The White Leghorn

Twiggy, my white leghorn, is quite the character. She’s a lean, flashy, white and red streak. You might catch sight of her in the nesting box  – briefly – while she lays. Right after, though, she jumps up. stands in the pop door, loudly announces her achievement and goes back to zipping around the yard. Her vivacious personality would be enough to convince me to keep her around, but a hundred years ago, farmers switched to white leghorns because of how many eggs they laid.

Imagine going from keeping utility birds, that laid 100 eggs per year, to this.

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All of a sudden, instead of chickens being animals that ate scratch and occasionally brought in a little money, a farmer could make a living off of a flock. He or she (and yes, there were many women poultry farmers) could specialize. With little land, and a minimal investment, a person could start an egg farm. This photo was taken in the 1920s when people had hen fever.

For awhile it seemed as if keeping leghorns on pasture was a way to the good life. Soon enough, though, the economic landscape changed, and refrigeration, trucking, antibiotics and caged systems altered everything. Fortunately, the white leghorn did not disappear. Mine doesn’t provide a livelihood, but she is supplying the eggs for a frittata for dinner tonight, which is a good life for both of us.


  1. This is a great picture! Love the floppy comb! Speaking of announcing achievements. Do any of your hens announce the achievements of their pals? lol Or do I just have weird birds? One of my white rocks will loudly let EVERYONE know when any other hen has just laid an egg. She will even go back to the run ( if out free ranging) to do this. Maybe this is where the phrase “Mother Hen” comes from? lol

    • Some are loud and some are not. In my experience, some breeds are noisier than others, but there’s a lot of variation even within the breeds!

  2. Growing up my dad brought home a dozen or so white leghorn battery hens. I think he paid a quarter a piece for them. They were just over two years old. They were the most PITIFUL things you ever laid eyes on. They were basically featherless, toenails that did several loops, pale combs, just a sad sight.
    They were kept in the brooder house for some time after a toenail trim and delousing. Their feathers grew back a snow white, combs turned a beautiful red and of course turned into laying machines. But to thank dad for giving them a good life they repaid him by roosting in the trees. He tried to break them put they were able to so high we couldn’t reach them. I remember him saying one night as we tried in vain to corral them into the henhouse, just let them go after what they’ve been through if roosting in the trees makes them happy let them be. So we did.

      • Terry,
        I had to call dad last night and ask him. He remembered them well.
        He also said that those hens were “dust bathing fools”.
        He said they were around the place at least two years, roosted in the trees in all types of weather and in winter they preferred the cedars. He believes eventually a great horned owl found them as they started disappearing one by one by morning.

        • I’ve seen a tree filled with white egrets. I imagine that’s what your dad’s leghorn tree looked like. Quite a sight!

  3. What kind of tree branches did you give your girls today? They look like they are enjoying it this afternoon.

  4. Ah Ken, my Mom had the similar experience with “used” White Leghorns, brought over the State Line in Kansas in the truck of the car from an “egg factory” in Missouri, for almost no money. Their combs were cropped, their beaks were blunted, but the old dears didn’t bother to look in mirrors. They laid and laid, and every morning when the chicken house door was opened, out they came, singing their heads off, flapping their wings, and, I swear, happier than any chickens we had over the years,including some of mine who were very pampered! Of course, I am partial to White Leghorns…

  5. I love the white Leghorns too, the sweet stories, and picture. Thanks!

  6. would you like to give us your frittata recipe? Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  7. I was just watching your new girl on HenCam, and she sure does have alot of swing on her front porch. Love the comb action!