Orpingtons are prized for their massive appearance and they can truly tower over other breeds in the flock; a large framed bird with short legs and “fluffy” plumage, the Orpington looks like a giant cuddly snowball. However, today’s Orpington is quite different than the breed first introduced in the 19th. century. In fact, it’s of a completely different breeding stock.
|Buff Orpington Showing Characteristic Broad Build & Fluffy, Contoured Feathers|
Developed by William Cook in 1886, the original Black Orpington was intended to be a dual-purpose breed with high table value. Specifically, Cook developed the Orpington to satisfy the needs a growing number of poultry enthusiasts who wanted a chicken breed that would lay a large number of eggs, lay in Winter, and to be a good meat bird.
Cook first mated Black Minorcas with Plymouth Rocks and then bred the female offspring of this pairing with Langshans. The result was the Black Orpington, a breed with the desired characteristics and a lovely beetle-green sheen on black plumage.
Interestingly, the breed’s color was not an accidental. At the time, coal was an important fuel in England and its use created huge amounts of black soot in the air. Ever the marketer, Cook felt a black bird would show better at poultry exhibitions because any soot that had gathered on the Orpington’s feathers would not be readily visible.
|Manchester, England Circa 1890 Showing Chimneys & Soot In the Air|
The Black Orpington was first shown at the Dairy, Crystal Palace and Birmingham poultry shows in 1896 and was an immediate hit with the public. Cook capitalized on this initial success by aggressively promoting the breed, sending Black Orpingtons to many countries around the world including the United States and Australia. Those sent to latter country provided the initial breeding stock for what became today’s Australorp.
|Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London|
However, in England the Orpington breed was to about to undergo a radical transformation. Another breeder, Joseph Partington, developed a significantly larger and more extravagantly feathered bird by crossing the Orpington with the Black Cochin. The resulting “Partington Black” was decidedly different than Cook’s original breed – gone was much of the productive value of the bird in favor of its now famous fancy characteristics.
Seeing Partington’s success, Cook developed birds with similar bulk and fluffy feathers that he also named Orpingtons. The Buff Orpington was introduced in 1894 and a White Orpington was developed in 1899. Since then, Blue, Cuckoo, Jubilee, and Spangled varieties have been produced and the Orpington has become one of the most famous and recognized poultry breeds. The breed today is characterized by a small head and comb, wide chest, broad back and soft profuse feathers that are fluffy and contoured.
William Orpington continued as a successful breeder and entrepreneur until his death in 1904. Among his other accomplishments were the publication of a magazine (Poultry Journal), two books (The Poultry Keeper’s Account Book and Practical Poultry Breeder & Feeder), and the manufacture and sale of poultry feed supplements.
|Advertisement for William Cook's Poultry Supplement|
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Sources: Orpingtonaustarlia.com, Orpingtonbantgams.co.uk, “Cook-ing up The Orpington and Australorp” by Dorene M. Lorenz.