots of fresh food that supplements their diets, thus lowering your bill for commercial feeds.
Start your chicks on a starter feed until they are about 20 weeks old. When egg production begins at 20-22 weeks old, replace your grower feeds with layer feeds.
Layer feeds should not be introduced earlier than two weeks before your bird starts laying eggs. Introducing layer diets too early can cause improper development of a leghorn’s bones. Your hen will need not less than 17g of protein daily to support egg production.
You can also get a calcium supplement or add ground egg shells into your hen’s feed to keep the eggs healthy and strengthen their shells. Keep fresh water within easy reach of the chickens at all times to avoid dehydration.
You need about four square feet of space in your coop for each leghorn. Though they are small, these chickens are quite active, so you need enough room for them to move around. For roosting, each chicken needs about 8 inches of roost.
This is enough to spread out in the summer and snuggle in the winter. Shredded newspaper, pine or cedar shavings, and hay are e common bedding options spread on the ground for leghorns.
Nesting boxes can be 12×12 inches. This size is large enough for moving around in and too small for double bunking. Double bunking might look cute but often causes broken or mucky eggs. When housing your leghorns in a pen, you might find them perched in your trees.
To discourage roosting in trees, keep your chickens in their coop until they know that this is where they should sleep. Thankfully, leghorns tolerate confinement well though they are active birds.
– Health Problems
Leghorns are very adaptable and robust. Though they tolerate hot and cold climates well, these birds originate from a warm/temperate climate. As such, they thrive in warm regions. If you have very harsh winters, consider heating your coop to keep your flock healthy.
Cover your birds’ combs with Vaseline in the winter to prevent frostbite. Moreover, monitor your leghorns for worms, lice, and mites. Experts recommend raising your flock separately from other chicken breeds because adolescent leghorns can be quite troublesome before they settle down.
How Much do Leghorn Chickens Cost?
The prices of adult leghorns vary from $2-14 while hatching chicks are sold at $4 on average. Thankfully, the popularity of this chicken breed makes it easy to source worldwide. You can even get hatching eggs from your local tractor supply or poultry shop. You can also order your chickens online from registered breeders and hatcheries.
Are Leghorn Chickens Good for Beginners?
No, leghorns are not the best choices for beginners. They are naturally independent and love keeping to themselves. Though they are easy to care for, the minimal interaction with humans will make them unsuitable for beginners who will not know what to look for in a sick chicken because they do not interact much with their flock.
Nonetheless, if a beginner wants the highest egg production, the leghorn can be a good choice.
Are Leghorn Chickens Hardy?
Yes, leghorns are quite hardy and suitable for all climates though they will not ordinarily thrive in the cold. The single comb variety often gets frostbite on its comb, which can be quite painful. The rose comb variety fares better in cold climates because its comb is smaller and close to the head, so it retains heat better than a single comb.
Most leghorn roosters have large wattles and might also get frostbite on the wattles. It is thus best to heat your coop in the winter to protect your leghorn from frostbite.
Can Leghorn Chickens Fly?
Yes, leghorns can fly. Most leghorn varieties are renowned for being flighty because of their lightweight. They will happily roost in the trees when they fly. As such, most breeders will clip or trim the wings of their chickens to prevent flight. In trimming, breeders cut off the longest part of one wing to hobble the bird’s flight until their next molt. It does not affect the bird.
Tips on Keeping Leghorn Chickens
Below are a few tips for keeping leghorns:
- If you have limited space but still want a leghorn flock, settle for the bantam variety.
- Do not trim the comb of your leghorn. This comb helps your chicken retain heat in winter and is essential for thermoregulation in the summer.
- Use a disinfectant to clean the chicken coop at least weekly to prevent diseases.
- Have a large fenced area where your leghorns can run and exercise because they are very active.
From the article above, you are ready to decide whether a leghorn works best for your needs or if you should settle for another breed. This is an ideal choice if you want a good egg layer that is easy to care for. The leghorn is not for you if you are looking for a pleasant and snuggly breed.
If you have small kids, the leghorn’s flighty, timid, and anxious nature makes it unsuitable for your home if you will not supervise its interaction with the children.