A strong dual purpose chicken, the Black Australorp is a fun heritage breed chicken to raise (and to say!). A good choice for both egg laying and meat production, this heritage poulty breed chicken traces its heritage to the Orpington, bred in the village of the same name in Kent by William Cook in the 1880s. Cook used a variety of breeds in creating several color varieties, but the lustrous Black, pure White, and rich golden Buff earned the greatest following. Their originator was a skillful publicist for his chickens, and they were exported out of England. Orpingtons were noted for early maturity and winter laying ability, but they did not achieve a great deal of commercial success in England because many breeders were more involved in exhibiting. Today the utilitarian Orpington is becoming very rare. The exhibition form differs from this Old Orpington, as it is becoming known.
The stately Orpington is a large, heavy bird that is also capable of good brown egg production. The body is long, round, and deep with a large breast and a wide back. The legs are short, solid, and set apart. There are both single- and rose-comb varieties. The cocks have an abundance of hackle and saddle feathers. The skin is white. Cocks will weigh up to 10 pounds and hens about 8 pounds. Although Orpingtons are large birds, they have a gentle and quiet nature. The hen will brood and is a good mother. The chicks can be too meek in mixed groups. Unfortunately, in the twentieth century, the emphasis was mainly on show-type birds.
The Buff Orpington was introduced from England to North America in the 1890s. The Buff was based on crosses of Buff Cochin, Lincolnshire Buff, and Dorking. The Buff earned its considerable popularity very quickly as a dual-purpose farm bird whose heavy, loose plumage allowed it to maintain egg production even in cold winters. The Buff earned the nickname Golden Beauty and was often shown at country fairs. The White Orpington is also still available from hatcheries in North America. As with other breeds, the white skin of the Orpington prevented its commercial popularity. In addition, although many individual birds excelled, this uniformity could not be fixed throughout the population.
The Black Orpington was based on crosses of the Black Minorca, Black Plymouth Rock, and Croad Langshan. Black Orpingtons were imported to Australia, where they were developed into an incredible egg-layer without the loss of too much size and meat quality. In many ways, the Australorp maintained the best utilitarian qualities of the old productive Orpington. This new breed produced a hen that earned the world record in an official test in Australia, producing 364 eggs in 365 days. In the 1920s, the Australorp was introduced into North America, and it earned an excellent reputation as a dual-purpose breed. The Australorp was also exported in 1921 from Australia to Britain, where it achieved some success as a family backyard bird.
The Black Australorp chicken, though slightly smaller and trimmer than the Orpington, remains deep bodied. Cocks weigh up to 8.5 pounds and hens about 7 pounds. The coloration of the dark-eyed Australorp has been called intense. Its blue-black feathers shimmer with beetle-green iridescence. The cocks have large bright red single combs and wattles. The beak is black, while the dark slate-colored legs have pinkish white soles. The eggs are light brown and the skin is white, which limits the breed’s success in the United States apart from home flocks and direct markets. Although Australorps are an active breed, they are also adaptable to confinement. The Australorp remains an excellent choice for the home broiler and egg flock.
After the Australorp’s introduction into the United States, it was crossed with White Leghorns to produce the Austra White. The Austra White was a popular egg layer until the development of such hybrid crosses as the Hyline and DeKalb. A White Australorp variety has also been developed in the United States.
Our thanks to Yale University Press for their kind permission to post this profile from The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds (Copyright 2001 by Yale University), by Janet Vorwald Dohner. This 500-page book is a definitive reference about heritage livestock, describing the history and characteristics of almost 200 breeds of poultry, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and horses. The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds is available from Amazon.