The Orpington Chicken

A Dual Purpose Breed

The Orpington chicken breed was developed in 1886. Its ancestors include Black Minorcas and Black Plymouth Rocks. The offspring of these matings were then bred to a clean-legged Langshan. The Orpington was named by the Englishman, William Cook. Cook developed the Orpington and named it after his home town in Kent. A dual purpose breed, it laid well through the colder months and also produced a good carcass of white meat for the table.

Orpington Cock

Today's Orpington is more profusely feathered than its forebears. Although it was a large bird with a nicely curved shape and soft plumage, exhibitors of Orpingtons crossed their birds with Cochins to create an even more imposing bird for show purposes.

After establishing the Black Orpington, Cook then bred White, Buff and Blue Orpingtons. The White Orpington made its appearance in 1889 but was not as popular as the Black Orpington. Later the White was crossed with White Wyandottes and White Sussex and had a resurgence of popularity.

Cook used the Lincolnshire Buff to develop the Buff Orpington. He also tried to breed out the Cochin characteristics with the result that the Buff is more closely feathered than the White, Black and Blue types. The Buff is the most popular of the varieties. HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had a flock of pedigree Buff Orpingtons and was once Patron of the Buff Orpington Club. The bird became the symbol of the Orpington Rugby Football Club.

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In 1890, Black Orpingtons exported to Australia became the foundation stock for the Austral Orpington which later became the Australorp. The Australorp is popular as a show bird and an excellent layer.

In 1902, the Orpington was recognised by the American Poultry Association (APA). Black, white, buff and blue are recognised. The Orpington is listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as 'recovering'. In the United Kingdom, the Orpington is listed as 'endangered' by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The Buff Orpington is listed as 'at risk'.

In 1905, Cook bred a Blue Orpington which had an excellent reputation as a layer of good quality eggs. This was just before World War I so there was little chance for further development of the type.

Today the Orpington is available in a number of varieties. It is possible to buy jubilee, red, gold- and silver-laced, and mottled types. Orpingtons are docile and if handled from a young age are ideal for families with small children as they stay quiet and friendly. For chickens, they are quite intelligent to the extent of being able to learn simple tricks.

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The Orpington is large and heavy, weighing from 7 to 10 pounds. The plumage is profuse and soft, almost hiding the legs. The small head has a single, erect comb which has five distinct points. The eyes and legs of the darker colours are dark while paler colours have red eyes and white legs.

The White Orpington has a red face and comb. It lays 160 to 180 tinted or brown eggs each year. The Buff Orpington also has white, clean legs. The plumage is a rich, golden colour without being at all red.

Side on, the shape is that of a U shape under body and a short back which appears concave. A compact, short tail bears feathers which rise high and sweep over to the rear. The fluffy feathering keeps the birds warm in cold weather and they continue to thrive and lay well. The paler colours lay tinted white to light brown eggs. A yearly average is 110 to 160 is easily achieved.

Orpingtons are happy to go broody and they are diligent mothers. They cope well with being confined. All in all, this is a breed which is ideally suited as a backyard chicken.

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