In the early 1900s, the Orpington breed was being refined in England for appearance and show qualities. But this was not the case in Australia. At roughly the same time, the Australians were hard at work shaping their Black Orpington populations into a dual-purpose chicken par excellence.
To start with, the Australian poultrymen emphasized egg production and meat quality, and selected their Black Orpington breeding stock accordingly. To further realize the dual-purpose ideal, they added some Rhode Island Red blood. A few individuals also introduced a little bit of Minorca, Langshan, and White Leghorn to the mix to aid in laying ability. The resulting bird was a little coarse by English show standards, but the breeders’ efforts paid off when the hens began to achieve outstanding egg production records throughout the 1920s, one hen even laying 364 eggs in 365 days!
When the new breed was introduced to North America about this time, it was given the name Australorp to distinguish it from the British Orpington. It quickly became a popular dual-purpose chicken in flocks around the country. The Americans added their own touch by creating a white variety with additional White Leghorn crossbreeding throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
While dual-purpose chickens have not enjoyed success in commercial settings for quite some time, the Australorp nevertheless has earned itself a place as a popular heritage breed in the United States. It is well on its way to reaching a stable population size thanks to interest among backyard chicken keepers. The black variety is by far the most common, while the white and blue variations remain rare.
The primary purpose of the Australorp is to provide eggs and broilers for home use. However, its sweet disposition can also make it a fine pet or exhibition bird, especially if children are involved.
Some Australorps will go broody, an instinct they inherited from their Orpington progenitors, but on the whole the breed is not entirely reliable when it comes to setting (brooding and hatching) eggs. Each hen must be evaluated individually for setting instincts. Fortunately, those that do prove their setting abilities are almost invariably good mothers.
Australorps are extremely easy to get along with. Like many chickens, they can be shy unless tamed and accustomed to human contact, but they generally take to people quite quickly. They are friendly and quiet, but still active.
Most hens will tend toward the middle of the pecking order. They typically get along well with the rest of the flock.
The Australorp hen, if sufficiently broody to hatch her own eggs, is hard to beat as a mother. She is very affectionate and will make sure the needs of her charges are met.
The average Australorp rooster has the right personality to be a useful protector of the flock without being dangerous or a nuisance. While all roosters should be watched until proven to be safe, the Australorp rooster is usually alert but good-natured.
The Australorp is an extremely healthy breed with a long productive lifespan. It should present few, if any, difficulties.
The only two problems worth watching out for are frostbitten combs in roosters (usually not a problem with the hens) and a tendency toward obesity, which can affect egg production. The former can be prevented with adequate shelter, particularly protection from cold winds, while the latter is addressed by giving the chickens access to fresh pasture and letting them stretch their legs on a daily basis.
- Very safe, family-friendly disposition.
- Willingness to stay fenced without flying out.
- Suitability for backyards and urban settings.
- Adaptability to free-range settings.
- Excellent cold tolerance.
- Fair heat tolerance when provided with adequate shade.
- Excellent health.
- Early maturity.
- Large numbers of eggs.
- Persistent egg production regardless of weather or season.
- Good mothering instincts.
- Significant meat production.
- Scarcity of white and blue varieties.
- Somewhat unreliable performance as a broody hen.