Leghorn Chicken

Gallus gallus domesticus

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

Leghorn chickens, one of the most popular industrial breeds, lay up to 320 eggs per year!


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Leghorn Chicken Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Galliformes
Family
Phasianidae
Genus
Gallus
Scientific Name
Gallus gallus domesticus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Leghorn Chicken Conservation Status

Leghorn Chicken Locations

Leghorn Chicken Locations

Leghorn Chicken Facts

Prey
Invertebrates, including insects, larvae and worms, small animals including reptiles, amphibians, or mammals
Main Prey
Invertebrates
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Flock
Fun Fact
Leghorn chickens, one of the most popular industrial breeds, lay up to 320 eggs per year!
Estimated Population Size
More than 10,000 non-industrial birds worldwide
Biggest Threat
Disease
Most Distinctive Feature
Prolific egg-laying capability
Incubation Period
21 days
Habitat
Industrial farms and small flocks
Predators
Raccoons, foxes, weasels, martens, coyotes, wolves, hawks, owls, eagles, snakes
Diet
Omnivore

Leghorn Chicken Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
Approximately 6 years
Weight
4.5 to 6 pounds for non-industrial varieties; slightly larger for industrial birds; 1.4 to 1.7 pounds for bantam size
Age of Sexual Maturity
18 to 20 weeks
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Leghorn chickens, one of the most popular industrial breeds, lay up to 320 eggs per year!

Leghorn chickens are a Mediterranean variety that originated in the Tuscany region of Italy. They have been selectively bred and crossed with other breeds to become egg-laying superstars. Today, they are among the top egg-producing breeds in the world. They average between 280 and 320 eggs per year. Leghorn chickens can be separated into industrial and non-industrial types. Industrial Leghorns are the familiar snow-white birds used in commercial egg farms. Non-industrial varieties come in a wide array of colors and patterns and are a bit smaller than their industrial counterparts. These birds tolerate confinement well, but they are also good flyers and fast runners, so owners might consider allowing them to forage freely.

Incredible Leghorn Chicken Facts

  • Leghorn chickens belong to a group known as Mediterranean chickens, native to Italy and Spain.
  • The name Leghorn was derived from the port city of Livorno, Italy, from which the birds were first exported.
  • Industrial Leghorn chickens are almost always snow white, because the feathers are easy to pluck without leaving pigmented residue when the birds are harvested.
  • Although Leghorn chickens were bred for laying eggs and not so much for meat, they are useful for making soup.
  • These birds can have either rose combs or straight combs.
  • Because they are great at both running and flying, Leghorn chickens are less susceptible to predators.
  • In commercial operations, most male Leghorn chickens are destroyed soon after they hatch to save the expense of feeding them to maturity.

Where to Find Leghorn Chickens

Leghorn chickens are Italian birds. They are one of a group of chickens from Spain and Italy known as Mediterranean chickens. This breed likely came from landrace chickens indigenous to the Tuscany region of central Italy. The large region includes the city of Florence and the historic fortified port city of Livorno, also known as Ligorna in Genoese. The English called the city Leghorn. It was from this port that the Leghorn chickens were originally exported to the United States sometime around the Civil War. White Leghorns made it to North America as early as 1828, while the brown variety followed in 1835.

The breed was introduced to Great Britain from the United States around 1870, and modified varieties were reintroduced to Italy around the same time. Today, the larger, modified British Leghorn chickens that were reintroduced to the United States are the most popular industrial egg-laying breed. Non-industrial varieties are popular, too, due to their fantastic laying capabilities and are found in many backyard flocks. They live in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and perhaps other locations.

Leghorn Chicken Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Leghorn chicken, like virtually all modern domestic chickens, is Gallus gallus domesticus. They are a subspecies of their ancient ancestor, Gallus gallus, the red junglefowl of southeast Asia.

The common name of the Leghorn chicken derives from the port city of Livorno, Italy, from which the breed was originally exported. The English had long called the city Leghorn. However, when the birds were exported to the United States in the 1820s and 1830s, Americans did not immediately start calling them by that name. Instead, they called them “Italians” for many years. The Leghorn name was not officially used until 1865, but after that it stuck.



Leghorn Chicken Appearance

Think of a Leghorn chicken and you might imagine an enormous white rooster with a booming voice. That’s probably the fault of Warner Brothers. Artists from the company created Foghorn Leghorn, the familiar cartoon character that was featured in cartoons from the 1940s through the 1960s. Although Leghorns are indeed often snow white, in reality these chickens are small. Non-industrial roosters average just 6 pounds while hens weigh in at about 4.5 pounds. The industrial variety weighs a bit more, while bantam varieties weigh between 1.4 and 1.9 pounds.

Leghorn chickens are long and slender with an upright stance. Their tails are relatively short and they appear stiff and are held up and away from their body. They are light and built well for running or flying. They can have either a rose comb, which lies close to the head, or a straight comb. Leghorns have red faces, combs, and wattles, but their earlobes are white. They have yellow beaks and yellow legs with four strong toes and no feathering. They sometimes have spurs. Their eyes are orange or red.

Industrial varieties of Leghorn chickens are almost exclusively white. This is because the white feathers are easier to pluck without leaving pigmented residue on the carcasses when the chickens are harvested. Non-industrial Leghorn chickens come in a wide variety of colors.

The American Poultry Association recognizes Black, Buff, Dark Brown, Light Brown, Silver, and White varieties, with both rose combs and single combs. The organization recognizes each of the above colors in bantam size, rose comb varieties. It also recognizes bantam single comb varieties in the same colors, along with Barred, Red, Golden, Columbian, and Black-tailed Red. Poultry organizations in Europe recognize even more color variations.  

Industrial varieties of Leghorn chickens are almost exclusively white.

Leghorn Chicken Behavior

The Leghorn chicken has the unfortunate luck of being highly suited to the commercial egg industry. Without going into the many disturbing aspects of massive egg-producing farms, suffice it to say that the Leghorn’s proficient laying along with their ability to tolerate confinement made them a natural choice for the industry.

Non-industrial Leghorn chickens share many of the same traits as their industrial kin, but they are generally treated better. They live in smaller flocks, and are often allowed to roam and forage. Their tolerance of confinement allows backyard breeders to keep them in small enclosures or chicken tractors if needed. Because they are excellent flyers, it would be difficult to keep them within a fenced yard in a more urban area.

Leghorn chickens are slender, active birds that can run very fast. They are curious birds and can get bored easily if they are kept in an enclosure that is too small. If they are not allowed enough space to move around, they tend to get nervous or flighty, and they can be quite loud.

These chickens were originally bred from wild fowl, and they maintain an independent streak. They are not considered to be particularly aggressive, but neither are they overly friendly. In other words, Leghorn chickens are probably not the best choice for people who are looking for pets. They are much better suited to doing what they do best, which is laying lots and lots of eggs.

Diet

Because Leghorn chickens lay so many eggs, they must be fed excellent quality commercial poultry feed with plenty of protein and calcium. Some chicken breeds only need such high-quality feed when hens are laying, but for Leghorns, which lay up to 320 eggs per year, that is pretty much all the time.  

If they are allowed to roam and forage, Leghorns are likely to eat invertebrates such as insects, larvae, and worms. They are fast on their feet and may also prey on small animals such as reptiles, amphibians, and mammals like mice and voles. They might eat seeds and green plant material as they forage. Owners of small flocks should consider providing foods such as leafy greens, other vegetables, and fruits for treats. Leghorns would also readily accept dairy treats and bits of meat, as they have a constant need for protein and calcium.

Leghorn Chicken Reproduction

Leghorn chickens are among the best egg-producing chickens in the world. They can lay between 280 and 320 eggs per year. Their white eggs are likely familiar, as they are the ones seen most often in grocery stores.

Leghorn chicks grow quickly, and they reach sexual maturity as early as 18 weeks. Hens begin laying at that time, and they continue laying most of their lives. Unfortunately, they rarely go broody, and they are not good mothers. Owners should be prepared to incubate eggs, which takes approximately 21 days.

In the commercial egg industry, few roosters are needed. Because Leghorn chickens are not particularly good meat birds, most male chicks are destroyed as soon as they are old enough to be sexed. That can be as little as one day after hatching. This prevents owners from having to spend extra money feeding unwanted male birds as they grow to maturity.

Predators

In Italy, some of the most common chicken predators include weasels and martens. Birds of prey such as hawks, owls, and eagles can take young Leghorn chickens as they roam and forage if they are not kept in a secure enclosure such as a covered chicken run. However, ground predators such as foxes and raccoons may have a difficult time capturing an adult Leghorn chicken, as they are fast runners and can easily fly up to branches. Snakes pose threats to chicks and eggs in coops that are not well secured.

Lifespan & Conservation

Leghorn chickens live about six years on average. This is a shorter lifespan than many other chicken breeds. However, it is typical for breeds that lay so many eggs. Producing so many eggs takes a toll on the body of a hen.

The non-industrial variety of Leghorn chickens is listed as recovering on the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. That means there are at least 10,000 birds around the world and the breed has moved up from the watch list. The industrial variety of Leghorn chickens is not listed. As one of the most popular egg producing breeds in the world, the industrial variety has a vast population.

Although predators may pose a threat to birds that are allowed to roam and forage freely, one of the larger concerns is disease. Because the Leghorn breed is so tolerant of confinement, birds often live in close quarters with many other individuals. This can lead to the spread of diseases such as avian flu or avian leukosis. Some diseases can wipe out flocks as they spread from bird to bird quickly. Others can pose risks to both poultry and humans. Efforts are currently underway to modify the commercial Leghorn breed for resistance to such illnesses.

Ticks and mites are also common issues for Leghorn chickens, especially when kept in larger numbers. Owners typically need to use pesticides to keep these at bay, or risk their chickens becoming compromised by the bloodsuckers.

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About the Author

Tavia Fuller Armstrong is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on birds, mammals, reptiles, and chemistry. Tavia has been researching and writing about animals for approximately 30 years, since she completed an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tavia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a wildlife emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma. A resident of Oklahoma, Tavia has worked at the federal, state, and local level to educate hundreds of young people about science, wildlife, and endangered species.

Leghorn Chicken FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do Leghorn chickens look like?

Leghorn chickens are long and slender with an upright stance. They are light and built well for running or flying. They can have either a rose comb, which lies close to the head, or a straight comb. Leghorns have red faces, combs, and wattles, but their earlobes are white. They have yellow beaks and yellow legs with four strong toes and no feathering. They sometimes have spurs. Their eyes are orange or red.

How big are Leghorn chickens?

Leghorn chickens are small. Non-industrial roosters average just 6 pounds while hens weigh in at about 4.5 pounds. The industrial variety weighs a bit more, while bantam varieties weigh between 1.4 and 1.9 pounds.

How well do Leghorn chickens fly?

Leghorn chickens are not only fast runners, they are also great flyers. They can fly to high branches with ease and cover considerable distances for a chicken.

How many varieties of Leghorn chickens exist?

Leghorn chickens can be divided into two basic varieties: industrial and non-industrial. The industrial birds are almost exclusively snow white, and they have been bred to a larger size than the originals. The non-industrial birds more closely resemble the original Italian exports, and they come in a wide assortment of colors and patterns. Many of the color variations can have either rose or single combs.

What makes Leghorn chickens special?

Leghorn chickens are one of the most popular industrial breeds in the world. They are valued for their laying ability. Hens can lay up to 320 eggs per year!

Where do Leghorn chickens live?

Leghorn chickens originated in the Tuscany region of Italy. They are a Mediterranean chicken. They were exported to the United States in the 1820s and 1830s, then to Britain and to other parts of the world. Today they live in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and perhaps other locations.

What do Leghorn chickens eat?

Leghorn chickens that are allowed to forage are likely to eat invertebrates such as insects, larvae, and worms. They are fast on their feet and may also prey on small animals such as reptiles, amphibians, and mammals like mice and voles. They might eat seeds and green plant material as they forage. Owners of small flocks should consider providing foods such as leafy greens, other vegetables, and fruits for treats.

How many eggs do Leghorn chickens lay?

Leghorn chickens are among the best egg producing chickens in the world. They can lay between 280 and 320 eggs per year, and hens begin laying early and continue laying most of their lives.

When do Leghorn chickens reach sexual maturity?

Leghorn chickens live approximately six years. This is a shorter lifespan than many other chicken breeds, but typical for a breed that lays so many eggs.

Are Leghorn chickens rare?

Leghorn chickens are not considered rare. The non-industrial variety is listed as recovering on the Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List. That means there are at least 10,000 birds around the world and the breed has moved up from the watch list. The industrial variety of Leghorn chickens is one of the most popular egg producing breeds in the world with a very large population.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. Livestock Conservancy / Accessed April 26, 2023
  2. American Poultry Association / Accessed April 27, 2023
  3. Microorganisms/Kheimar, et. al. / Published May 14, 2021 / Accessed April 28, 2023