The Australorp is a fairly recent arrival on the chicken scene, but in it’s relatively short history it has made a huge impression on chicken keepers and the poultry industry the world over.
The name is a contraction of Australian black Orpington. The breed was called by several different names before Australorp was settled upon.
Since the major development of this breed was done in Australia, they are the honorary National bird of Australia.
In this article we will look at their temperament, egg laying ability and breed standard, before addressing how to properly care for them and common health issues.
History of Australorps
In the early 1900s, William Cook’s Orpingtons were imported to Australia with the intention of creating a good dual purpose bird suitable for the Australian climate. They were crossed with
Rhode Island Reds to improve the egg laying ability.
In England, the Orpington was being refined to produce good quality meat, but the ever practical Australian poultry breeders of the 1920s wanted a good utility bird with the emphasis on lots of eggs and secondary, meat production.
To this end Cook’s Orpingtons were crossed with Rhode Island Reds, Minorcas, white Leghorn, Langshan and possibly some Plymouth Rocks.
The result was a bird that was a phenomenal layer – probably the combination of Orpington, Leghorn and Rhode Island Red genes made this bird a laying superstar!
In 1922-23 six Australorp hens laid 1,857 eggs, averaging 309.5 eggs per bird over a 365 day period.
Regular egg laying contests were held all over Australia and the following year a hen laid 347 eggs in 365 days. The current record stands as 364 eggs in 365 days – an amazing achievement, especially when you consider this was done without extra lighting for the hens.
The poultry industry soon became interested in them because of their prolific egg laying ability – it was a breed they didn’t have to coerce into laying.
The interest waned in the 1930-1940s as the Australorp was crossed with the white Leghorn creating the Austra White, an even more productive hen.
The Australorp went into a decline which has been reversed over the last few years. It is listed as a recovering breed. They remain a top layer to this day and are well suited for the smaller backyard environment.
Backyard chicken folk love them for the same reason – and a few more besides.
They also go by the names Black Australorp (there are white and blue also), Australian Orpington or Australs.
The American Poultry Association recognizes the Australorp in its’ original color only – black.
However, The Australian Poultry Society recognizes the black, blue and white varieties.
South Africa has also buff, splash, wheaten laced and golden in addition to the other colors.
The Australorp is a large, heavy bird with close fitting, soft feathers. It is classified as a heavy, soft feathered English bird.
It should have a very upright stance, carrying the tail high. The breast is full and well-rounded with a deep, solid body. Wattles, earlobes and comb should all be red in color. The comb should be upright and have no more than seven points.
The legs should be clean of feathers, black or slate blue in color. There are four toes to each foot and the skin on the bottom of the foot should be white as is the skin of the body. Eyes are a shiny jet black and the beak is dark in color.
The standard sized birds are heavy, with a male weighing between 8½-10lb and a hen between 6½-8lb.
Bantams weigh in at 2-2.7lb for males and 1.7-2.2lb for hens.
Australorp Temperament and Appearance
The feathers of the black Australorp have a beetle-green sheen in the sunlight giving a stunning iridescence to the feathers.
It is somewhat ‘stately’ in walking – a trait it got from the Orpington which sort of glides across the barnyard much like a Duchess at a tea party.
They will tolerate confinement well, but like most of the heavier, larger breeds will also enjoy free ranging and searching for bugs and morsels in the yard as they really do like to be active.
The exercise aspect of free ranging is good for them since they can be slightly prone to obesity if kept solely in confinement.
They are a fast growing breed with a slightly shy demeanor initially, but once they settle in, they are likely to follow you around the yard in case you have any treats in your pockets!
As we have noted above, the Australorp is an egg laying machine. Although not as prolific as their forebears, the current variety will give you an average of 250 eggs/year. Individuals may lay more or less, depending on the hen.
This equates to around five light brown, medium sized eggs/ week – not too shabby!
In an industrial setting they do produce more eggs since their lighting and feed is strictly controlled for maximum output.
Depending on the line of Australorps you have, they are generally known to be average to good nest sitters and good mothers to their chicks. Some articles say they aren’t good sitters, but other folks have said they are good sitters and mothers, the ‘yeas’ seem to outnumber the ‘naes’.
They are average in broodiness, unlike their parent bird the Orpington.
Health Issues and Special Needs
This is a robust and healthy heritage breed. There are no special considerations for this easy going hen. The average life expectancy is between 6-10 years.
The usual attention to parasites and other minor issues of chickens is all you need to be diligent about.
Is The Australorp Right For You?
If you are looking for a hen that’s easy to care for, will lay an abundance of eggs and fit in well with your current flock, the Australorp may be your hen.
Although they can initially be a bit on the shy side, they will warm up to you and will be a friendly and loveable barnyard companion. They have a gentle and sweet disposition, not a mean bone in their little bodies, including the roosters.
They are a calm and quiet breed, not pushy. They will likely be in the middle of the pecking order. They can get bullied by more aggressive breeds so keep an eye on the more ‘pushy’ birds in your flock.
They are a breed that is very easy to handle and this makes them a perfect candidate for farm programs such as the 4H here in the US.
Once they get used to the noise and fuss they also make good exhibition birds, frequently winning ribbons for their owners.
They are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and types of weather – from hot climates such as Australia to cooler places such as the American mid-West. This bird really is an all-rounder as far as the weather goes.
The Australorp is a delightful bird to have in your flock.
They are easygoing and friendly, a great bird for beginners since they require little in the way of ‘special care’ and are easy to deal with as they acclimate to being handled very quickly.
It is a delightful, quiet bird to have in your flock. They aren’t flighty or noisy, are cold hardy, make good flock-mates and lay an abundance of delicious eggs…
Who could want for more?
If you have Australorps, we would love to hear from you. Please let us know in the comments section below…