Consider the Orpington Chicken Breed. It’s a general purpose breed, useful for both meat and eggs. Orpingtons are large birds, roosters weighing around 10 lbs., hens 8 lbs. Orpingtons lay brown eggs. Estimates of laying on exhibition strains vary, from 50 to 120 eggs a year. (Purely Poultry’s Buff Orpingtons are smaller and lay 175-200 eggs per year.) Orpingtons are active and good foragers but calm and friendly in disposition, making them popular as companions. The hens also are good broodies and attentive mothers.
Their feathers are their glory, broad and smooth, but without the fluffiness of Cochins. Cochins have been bred into Orpingtons to add to their feathers, not always with desirable effects. Orpington plumage, especially on the sides, should be full but not fluffy.
Historically, the breed’s roots trace back to England and it is shown in the English class. Its white skin is typical of English breeds, still popular in that country. Americans are accustomed to yellow skin. It gets its name from the town of Orpington in the County of Kent.
The first Orpingtons shown in America in 1890 were black, followed soon after by buff. Buff color was all the rage in the late 19th century, and was bred into many chicken breeds. The buff color was the first Orpington variety recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1902. Black and white varieties were recognized in1905, followed by blue in 1923.
Orpingtons come in many other colors that are not yet recognized. Recently, Chocolate Orpingtons have attracted attention in internet sales. Buyer beware. Reports have varied. In England, many other colors are raised, including gold laced, cuckoo, lemon cuckoo, lavender, porcelain and splash.
The Diamond Jubilee Orpington was developed to honor Queen Victoria’s 1897 celebration of 50 years on the English throne. It is a mixture of black, brown and white feathers. The Dorking that was bred into them to produce that color also gives them a tinted rather than brown egg.
Queen Victoria herself kept a flock of Orpingtons. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, kept Orpingtons, the Buff variety reputed to be her favorites. Prince Charles remains a champion of Orpingtons.
Originally, both single comb and rose comb varieties were raised. Today, single combs with five spikes are recognized for showing, but you may find an occasional rose comb.
My buff Orpington, Oprah, has a strong spirit, loudly announcing her spectacular eggs even before she lays them. She’s the first one up in the morning, often taking the opportunity to lecture the other girls on the finer points of laying superior eggs.
The United Orpington Club provides more information and will connect you with other Orpington enthusiasts.
Orpington chickens bring fine qualities, historical interest and a brush with royalty to your henhouse.