The Orpington has become a well-loved favorite among the chicken crowd – deservedly so. She not only lays lots of beautiful eggs, but is generally a laid back, quintessential backyard hen.
This breed was created in England turning the last part of the 1800s’ by a man who had a slightly different vision of chickens than his counterparts.
Read on to learn more about this once controversial breed and its’ place in the hearts and flocks of many.
History & Background
The Orpington breed was created by a fellow called William Cook and was named after the town in which he lived – Orpington, Kent.
At the time of her creation, the hen fever in England was starting to die down. Many breeders and collectors’ had numerous breeds that were imported from far-away places like China and India.
Many of these breeds did not fare well in the English climate and yet others did not produce enough eggs to be competitive or useful commercial layers or table fare.
The main contribution of many of these breeds rested in the genetic diversity of the breed, to inject new blood into some of the older breeds.
Cook seemed to grasp this better than others. He was a practical man and his vision was to create a breed that was a good layer and could also be good table fare. His plan was to create something practical that outperformed existing breeds.
To do this he used an unorthodox method at that time and was duly criticized for it. The method is now accepted throughout the chicken breeders’ world – merging breeds to create something new.
He wasn’t the only one to do this but he was the first to essentially create a ‘brand’ of chicken. At the time Cook was working, the majority of improvements were done to increase the ‘worth’ of one particular breed – not to create another.
All the birds he created were Orpingtons’ regardless of the parentage – hence the branding reference to his birds and the controversy.
He was also an exceptional public relations man and his breed benefitted from his advertising in England and abroad.
If you read books or treatises about the Orpington breed you will immediately notice that just about each color was created using different breeds for each initial color – very bold for the time.
The first color created was the black. To create this brand of chicken he used Minorca, Langshans and Plymouth Rocks.
By the late 1880s’ the Orpington had excelled in showing at the Dairy, Crystal Palace and Birmingham shows – all the big names of the time. The black Orpington was a huge success in England, but needed a bit of refinement which was provided by Joseph Partington and friends.
Partington increased the bulk and feathering of the bird so that it looked more robust than before.
The Australians imported Orpington and also worked on improvement. Their contribution to the poultry world is known as the Australorp – another beautiful and practical bird.
The Buff Orpington was the next to appear around the 1886 time frame. The Buff bird was created using Gold spangled Hamburghs, Dorkings and Cochins.
The Buff soon outstripped the black for popularity and to this day remains the most popular Orpington color.
The parentage of the White Orpington is a bit of a mystery. Created by Godfrey Shaw they were initially called Albions, but the name was changed shortly thereafter.
Cooks’ daughter Elizabeth Jane is credited with creating the Cuckoo and Blue varieties. The Cuckoo was created in 1908 but never became popular. The breed was short lives and was extinct before the end of World War 1.
The Blue variety made its’ appearance in 1910. Again, it was not wildly popular until the addition of Andalusian plumage genes which helped in the promotion of the breed. It is now a sought after variety.
The spangled Orpington emerged around 1900 and has remained a rare variety of Orpington to this day.
The Red Orpington was created by W. Holmes Hunt – again the parentage of the bird is shrouded in uncertainty.
The Diamond Jubilee variety was created in honor of Queen Victorias’ 50 years on the throne and remains a popular choice to date.
Bantam Orpingtons were first exhibited in 1900. The Buff bantam was created in Germany by Herman Kuhn.
The Bantam Orpington Club was formed in 1950 and acceptance to the PCGB happened in 1952. Bantams still exist, but can be hard to locate.
The Poultry Club of Great Britain standards vary from the American Poultry Association in several subtle ways.
The English standards can be found here:
The APA and PCGB recognize only four varieties although there are several other varieties out there:
- Buff – 1902
- Black – 1905
- White – 1905
- Blue – 1923
The Orpington has a very docile and mellow temperament. They do love to be petted and will quickly become lap chickens.
They enjoy their food so can have a tendency towards obesity. They are not renowned for foraging – why work for food when the feeder is under your beak?
They seem to shake off the colder weather well. Their dense, fluffy feathering keeps them toasty warm through all but the severest winters.
They do need shade and cool water in summer temperatures though as they can easily suffer from heat stroke with all those feathers.
Eggs & Broodiness
Orpingtons do go broody fairly frequently which is a great advantage if you want more chicks.
They will lay you somewhere between 200-280 light brown eggs per year, that’s roughly 4-5 eggs per week.
As meat birds, they are ready for the table at 22 week. If left to grow out, a rooster can grow up to 10lb.
In general health the Orpington is a robust and healthy bird. They can suffer badly with lice and mites due to their dense feathering, so regular checks on plumage and skin are essential.
Is The Orpington Breed Right For Me?
The Orpington is an exceptional bird for families. They are gentle, mellow, friendly and enjoy being cuddled.
The roosters can be protective of their girls in the breeding season, so exercise caution with small children until you know your birds well.
A couple of hens will keep a family in eggs quite nicely – as long as they don’t go broody and not all do.
They aren’t an overly fussy breed to work with – they don’t special needs or requirements with the exception of slightly lower perches as they are a heavy breed and may damage their legs coming off a high perch.
They are winter hardy to many of the northern US states and Canada, they don’t tolerate heat and humidity well and require plenty of shade and cool water in the brutal summer months.
Since they are docile birds, be cautious when mixing your breeds. Breeds that would be a good fit are Cochins, Silkies, bantams or similar non-assertive breeds.
Orpingtons are not noisy birds and the Buff is especially quiet so would suit urban living very well.
There is a very large Orpington following and clubs abound, for example there is the www.unitedorpingtonclub.webs.com if you are ever looking into breeding of Orpingtons yourself.
The Orpington is a very nice breed to have. They are reliable and not aggressive so you don’t have to worry about a barnyard fight!
They are a lovely heritage breed to have and thanks to backyard ‘keepers such as you the Orpington is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and certainly merit the attention.
They have been a ‘royal’ breed since the first days of Orpingtons. Queen Victoria kept them, the Queen Mother kept them and Prince Charles keeps them on his Highgrove Estate.
If you are just starting out with chickens, Orpingtons are quite inexpensive to buy as chicks and will reward you handsomely with eggs and meat if you desire, a good investment for your money.