Love Those Leghorns- Best of the Mediterranean Chicken Breeds

Be as a tower firmly set; Shakes not its top for any blast that blows.
Dante Alighieri

Buongiorno!

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La donna bella! Leghorns have a lightness of carriage and a sense of nobility.

Dante described the razza Livorno to a “T” in that passage from Paradiso. These stunning chickens are best immortalized by one celebrity. I’m not talking about Sophia Loren or Isabella Rossellini. I am referring to Foghorn Leghorn!

The Leghorn is an Italian heritage breed that doesn’t need any famous attachments they are simply an embodiment of the pastoral magnificence of their homeland.

Agriculture, REAL agriculture, is set so deeply into the Italian mindset that it is evoked in the colors on their flag. If you want a piece of Europe on your property get that flock of regal leghorns.

This white chicken has become synonymous with egg-laying. And while they are high producers (expect over 280 eggs a year), they are so much more than that. It really is hard to express the nobility and elegance of a flock of these birds – the Leghorn breed can’t be beat. They lay naturally, in that they haven’t been genetically manipulated to lay more than their bodies can manage. While they will provide many a lunch frittata, they do not go broody. They are rugged and strong birds, ready to work the land and be a partner on the farm.  The roosters have a dignified carriage adorned with an ancient regime nobility. The pullets are angelic-looking and they mature into hens that echo the grandeur and elegance of their homeland. These are the chickens that make people stop and sigh – bellissima.

History/ La storia

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Leghorns were born to garden! Cicely looks like a young marchesa in a Tuscan villa.

Born into the Tuscan landscape, this landrace of fowl was originally sporting brown plumage. The Leghorn breed was renowned for it’s ability as a traditional foraging chicken expressing the characteristics of its homeland. The petite bird provided a prolific number of eggs for the farmhouse with minimal fuss. Reverence for the land and the animals was, and is, deeply rooted in Italian society. Italy still has one of the highest percentages of organic production.. and they never went away from farm-to-table eating.

Thankfully, we can import a piece of this agricultural wisdom by adding some Leghorns to our flocks. The first feathered travelers came to the US as early as the 1820s. In 1852, the brown Leghorn impressed New Englanders and its fame quickly spread. White Leghorns arrived a year later with equal fanfare.

The name shifted from the Italians to that of their provenance, Livorno. Around 1865, in Worcester, Massachusetts the first mention of Leghorns appears. Leghorn is the translation of Livorno. In Italy, this breed is still known as the “Livorno.”

The Spirit of Italy

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“And other thing. Don’t forget to chill my Pellegrino. I want sliced peaches in it and the biscotti were too soft…”

Leghorns of all varieties share the culture of their country. The La razza Livorno is industrious, resourceful, proud, tenacious and boundlessly creative these birds will meet you at your level. Don’t expect the leghorn to grovel like a lap dog or be as idle as a stone. This breed is grand in all things attempted.

They will initiate affection and contact, be the first at the door to great you and the first to snag a treat. They are vocal birds that will speak their mind. This strength of character usually makes them too  aloof to be good children’s playmates (they are above that), but this feisty nature keeps them alive as free-rangers and foragers. Few predators can outwit this cunning breed. Choose the darker hues (browns and black) for extra safety.

Extra Tip: Leghorns pass on their vigor and egg-laying proficiency to other breeds. They make great birds for cross-breeding.

The Livestock Breed Conservancy says it best Leghorns are active, even ambitious chickens. They are always willing to work, hunting and scratching, giving no prejudice to flower beds or dunghill; if there is scratching to be done, Leghorns are the chickens for the job. On range they are splendid foragers,¦ The breed is prolific, highly fertile, and hardy.

Breed Characteristics – Bella Livorno

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Leghorn hens often have spurs!

The presence of the leghorn should be tall and lithe. Their bearing is elegant and they are thoughtful birds. Often called “flighty or nervous,” this breed is neither. They are bold, dominant, fearless and vibrant chickens that prefer to control their interactions with their environment. A Leghorn will initiate contact with you, not the other way around.

The Leghorn breed must have access to enriched and diverse landscapes in order for them to forage, these birds are not mentally built for small plots or pens.

Leghorns are fantastic pets for people who love the outdoors. They will be by your side and getting involved in whatever activity you are up to.

Here is a description of points from the Italian standard: “The neck is carried upright and slightly arched, which confers to the bird a lively and alert appearance.  The tail is carried with an angle of 40-45° in the male and 30-35° in the female…main tail feathers are quite opened and regularly arranged. In the cock the sickles are rounded and they cover the main tail feathers. The body has the shape of a cylinder, of medium length, slightly sloping towards the rump.” Check out the Italian Standard for more detailed breed information.

Leghorns have orange shanks and feet, white earlobes, and the male’s comb (4-6 points/single comb) is sweeping but erect, females have combs that cascade in the center. Many of the other plumage colors (silver, brown, black) are endangered. Most Mediterranean chicken breeds are at risk or on the watch lists.

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“Truffles” is called a brown, but in Italy she is the orange-hued Leghorn hen – gallina di razza Livorno collo arancio

Add some Leghorns to your flock and bring the grace of the Italian countryside to your casale. Chickens are the best “living history” landscaping you can buy. For now, “a presto.”

We’ll see you soon!


One thought on “Love Those Leghorns- Best of the Mediterranean Chicken Breeds

  1. Rachel says:

    Our first leghorn we got was a white leghorn. My son named her Marshmallow She laid the largest eggs in our flock and one every day! One day she was attacked by one of our bulldogs, when she flew over into our dog pen. When we found her we thought she was dead. Our dog punctured her neck chest and she was covered in dirt. But when my husband ran up to her and picked her up she was barely breathing. We gave her a warm bath to wash the dirt and clean the wounds. Treated them and gave her anitbiotics. After one month living in our garage in a recovery pen, she is all healed up. Now several months later she is laying bigger and better eggs than before and is more attached to us, since we got very close with her during her recovery. What a strong breed! Marshmallow is now the mother of 4 chicks that were crossbred with our Black Copper Maran Roo and were hatched under one of our broody hens. The chicks are healthy and are great foragers! She has inspired us to add several more leghorns to our flock, a red, buff, rose comb brown and single comb brow leghorn. Love our leghorns. Thanks for the great article!

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