Australorp Chickens

Australorp Chickens featured image

By Tasha Greer

Why did the Orpington chicken cross the ocean to Australia? To become an Australorp, of course! Australorp is a contraction of Australian Orpington. But this chook breed is no mere contraction. It’s a distinctly Australian layer with Orpington-like sweetness and beauty.

Australorps are technically a dual-purpose chicken and can be used as a meat source. However, these lean, laying machines take more time and feed to fatten than typical meat breeds. So, you’ll want to use them primarily as power layers on protected pasture. They also make perfect pets if you give them part-time free-ranging privileges.

Australorps History

The Australorp story began in Kent, England. There, in 1886, a chicken enthusiast named William Cook crossed Minorca roosters with Black Plymouth Rock hens. Then those offspring were bred to the clean legged Langshan chickens to make black Orpingtons. [1]  

Those docile, fast-growing meat birds that laid some eggs in winter became an instant favorite in the chicken world. They were such a hit, in fact, that chickens from the original Orpington breed lines were exported to Australia in the 1890’s.

Once across the pond, Australian breeders began out-crossing black Orpingtons with more Minorcas, Leghorns, and Langshans.[2] Some reports also say they were crossed with Rhode Island Reds.[3] With the single-minded focus of increasing year-round egg production, Australian breeders transformed the dual-purpose Orpington into a world record breaking, egg-making machine.

Australian Orpingtons were averaging 304.9 eggs per year in competitions. With the use of lights and expert care, one hen laid 347 eggs in 365 days. Soon after a hen of the Burns bloodline broke the world record, laying 354 eggs in a year. Then, another Australorp hen laid an astounding 364 eggs in 365 days!

Meanwhile, back in England and other parts of the world, Orpingtons were being bred for better meat production with less focus on egg production. As the breeding goals diverged in those two countries, so did the similarities between the English Orpingtons and the new Australian Orpington.

By the 1920’s the Australian-bred Orpingtons had such distinctive laying capacities, and notable body-type variances, that they were declared a new breed. That’s the backstory of how the black Orpingtons crossed the ocean to Australia and became the Australorps we know and love today.  

Light brown-eyed australorp
Light brown-eyed Australorp

Australorp Breed Characteristics

These lovely layers and their barbie-worthy rooster companions have earned honorary recognition as the national “chooks” of Australia. There, you can find the original black Australorps, and also white and blue Australorps. Those three colors have all been accepted as breed varieties in the Australian Poultry standards.[4]

In South Africa, four additional colors have been recognized including buff, splash, wheaten laced and golden. In the UK, the three Australian accepted colors of black, white, and blue are included in the standard.

In 1929, the black Australorp was accepted as a breed by the American Poultry Association (APA). Presently, black is still the only accepted color by US standards. However, in the US, you can still find some specialty breeders carrying the white and blue color variations for novelty.

Color Variations

Black Australorps are noted for having distinctive black feathers with beautiful iridescent green sheen. For show, dark brown or black eyes are preferred. Plus, beaks should be mostly or completely black. However, there are plenty of black Australorps with beautiful golden-brown eyes and partially black beaks found in backyard flocks.

White Australorps are a genetic variation of the black Australorps. The white-feathered offspring are repeatedly crossed to produce a consistently white colored bird, with no yellow. Note, there is also a hybrid called an Austra White that gets confused with a white Australorp. This is a hybrid cross between a black Australorp and a production white Leghorn.[5]

Blue Australorps originate as crosses of white and black Australorps. Then, blue Australorp roosters are often crossed to black Australorp hens. That outcrossing results in chickens born with blue, black, and splash color variations. As such, breeders of blue Australorps may also offer black or splash varieties with more mottled coloring.  

Australorp Green Sheen
Australorp Green Sheen

Full-Size and Bantams

Australorps also come in both full and bantam sizes. However, since Australorps don’t have exceptionally fancy feathers, it’s harder to find bantams of these than it is for fancier breeds.

How much do full-sized Australorps weigh?

  • Pullets: 5.5 lbs.
  • Hens: 6.5 lbs.
  • Cockerels: 7.5 lbs.
  • Cocks: 8.5 lbs.

How much do Bantam Australorps weigh? [6]

  • Pullets: 32 oz.
  • Hens: 36 oz.
  • Cockerel: 36 oz.
  • Rooster: 40 oz.                 

Are Australorp chickens good layers?

The breeding focus on laying ability is what first distinguished the Australorps from their ancestors the black Orpingtons. However, some of that laying capacity has been lost over time.

In the US, most Australorp breeders list egg volume at 200-250 eggs per year. That puts this breed somewhere between other homestead favorite dual-purpose breeds like the barred Plymouth Rock or the Rhode Island reds, and slightly ahead of the Orpington.

Australorp eggs are tinted brown and sometimes have a pearly sheen.

Body Conformation

Compared to Orpingtons, the Australorps have tighter feathers that hug more closely to the body. They don’t appear as fluffy overall. They also have longer tail feathers. Plus, their feathers don’t hang down covering their legs.

Temperament

Like the Orpingtons, Australorps are docile, easy to handle chickens. They can be tamed and trained to follow you on to pasture or around the garden. Yet, they are also active foragers that do very well as free-range poultry on pasture.

There are reports of Australorps being likely to be over-pecked by other breeds. That hasn’t been the case in my coop. But the Australorps are more independent than some other breeds. Personally, I would rate them as conflict avoiders rather than at risk for bullying. 

Australorps are also one of the quieter backyard chicken breeds. Most only make modest announcements after laying an egg and don’t make a fuss over found treats. They also chat and sing less than certain noisy breeds like the Sussex.

Overall, their quiet, calm, self-contained ways, still make them quite charming as pets.

Black-eyed Australorp
Black-eyed Australorp

Caring for Australorps

Australorps are generally hardy and healthy. However, they aren’t well-suited to total confinement. They seem to suffer from more mysterious ailments and parasite problems when forced to live in close quarters with other fowl friends.

I suspect, that like many Australians, these chooks are better adapted to a sparser population and more land per capita than their English ancestors. Give them some time to free-range on a grassy lawn or through a woodland patch to maintain their mental and physical health.

Heat and Cold Protection

As the national chicken of a continent with a wide variety of climate conditions, the Australorp tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions. They can handle hot, dry conditions if they have shade and cool water. They can also take rain if given a place to dry off.

They can even handle cold and Alpine conditions if you give them some wind protection. However, in prolonged sub-freezing conditions, they will need deep bedding and frost protection for their combs and feet.

Predator Protection

Unlike Orpingtons which are often oblivious to risks, the Australorps have good predator awareness. For the black Australorp, the dark green sheen of their feathers also helps them blend with green foliage. Other Australorp colors, though, will be easier for predators to spot and target.

The Australorp’s one big predator weakness is that they aren’t great fliers. That makes it difficult for them to escape to higher ground, such as up in a tree, if ground predators are an issue. Overall, Australorps are a good choice for a protected pasture with an enclosed nighttime shelter.

Roost Recommendation

This breed doesn’t seem to have any special roosting requirements. However, older, heavier Australorps will benefit from low, wide roost bars to prevent injury and ankle stress.

Roosters

Australorp roosters aren’t as laid back as their Orpington ancestors. They can be tough on hens. They also make good protectors which can be a benefit or drawback depending on your needs. Not all Australorp roosters are kid-friendly and some are wary of strangers.  

A ratio of 1 rooster to 10 roosters works well on pasture and in confinement for this breed.

Australorp Rooster
Australorp Rooster

Broodiness and Egg Production

Australorp broodiness is a bit of a gray area. The original five Australorp lines (Graham, Burns, Christie, Bertelsmeier, and Drewitt) were so focused on egg production that broodiness was considered an undesirable quality. As such, broodiness was specifically bred out of the early generations of Australorps.

Australorps available today, though, have been known to display broodiness. Anecdotal experience suggests that about one out of every 4 to 5 Australorps has broody potential.

Incidentally, Australorp chickens today are also less productive layers than in their heyday 100 years ago. Their lower laying capacity and greater potential for broodiness may be linked to some of their residual Orpington genetics being more favored by breeders today.

Meat Production

Australorps reach sexual maturity quickly, often in less than 5 months. However, it will take a bit longer than that for them to reach harvestable weights for meat production. They tend to only fatten after they’ve reached reproductive readiness.

Males will be ready for processing in 5-6 months. Hens may take longer and will most likely be established layers by the time they begin to put on weight.

Pros and Cons of Raising Australorps

If you need help deciding whether Australorps are right for you, here are some pros and cons from my experience.

Pros

  • Terrific Temperament
  • Good Egg Production
  • Smarter than the average chicken
  • Predator resistant and good for pasture

Cons

  • Not the fanciest breed
  • Not great for total confinement
  • Not the most productive meat bird

Overall, Australorps are one of the sweetest pasture-friendly heritage layer breed chickens available. But they aren’t a standout option for a small backyard coop.

Australorps FAQs

Here are a few more interesting things to know about Australorps.

Are Australorps the best layers in the world?

Back in the 1920’s, Australorp hens in Australia broke laying records repeatedly. In fact, an Australorp still holds the world record for laying 364 eggs in a 365-day period.

Unfortunately, when those Southern-hemisphere chickens were shipped back to the Northern-hemisphere to the UK and the US, their egg production dropped dramatically. There are some who suspect foul-play in that laying records were exaggerated. Others suspect fowl-play, of the bait and switch kind, in that the exported fowl were not the best breeding stock.

Personally, I wonder if egg production differences might be the result of environmental differences between the light and air quality in the two hemispheres. For example, English Orpingtons may have been initially more productive as layers in Australia due to the broader spectrum of light in locations with less air pollution.

Then, Australian breeders improved their breeding stock using chickens that laid best in the Australian light spectrum. So, when those chooks, bred for Australian light got shipped back to areas with more air pollution and a different spectrum of light, those light-dependent laying adaptations were rendered useless.

That’s just a guess on my part based on what we’ve learned about how chickens respond to different spectrums of light. In any case, even today, Australorps in the US and UK seem to lay less often than Australorps kept in the Southern hemisphere.

Thankfully, no matter where you keep them, they still lay a lot of eggs for a non-hybrid, heritage breed.

Do Australorps lay in winter?

Australorps were also once known for being good winter layers. There are still many references across the web about them laying well in natural light through winter.

It’s possible that some breed lines or in certain parts of the world Australorps make good winter layers. But in North Carolina, my Australorps stop laying in late November and pick back up on warm days in late February.  

Australorp: Australian for Chicken!

The Australorp may owe its origin story to the famous English Orpingtons. However, today these lovely layers, and occasional meat birds, are distinctly Australian chooks. If you want to bring a bit of the outback, out back in your yard, then I highly recommend including a few of these Australian imports in your flock!

Are you thinking about getting chickens or do you already have a flock? Check out >> A Beginner’s Guide to Chickens

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Tasha Greer is an Epicurean Homesteader and author of Grow Your Own Spices and Weed-Free Gardening.

References:
[1] http://orpington-history.org/time_line_files/
[2] https://livestockconservancy.org/heritage-breeds/heritage-breeds-list/australorp-chicken/
[3] https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/australorp-chickens-a-comprehensive-care-guide/
[4] https://www.aandjpoultry.uk/our-breeds/australorp-black/
[5] https://www.cacklehatchery.com/product/austra-white/
[6] https://web.archive.org/web/20190910140239/http://www.australorps.com/4.html

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