Leghorns get a bum rap February 18, 2012

Smartypants the Leghorn, enjoying her freedom

Most backyarders and chicken fanciers just don’t like White Leghorns. They’re too plain, many feel; too bourgeois; too flighty; too poorly suited for cold weather.  Folks want breeds with heritage, highfalutin parentage, and varieties with lots of color. Unusual combs and feathered feet or crested heads are preferable.  Birds that lay tinted eggs are all the rage — pink, olive, chocolate, blue! Leghorns and their white eggs are as common as a penny, and have been for a hundred years.

Plus, with so many of us only able to have 4 or 6 or 12 birds in our urban and suburban lots, is it worth allocating a spot on the roster to the “boring” White Leghorn?

Just like you, I go crazy for new and exciting breeds, particularly if they lay a beautiful-colored egg. Every day, invariably, a contended sigh escapes as I ogle my egg basket complete with chocolate-brown eggs from my Penedesencas and Black Copper Marans; green and blue eggs from my Easter Eggers, Splash Ameraucana and Favaucana; medium and light brown eggs from my Cochin, Rhode Island Red and Red Star; cream-colored egg laid by my lone Silkie.

But I have such respect and love for Leghorns.

First, they’re smart — the smartest birds I’ve had, by far. My first year with chickens, a neighbor complained about the flock hopping the fence, so I erected a camping-style screen tent. Each day I’d move the tent to fresh pasture and carry in the girls one-by-one from the coop. The White Leghorn figured out how to escape in about 32 seconds. The first two weeks I tried different ways to keep her in, and each day, it took her, oh… 32 seconds to find a new escape route. Once I realized that she’d figured out the mechanics of the tent, and nothing short of pouring concrete would keep her enclosed, I stopped trying. I just let her have her way. Meanwhile, the other girls weren’t even smart enough to piggyback on her jailbreak. They’d just chase her around the edges of the tent hoping they’d magically be transported outside, too.

Super-jumbo white egg from my 1.5 year old Leghorn compared to "normal" large eggs

I thought it might have been just that particular bird (who finally passed away this past summer at the ripe age of 6, bless her heart, victim to an attack by a @&#!! raccoon), but my newest White Leghorn is a smartypants, too. That’s what we’ve named her, actually. Smartypants. This fall, a wicked fall snow storm caused part of our run to cave in, but of all our birds, only she figured out how to use the cave-in to her advantage and escape. To her credit, the Ancona was clever enough to join her after a few days. Alas, the rest of the flock apathetically lollygags in the run until we let them out to join the advanced-placement Mediterranean birds at midday.

Another reason Leghorns rule? They lay eggs EARLY. I’m talking 17, 18, 19 weeks. When the rest of your flock is still looking like a bunch of juvvies, the Leghorns are churning ’em out. So many of them are double-yolk “twins” in those first months, too – a fun surprise. Leghorns keep popping out those eggs solidly for a few years, and amazingly, the eggs which started out extra-large attain jumbo status. By the end of their productivity, you cringe wondering how on earth a bird that small pushed out something that big.

White eggs show off the deep browns, greens and blues of their comprades in the egg basket

And while Leghorns were bred in Italy to withstand the heat, and people SAY they are not cold-hardy, we live in New England, and with no insulation, no supplemental heat, and not even a dab of petroleum jelly for those combs on even the coldest nights, none of our birds have ever suffered a speck of frostbite in seven winters. Go figure.

I won’t lie — I twitch in excitement weeks before I acquire new and unusual breeds of my own.  I’m not nearly as excited about new Leghorn chicks. Been there, done that. But I never fail to be pleased at the hens they become. Mine have been universally friendly and docile to humans and chickens alike, the first to crouch down and let us dole out some love. And let’s not forget — those beautiful green, blue, and chocolate brown eggs we all adore so much wouldn’t be nearly as striking without a bright white egg by their side to show them off.

With that, I raise my glass. Here’s to you, my friend the Leghorn.

(Readers: I’m interested to hear YOUR Leghorn thoughts and stories, too! Please share!)

33 Comments
Joyce H. February 18th, 2012

Never had white Leghorns. Had brown ones. I dont as a general rule, name my hens. Too many of them. I do name my roosters. Had 2 brown leghorn roosters, Shorty who had a cross-bill and Billy the Kid,lol. Shorty used to “dance” for me and bring me things to build a nest with and put them on my shoe,lol. I would make a big deal over it and Shorty would crow. Then I had to go in the coop and put whatever it was in a nestbox with Shorty supervising. If it wasnt just right, he would re-arrange it and look at me, like ya dumb cluck, dont even know how to build a proper nest! If I didnt put the item in a nest box and just dropped it on the ground he would pick it up and follow me all over the farm, crooning, till we went to the coop! Shorty met his untimely demise when the neighbor’s Golden Retrievers broke into my coop and slaughtered just about all my chickens, most of which were rare breeds. Oh, and p.s., I didnt realize when I joined, this was a sale site,also. Please forgive my faux pah of mentioning a different hatchery on your site!

Robert February 18th, 2012

Yes, Leghorns are bright birds contrary to popular opinion, but the dark side of their reality is that they are the most overbred bird on the planet as they are the favored commercial breed by the poultry industry. The ruthless selective and genetic breeding methods used to get these birds to be top egg producers has had devastating consequences to their health. My one leghorn has had a uteran prolapse after just a little more than a year of egg laying. It literally hangs between her legs. Other hens suffer from premature degenerative bone disease due to the leaching of calcium from their bones to create the shells for all the eggs they lay. Also common are reproductive tumors and infections and blockages, all due to overbreeding and overproduction of eggs. One of my other hens had to have a hysterectomy to save her life due to a massive infection caused by egg blockage. Their bodies were not designed to lay eggs every day. This is something rarely mentioned in the backyard chicken forums I see.

Julia February 18th, 2012

I just passed up a chance to get some WL’s. We were getting our yearly chicks (10) and they had white leghorns, rirs, barred rocks, and easter eggers… we got a couple of each breed accept the white leghorns! I’m I’m sad haha

D Ryan February 18th, 2012

We ended up with 1 Leghorn and 3 white rocks (and then adopted 3 Rhode Island Reds). At first, I thought she was a roster seeing that she was different from the other three. But she was the first to lay eggs and a year and a half later, is still the consistent layer. We named her Fancy Pants because of her big head gear and tail feathers and we are amazed by the size of her large eggs! All the neighbors think it’s funny that our largest egg comes from our smallest chicken! She’s the one with the most personality, too. She’s constantly getting out of the yard (more then the others) and knows when we have treats. She’s our favorite!!!

Kyle Bowser February 18th, 2012

I have a white leghorn in my small flock, named Buttercup, accompanied by 2 barred rocks, 2 RI reds, and an EE. She is the smallest of the bunch by far, but definitly top of the pecking order!! she’s got quite the attitude, a pair of spurs, and sounds like a rooster when she lays an egg. She is the best layer of the bunch and is so much fun to watch run around the yard with the rest of the flock in tow!

Susan Lewis February 18th, 2012

2 of my 9 hens are white leghorns. I didn’t think I wanted leghorns until I had some. They are definately bright and the friendliest of all my chickens. Funny personalities.

traci February 18th, 2012

I love hearing all of your stories! Robert, I’ve never heard such terrible things about the health of White Leghorns. There are many different “strains” out there – it could be that our birds come from a less tinkered-with line. Also, I wonder if you’ve rescued your birds from battery situations? If so, that could be partly responsible for their poor health. You probably don’t often see this topic discussed on the backyard chicken forums because most backyarders choose heritage and rare breeds! We sell very few White Leghorns.

Betsy February 18th, 2012

I have 10 hens, 8 different breeds. One is a leghorn. Pearl is for sure the smartest of our girls. When out of their 6′ high fenced secure area, we fence parts of the yard for them with 2′ high fence. Pearl is always over it. Her theme song is Don’t Fence Me In. Last spring the fenced area went the whole way to the back of the house. They had plenty of area to be. My husband was working in one of the flower gardens off the porch. Pearl insisted on being with him, continually going over the fence each time hubby put her back. He then saw her walking across the driveway to get to him. Here she had jumped the OTHER side of the fenced area and walked AROUND the house to get to him.

Our chickens are pets, named, and very tame. We go to nursing homes with them and put on chicken programs. The residents love touching and holding the girls and learning about the breeds and general chicken info. Normal people have therapy dogs or cats. We have therapy chickens. We love our girls.

Our girls – Americana, Silkie, Brahma, Cochin, Leghorn, Polish, Sexlink, and 3 White Rock.

Our blog – http://www.AdamsFamilyFarm.blogspot.com

Jenell Yarbrough-Brinson February 18th, 2012

For me, the problems were poor health, genetic weakness, the prolapse, egg binding, skeletal problems, but also the “escapism”, was a big time problem..where one must keep chickens confined to protect them, as from pedadors, or out of gardens and neighbors’ yards, that can be a real dealbreaker with Leghorns,,,I’ve onlyhad experience with whites. The flightiness annoyed me, mostly because it kept my other chickens which were naturally calmer, more upset more often than otherwise, bit was the escapism that was the biggest issue….I didn’t want to have to keep my flock in a roofed area 24/7…like having a larger yard area with 6′ fencing…even clipping wings didn’t worl real well or reliably to keep Leghorns from flying over and out.

Debbie Miner February 19th, 2012

Was feeling dismayed that I chose to add a leghorn to my order instead of a speckled Sussex…thank you thank you for helping me to get excited again about adding a leghorn to my backyard flock!

karen February 19th, 2012

I have had 1 white leghorn. We named her Queen Elizabeth because that was just how she acted, queen like and she ruled the hen house. She never laid one egg in her whole life and it was a short one. She only lived to be about a year and a half old, but she was one of my favorites.

Jennifer Haughey February 19th, 2012

We have one of the MPC white leghorns and LOVE her! She is one of our favorite chickesn…so smart, follows the kids around like a puppy and funny to watch. She marches to her own beat and is often found wondering away from the flock. My son read that wonderful book, Tilly Lays an Egg and we named her after the character. She is just like the character too;). I admit when the kids talked me into adding a leghorn, I was a little nervous always reading about how high strung they are. Now, I don’t think of them as high strong, just super smart. She even has figured out where the treats come from and we are often having to chase her out of the kitchen when she sneaks in the front door – lol.

Laura Lee February 21st, 2012

I have 1 leghorn out of 8 hens and I love her to pieces! She had a leghorn sister that unexpectedly died at 3 months old for no apparent reason…except for maybe bad genetics 🙁 Now she is he only “white girl” so we named her “Honkey” ……(shortly after naming her that, she started to honk like the horn on a kids bike!) I wasn’t sure where the BIG WHITE EGG came from, but after reading this form I’m pretty sure it’s her. She is one of my favorites…she loves attention and loves to be held (but it is hard since for some reason, she ALWAYS has poopy feet! (She is the recipient of a lot of joking because of that.) When I bring treats, her and 2 other white egg laying sisters that used to have mohawks when they were little, jump up on the top of the doghouse where I set the treats and sometimes try to perch on my arm holding the treats before I have had time to set it down! Those 3 are the escape artist around here and hang out together. I was worried about the large comb but she seems to have done ok with that this winter in eastern Washington (this has been an exceptionally mild winter though.) If I had the means I would rescue them all from battery farms and give them happy lives, they are such a delight! I have to say here that I am so happy to have found My Pet Chicken! I have purchased many of their products, (besides a half dozen chicks) and one of my favorite things is “Chicken poop lip balm.” It makes me laugh every time I use it and is the brunt of jokes by those who see me pull it out of my purse. It’s nice to hang out with people on this forum that love chickens as pets and not as expendable commodities for consumption.

Maria Betancourt March 6th, 2012

In my wishlist of hens I had easter eggers, olive eggers, production hens and black cooper marans but never a leghorn. With a order of chickens I got 11 male leghorns. They the quickest to learn and respond to me. They move live velocyraptors and like to be held by me. The dont need to wait for me to do it…..they just demand it by flying to me. I love them. To many roosters to loveeeee…hope they dont get agressive as they grow.

Grace March 9th, 2012

I hatched some mystery eggs, 4 of which were half leghorn chicks. At first I was disappointed, but it was so fun watching their feathering develop. Mostly pure white at first, but then the roo got barred red wings and head, and another roo looked part Silver Wyandotte. One girl had butter speckles on her head, and the other has taupe spots on her wings. They are mostly white. Two have yellow legs and beaks, and two have white legs and beak. Two have feathers on their feet. They are super smart, and one of the roos is very tame. Once I picked up his sister, and she squawked in protest, and he gently bumped her out of my arms, lovingly but firmly, letting me know her wants were more important than mine! It was so intelligent and darling on his part, the way he did it. The smallest of the half white leghorns is so sweet and willingly squats in invitation to my EE rooster. They survived being chased and yapped at by two terrifying dogs. I thought the experience might make them lay soft-shelled eggs or cause their livers to tear, but they are strong girls and they all laid eggs the following day. The one with buttery speckles lays giant, perfect jumbo eggs, and the other girl lays pretty tannish pink eggs. They are clever at thinking up escape roots, and one girl (Buttery) figured out how to fly to the top of the woodpile, where I had hidden the cats’ food. They are nicely camouflaged in the snow, and I think their white feathering is elegant and luxurious. I love my leghorns and would not trade them for the world. I had to rehome the two roos, because I didn’t have enough hens to go around, and I really miss them. They were so much fun and just beautiful! I hope I always have leghorns in my life.

Wendi March 20th, 2012

I think I may end up with a leghorn or 2 after reading these posts! I am new to keeping chickens, and all I have so far is a blue silkie and a black copper marans…..both seem to be developing into roosters…..they are still young, and without any others to compare with, well, it’s just a guess. ( my inexperience with chickens doesn’t help much either…LOL)
So, after reading these posts, I’m thinking that I will have to have at least one or 2 leghorns. I like the fact that they are so loved by all of you. I want them for pets and eggs, I’m sold!

Wendi March 20th, 2012

I forgot to ask, has anyone had a mix with a leghorn and a silkie or a black copper marans?

sclinton April 25th, 2012

This may a stupid question, but how long do you leave your eggs out in a basket? I always take mine straight to the fridge in a regular egg carton. What is the shelf life of an egg before it needs to be refrigerated?

Tierney Clarj June 15th, 2012

I’ve been reading about everyone’s wonderful white leghorns, and I’d like to say that I have recently aquired 3 chicks to raise.

Although I love love the rare and brightly colored birds, I was so excited when my local feed store got in some white birds! When asked on an earlier occasion, his answer was just what everyone apparently has heard. “No one wants a white bird” But they sell so many birds, that later, I guess they decided to chance it. I couldn’t wait to get them home and raised! Maybe it’s because I’m relatively new at the chicken game, having inherited 3 from my daughter, but white birds were very high on my wish list of birds I wanted in my flock..

Now they are almost big enough to add to the flock, and I can hardly contain my excitement! I’ve pictured those beautiful stark white birds against my black and blonde girls, over and over in my head. And the fact that they lay jumbo white eggs is just a plus!
I won’t lie; I’m going to add a barred rock, and a couple more of some sort, but I love my “leggerns”!

Tierney Clark June 15th, 2012

It’s CLARK lol

wellthmaker June 16th, 2012

I love all the eggs my White Leghorns laid. One was always a Jumbo and other close. But even though wings were clipped they could still fly over the fence and always found ways to get out so I had to out up a lot more poultry netting to keep them in. And they taught the others bad habits too.
But they once in a while would still fly over the fence. And one finally got its tail feathers pulled out by a neighbor dog and she died that night.

And two others quit laying during their 1st year. Not sure what happened. I was told they had finished moulting when I bought them. The one still lays most days and the other still doesn’t lay. So not sure why. She goes into the nest box during the day some days but never lays an egg.
Mine are as friendly and easy to pick up as the other hens, They are quick to get away. But they all come up to me when they think I am going to give them some food. Perhaps because they were not hand raised pet chicks. But I am going to get 2 more WL and try again because I like all the eggs.
One of my RIR lays a bigger than jumbo egg and the other a nice XL to Jumbo daily. But the Barred Rocks, Buff Orps, Gold Sexlinks, all lay smaller med size eggs. And One Araucana lays a real small egg like a pheasant size. The other lays a large blue one.

Aurelia June 17th, 2012

I got a leghorn from a factory farm rescue and even though her beek is clipped she is an egg layer 1 a day I am also ordering 2 silver spangled hamburg and 4 others from you

Bobby September 11th, 2012

I have one WL, and I have to say she s the best chicken I have ever seen when it comes to egglaying and personaliy. She is not flighty, and in fact she’s anything BUT flighty. My SLW is more afraid of me than she is. She always is the first one to step out of the coop when I let them free range, she always follows me around whenever I am in the backyard, she is the first one to jump in my lap when I have treats, and she now doesn’t mind when I pick her up. It’s been a reall great time withe her and them, and in fact she layed her first egg yesterday, (YAY!) and was the first one to lay. Recommend everyone for this breed, best breed of chickens yet. All cheers for WL, many years to come.

Portia March 19th, 2013

I have 2 White Leghorns, 5 RIR, 1 Golden Buff, 1 Austalorp, and 1 big Barred Rock Rooster. All get along well. My Leghorns are the first ones out of the coop in the winter, and don’t mind walking in the snow as the other ones do. Have had to pick up my RIR and carry them back to the coop. My Leghorns aren’t the friendliest, but they are not mean and I like their little squeaks. And I LOVE their big white eggs. They are the first to come running for treats, probably because they are the fastest. I would surely get more in the future. P.S. My Barred Rock Rooster is very friendly and loves his girls. Watches over them all, and starts fretting when they go different ways. Doesn’t know who to round up first. 🙂

Dorre June 7th, 2013

We moved half way across country with our flock when my husband got a new job, in that flock were 4 leghorns, I was not a fan of them, I wanted the fancy “cool” breeds, but they always gave me eggs, so I couldn’t complain. We had to move them into temporary housing (a 12’x’10’ dog kennel with tarp covering) while we got the coop setup. Those leghorns flew up, wormed they’re way between the top and the tarp, and escaped in less that five minutes. We all panicked, the dogs were outside, and while our big ones were very chicken tolerant, our corgi liked to chase things. Let me say that after trying to mess with those chickens once, it never happened again. One well placed peck to the noggin and the chickens merged themselves into the dog pack. It’s been 2 years since that first escape, we tried confining them a few more times, but it wasn’t worth it. Now they sleep in the sun with the dogs in the day and in the trees at night (even though I made them a nice little covered roost, they would rather be in the tree). Our whole family refers to them as the dog-chickens, when we have bad weather they’re right on the porch with the dogs begging to be let inside. When we go outside without treats they’ll make all sorts of ruckus. And the lawn man has finally gotten used to them following him around for all the tasty bugs he displaces. Oh, and if you aren’t quick enough they’ll come right inside like they own the place! While I still love my variety of chicken breeds I have to say that these leghorns have won a place in my heart!

robert September 12th, 2013

I started to raise some leghorns and rhode Island reds., The leghord is a trickster, and a bird who can escape a secured fenced in run. I thought I had out smarted them so I let leghorn show me my mistakes, in no time flat she is outside looking at me, going ha ha. I left a 1 inch space and she slipped thru it. Then I read clip there left wing, then they cant fly up, wrong,,,, they fly in a circle and out to freedom, lol. A leghorn is smart, I even have pics of them playing chess. They love grapes so I play store, Leghorn will break in and steal them. But to pet a leghorn, takes trickery as well, I hold the grape and say,, ok you know the deal, you let me pet you and you get a grape, So she leaps up on table and as I hold grape away she sits and says this sucks, lol I pet her and she gets grape and flys off in 2 seconds,

dena July 8th, 2014

The only thing that makes me like my leghorns is the fact that they lay eggs and no other reason. other than that I CAN’T STAND THEM! THEY ARE UPTIGHT FRIGID BIRDS

Sharon Swanson August 4th, 2014

I had 3 Brown Leghorns and I just sold them. Evidently I must have had the leghorns from Hell. They were overly aggressive and made my other chickens miserable. They all acted crazy because one of the Leghorns was so mean and she would chase and peck the other chickens that they were all afraid of her. I never saw a large egg out of my leghorns but they definitely were like everyone said, excellent layers. They were great foragers and one of them followed me when I would dig in the yard hoping to find an insect and she was very good at getting them. I am happy to be rid of them and wonder how so many people have such good things to say about them. Mine were not friendly and were a menace to my other chickens. A newcomer did not stand a chance. I personally would never have another brown Leghorn again. I hope you publish this. I think somtheing must have gone wrong with my leghorns. I spoil all my chickens and give them fresh everything and clean their pen almost daily to keep flies away. I fenced in my yard so they could free range and no reason why they shouldn’t adore me. I had names for my 3 BL and they were all named the same. B—-h!

Julian October 2nd, 2015

Hi Guys,
I am loving this Leghorn talk. We are in England and have 10 hens. All different but top of the order is the little white Leghorn….my egg machine! She is a great boss, not overly aggressive, just enough so everyone knows who is boss. I wanted a white leghorn because over here we don’t get white eggs unless they are from a duck. All commercial layers are brown crossed Rhodies. I will never be without a WL as they are brilliant although mine is not so good with balance bad frequently falls off narrow objects. They all have 1 acre to roam in and 5 turkeys, 2 alpacas and 2 rheas for company. Foxes??? Not when you have Alpacas and thy are free to keep as they are browsers!
Great site everyone.

Elsa April 11th, 2017

I don’t have chickens yet but I may be getting some silkies but our neighbor has a mixed flock with a White Leghorn rooster. One day my dog and I were walking back home from the park and the rooster charged us and chased us down our road until his owner came looking for him and caught him. Shyla (my dog) and I got away unscathed but the owner got spurred in the wrist. My grandmother also had a leghorn rooster a few years ago who spurred her three times in the leg and even pushed one of the hens into a ditch. Butterscotch was kind of a jerk.

maggieann monroe July 3rd, 2017

3 of my flock of 18 are white leghorns. I got them along with some “fancier” breeds so I’d have some ordinary chickens as well. They seemed the less friendly all along. Seldom eating from my hand and never allowing me to pet them. Suddenly at age 20 weeks, one has decided to be my pet. Whenever I am in the run she lands next to me to be petted. After a week of this she began jumping up onto my arm when I would tap it with my hand and call out “Chicken”. Now she rides on my arm as I walk around the run. I am very excited to find out what all this amazing chick is going to learn to do!

MQ December 7th, 2017

My white leghorns are stupid and annoying. They keep flying over the fence and getting eaten by my dogs and don’t learn from this. I will never get more leghorns. My australorps and plymouth rocks are much prettier, more friendly, and sensible!

Richard Sims April 4th, 2018

My grown leghorn is friendly and comes running when she sees me.
I had to clip both wings to keep her in the yard.
My new white leghorn chick was last of 10 to eat out of my hand.

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