Are White Leghorns Good Backyard Hens?


10 Years
Mar 15, 2011
I admit, I have had a long-held prejudice against White Leghorns. It stems from them being the poster child of battery commercial egg producers.

Though I pretty much only keep heritage birds, I sometimes think it would be nice to have one crazy high producing hen with pretty white eggs.

So, I wonder about these Franken-hens. Have they been bred badly over the years (is the breed ruined), or is the breed okay and it's only the conditions (e.g., 24-hour lighting to make them over-produce) that makes them burn out young?

If kept in a backyard, free-range environment, how long do they stay productive?

There are some Leghorn chicks for sale in my area. I don't know their origins, but I suspect they started from hatchery stock. Should I shy away from them, or give them a try? What information should I ask of the breeder if I go forward?

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I don't know about now days, but when I was a kid back in the 70s, my brother and sister and I hired on to load 12,000 white leghorns onto a truck at a local egg farm. Let me tell you that this job is not for the weak of stomach. Back then (not sure about now), these chickens were kept in horrible conditions. They were stuffed three to a cage, so tightly that they could not move. All they could do was eat and lay eggs. Their toe nails had grown very long and curled around the bottom of the cage. I could go on, but you would get sick.

The boss said not to worry about catching a bird that got away when were carrying the bird to the soup truck, because he was only getting a nickle a piece for them and it would cost him more to pay us to chase the bird then the bird was worth. 12,000 chickens later we were done. Many birds had gotten away during the day and even though they could barley walk, we were not allowed to get them. We asked the boss about the birds that got away and he said, "The coyotes will eat them." We asked him we could catch them for ourselves and he said to, "Go ahead". We caught 68 chickens that night. Now, these bird were in really bad shape. They had never touched the dirt in their life, but we took them home and built them a big pen and coop. Little by little, their natural instinct came back and they eventually became normal backyard chickens. Of course when they started laying again, BOY did they start to lay! Two eggs a day sometimes. After a week our whole fridge was full of eggs. After a month every neighbor withing three miles would lock their door on us afraid we were there to pawn off free eggs on them. LOL! We were forced to turn all but a dozen of them into meat birds and put them in the freezer.

Like I said, that was 40 years ago, but if the white leghorns of today are anything like those, I think they will do fine as backyard chickens.
As with many other breeds there are big differences between strains. The hatchery/production type Leghorns I've seen are undersized, flighty & prone to health problems. Some years back I had some large fowl White Leghorns that came either from Duane Urch or Tommy Stanley, can't for the life of me remember which one. Anyway, they were big, beautiful birds that were calm & still laid very well. Birds like those still exist but if the ones you're talking about originated from hatchery stock I wouldn't expect much from them.
I am absolutely in love with my white leghorn. I bought her on craigslist as 20 week old pullet and she is almost 3 now. I am not sure her exact origins before that, but I would assume she is hatchery stock.

She is my best layer by far and my most curious bird and I have found her overall to be very friendly - she lets me pick her up and will come when called (this did take a lot effort to get to). She can fly very well and refuses to stay in the chicken area with the other chickens but stays in my yard.

When I have more space I will definitely get more of them.

Well, do keep in mind that leghorns in general can be flighty so if you don't want them getting into your neighbours its not the best choice. But what do you mean by ruined? Do you want show quality birds? I know friends who have very nice white leghorns that are show quality! I think it depends (being ruined or not) where you get them from. I personally like leghorns, though they can be flighty!
Does that answer some of your questions?
Good Luck!
I am thinking of getting a couple of white leghorns. Do you think clipping the wings (feather only, not bone) might help keep them from flying? We had a RIR last year that flew over the fence. After we clipped the wing, it didn't fly up anymore.
I have 5 white leghorns and they do well when let out in the yard and socialize well, they lay great i have 5 white eggs just about every day, and they are L-XL. I put some in the bator and now have some more coming up to join the flock.. Mine do not fly much but then again i don't have anything to fly over. clipping the flight feathers on one wing will keep them grounded if need be.
Good Luck
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