National Avian Research Facility
National Avian Research Facility

White Leghorn

The white leghorn is an outbred layer line


White Leghorn are an outbred layer line that has been maintained at the Roslin Institute for a number of years. White Leghorns are known for not exhibiting the maternal behaviour of egg incubation, often known as broodiness. White Leghorn hens can lay up to 300 medium white eggs per year. Because of this white Leghorns have been used to create highly productive egg-laying hybrids for commercial agriculture. The white Leghorn line has recently been outcrossed with the similar Lohmann LSL (Lohmann Selected Leghorn) classic, a commercial layer of white eggs, to improve their fertility and vigour.


Line utility

The white Leghorn at the Roslin Institute has been used to study infectious bacterial foodborne diseases such as Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella1,2. White Leghorns have also been used to study host-pathogen interactions and as an initial screen in vaccination experiments against Campylobacter given their smaller size and more prolific nature compared to broiler lines. On request, we can provide data on how this line performs in response to infection with the aforementioned pathogens. Roslin scientists have also used white Leghorns to understand the genetic basis of growth and reproduction3–8, bone characteristics that affect osteoporosis in laying hens9–11, incubation behaviour12 and to understand how incubation behaviour influences the brain centres controlling voluntary anorexia13.


  1. Chintoan-Uta, C. et al. Superoxide dismutase SodB is a protective antigen against Campylobacter jejuni colonisation in chickens. Vaccine 33, 6206–6211 (2015).
  2. Chintoan-Uta, C., Cassady-Cain, R. L. & Stevens, M. P. Evaluation of flagellum-related proteins FliD and FspA as subunit vaccines against Campylobacter jejuni colonisation in chickens. Vaccine 34, 1739–1743 (2016).
  3. Podisi, B. K., Knott, S. A., Burt, D. W. & Hocking, P. M. Comparative analysis of quantitative trait loci for body weight, growth rate and growth curve parameters from 3 to 72 weeks of age in female chickens of a broiler-layer cross. BMC Genet. 14, (2013).
  4. Podisi, B. K. et al. Overlap of quantitative trait loci for early growth rate, and for body weight and age at onset of sexual maturity in chickens. Reproduction 141, 381–389 (2011).
  5. Sewalem, A. et al. Mapping of quantitative trait loci for body weight at three, six, and nine weeks of age in a broiler layer cross. Poult. Sci. 81, 1775–1781 (2002).
  6. Cabrera, C. P. et al. Complex traits analysis of chicken growth using targeted genetical genomics. Anim. Genet. 43, 163–171 (2012).
  7. Sharman, P. W. A., Morrice, D. R., Law, A. S., Burt, D. W. & Hocking, P. M.  Quantitative trait loci for bone traits segregating independently of those for growth in an F2 broiler x layer cross . Cytogenet Genome Res 117, 296–304 (2007).
  8. Ikeobi, C. O. N. et al. Quantitative trait loci for meat yield and muscle distribution in a broiler layer cross. Livest. Prod. Sci. 87, 143–151 (2004).
  9. Bishop, S. C., Fleming, R. H., Mccormagk, H. A., Flock, D. K. & Whitehead, C. C. Inheritance of bone characteristics affecting osteoporosis in laying hens. Br. Poult. Sci. 41, 33–40 (2000).
  10. Dunn, I. C. et al. A QTL for osteoporosis detected in an F2 population derived from White Leghorn chicken lines divergently selected for bone index. Anim. Genet. 38, 45–49 (2007).
  11. De Koning, D. J. et al. An eQTL in the cystathionine beta synthase gene is linked to osteoporosis in laying hens. Genet. Sel. Evol. 52, 13 (2020).
  12. Basheer, A. et al. Genetic loci inherited from hens lacking maternal behaviour both inhibit and paradoxically promote this behaviour. Genet. Sel. Evol. 47, 100 (2015).
  13. Dunn, I. C., Wilson, P. W., D’Eath, R. B. & Boswell, T. Hypothalamic agouti-related peptide mRNA is elevated during natural and stress-induced anorexia. J. Neuroendocrinol. 27, 681–691 (2015).