I hope you will find information that is interesting about the Orpington chickens here.
Our interest is particularly in the Utility Orpington's - these are the strains of the breed that live up to the standards set by the original breeder Mr William Cook from Kent in the 1880's, who liked his birds to be productive as well as beautiful.. In the 21st Century the utility Orpingtons have become very rare indeed.
William Cook envisaged a dual purpose bird who have a good table weight and can lay around 150 - 180 eggs a year. Even if you would never consider culling birds for the table this is a vital feature as it means that the birds have good body weight as opposed to a large skeleton and lots of feathers. It is the later that is seen alot in most strains left in the United Kingdom - the birds are bigger than utility birds but this is made up of bones and feather not body weight. When you pick up a bird that is suitable for breeding for table production you must definitely feel "chicken dinner" !!!
Many people nowadays breed Orpingtons either for the show ring or without selection for the productive features they were first bred with. This results in different form of Orpington. They are softer feathered, fluffier and larger than the utility birds and not so well covered in flesh.
I have heard from folk around the country that non utility strains are showing developmental problems - getting wobbly on their legs at around 12 - 16 weeks. This seems to be due to the body trying to build so much frame [as opposed to commercial broilers who can wobble due to building too much flesh]. This extreme demand on the bodies resources may be causing a nutritional deficit - which needs to be addressed by looking at the sizes being bred as opposed to simply feeding more - in my personal opinion.
I have also heard of Orpington males from the some strains dying of heart attacks in their first 2 years. This also suggests something is wrong. Strains of Orpington that are not selected for production and vigour are extremely pretty but I worry that working so hard on frame and feather is causing problems that Mr Cook would not have been happy about.
The number of eggs ; their fertility and hatchability is also diminished in most strains. Often, while they may lay well in certain parts of the year - the season is very short which can lead to disappointment. Feed bills are high enough without birds being unproductive for long periods of the year.
Mr Cook demanded that his birds were reasonable egg layers, around 150 - 180 eggs a year, he also encouraged lines to be good winter layers. These figures are very optimistic from the modern Orpington and each breeder needs to be recording and selecting to improve this situation.
THE HISTORY OF THE ORPINGTON
The original Orpington, the Black, was developed in England at the town of Orpington in County Kent in 1886 by William Cook. They went to the US in 1890 and gained popularity very rapidly, based on their excellence as a meat bird. As the commercial broiler and roaster market developed, the Orpington lost out partly because of its white skin.
The Buff Orpington was developed around 1890 from the following crosses :
William Cooks birds were good dual purpose birds bred to be able to lay 160 eggs a year. His males weighed between 7 - 10 lbs.. The colour should be rich, soft mellow shade of golden buff free from red with white legs.
Generation 1 : Gold Spangled Hamburgh x Buff Cochin = chick A
Generation 2 : chick A x Dark Dorking = chick B
Generation 3 : Chick B x Buff Cochin = BUFF ORPINGTON
The Blue Orpington was developed by Mr Cook before the First World War which was a limiting factor preventing them becoming very popular :
They appear to have been developed from selected breeding of Black, White and Cuckoo with a little Spangled.
Today Buff, Black, White, Blue and Spangled Orpington's are recognised by the British Poultry Club but I believe only the Buff and the Blue have utility strains nowadays in the UK. Maybe, with the increasing demand for birds to be productive as well as beautiful and especially for good table birds for the domestic market, that more of you will look at your selecting for eggs and carcase quality.
The genetics of the blue feathering means that you get a variety of colours in the youngstock almost a black - an iridescent blue/black that is gorgeous [not the same as the Black Orpington] a superb smoky colour with each feather darker laced or a pale lavender with darker streaks.and very occasionally a white will appear [it is likely that this is a splash as it has some shading as a chick and blue legs
for example, rather oversimplified but you get the idea.
dark blue x splashed (speckled) = all blue
blue x blue = 1 dark blue: 2 blue: 1 splashed
dark blue x dark blue = all dark blue
Splashed x splashed = all splashed
If the feather genetics of breeds like the Orpingtons really interests you then this new book is perfect.
The exhibition Orpington breeders are now extending the range of colourways that its a serious art to follow and understand all the modifiers.
If you want your birds to be ranging outside you need to chose your breeder carefully as some birds will not be not very good at being exposed to the elements. The feathering is too fine, too soft. The utility birds are smaller in themselves and much harder feathered, giving them a greater waterproofing.
In our view the Orpington may not be the most productive of all our breeds - but they are some of the sweetest tempered and would grace any garden, making the cutest pets.
MORE ABOUT THE BREED
HOUSING ORPINGTONS : They are heavily but loosely feathered, appearing massive. If its good quality feathering then it can allow them to endure cold temperatures better than some other breeds as long as they are not too soft to have poor waterproofing.
Strong utility stock are happy to be outside - but need bigger accommodation than many other breeds - think of them as being 2 birds when working out how many you can get in a house.
In general they are not so keen to go up ramps to the house - like many big breeds, they prefer their houses to be at ground level, and their perches low.
You don't want their heads up near drafts so when choosing a house make sure it has at least 2 - 2.5ft above the perch before there is any ventilation to prevent respiratory problems.
The houses we advise for Orpington's can be seen here :
up to 8 - Westford - opens in a new window
up to 15 - Brentford 460 - opens in a new window
up to 25 - Brentford 660 - opens in a new window;
most don't like high perches so lower the perches if you are having problems of birds roosting on the floor or nestboxes - its preferable to train them to use the perches by putting them on late at night so they don't damage themselves. Many show type strains will be confinable behind a 3 ft fence as they tend not to be so agile. The smaller, stronger utility birds are more capable of getting up onto fences and gates so may need a higher fence. The best, of course is electric fencing as its more mobile and uses the ground better
The girls prefer a bigger nestbox than standard - a 15" high nestbox seems to suit them better and may prevent them laying on the floor [which will lead to dirty and broken eggs]
Orpington hens are generally more prone to broodiness than other utilities and if they do go broody generally make good mothers. This is not a trait one would want to encourage in a Utility breeding programme unless you have got your egg numbers reliably above 150 a year. Being broody means they are not laying eggs and hatching eggs laid by broodies is encouraging the trait. If you want you can use the broody for someone elses eggs but not to keep her in the production flock so her traits are not passed on.
The chicks are not very aggressive and some folk have found that they can be the underdogs when several breeds are brooded together. If they get lots of space and are on free range as soon as possible for your climate then the problems are reduced.
IF your birds are well developed as a dual purpose breed, Orpington's from utility strains should make fair table fowl if you end up with too many boys. However very very few strains have these qualities in the UK, so mostly you will get a carcase that is all bone and little meat.
But Orps are rarely considered for the table any more - they have very laid back personalities and make good garden pets. Even as chicks they are always under your feet. Enjoy them for themselves, and don't expect too much of them, in the way of eggs or meat, unless you are really interested in breeding, in which case it would be SO great to see more people bringing back strong utility lines.
Tim and Jill Bowis
Kintaline Mill Farm,
Benderloch, OBAN Argyll PA37 1QS Scotland
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