Black Orpington chickens from the poultry yards of William Cook and Joseph Partington were imported into Australia during the period between 1890 and about 1900. In England during this same period, Black Orpingtons were being refined for their meat qualities. However, the Australians immediately valued the breed for its egg-laying ability and continued to breed along the lines of the original type. The Australians were very practical poultry breeders, and so with egg production as a singular goal, they made outcrosses to Minorca, White Leghorn, and Langshan chickens – even as William Cook had in the creation of the Orpington. The end result was an excellent production chicken, but one which little resembled Orpingtons as bred in other countries.
In 1902, during Australia’s winter season, the Hawkesbury Agricultural College held a six-month egg-laying contest between various breeds of chickens. With 41 pens in all, Black Orpingtons took seven of the thirteen top placements. This was the first of many egg-laying contests in which Australian-bred Orpingtons would compete. By 1922-23 “Australian Laying Orpingtons” were setting records. At Geelong, Victoria, a pen of six “Australorp” hens set a world record by laying 1857 eggs in 365 days – an average of 309.5 eggs each. At the Grafton contest in 1923-24 an Australorp hen laid 347 eggs in 365 days. Soon after a hen of the Burns bloodline broke the world record, laying 354 eggs in twelve months. Another hen set a new world record when she laid an amazing 364 eggs in 365 days!
One can say that the Australorp chicken became distinct from the Orpington chicken by a combination of divergent breeder goals – meat production for Orpingtons, egg production for Australorps – and the competition to win egg-laying contests. Five primary bloodlines of Australorps were developed during the period between 1900 and 1922: Graham, Burns, Christie, Bertelsmeier, and Drewitt. While these breeders utilized different crosses on the imported Orpington chickens, all had in mind the general type originally released by William Cook. They also all bred to eliminate broodiness, and this had much to do with the commercial success and the establishment of these chickens as their own breed.
With such great successes in the egg-laying contests, poultrymen worldwide became interested in these chickens. Many were imported into England and America in the early 1920s. Breeders struggled to distinguish them from Orpingtons, and many names were applied, such as: Australs, Australian Utility Black Orpingtons, Australian Laying Orpingtons. Finally, during the early 1920s the breed was identified as Australorps.
Australorp chickens are a medium weight breed with fairly close-fitting feathers. They lay an abundance of large tinted eggs, often averaging 26-27 ounces per dozen. Australorps were recognized as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1929 and are found in only one variety, black. Males weigh 8.5 lbs and females weigh 6.5 lbs.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.