Orpington Chicken

(English class)

Prepared by Michael Schlumbohm and Keith Bramwell, Department of Poultry Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Buff Orpington Chickens The Orpington is dual purpose breed that was traditionally bred and raised for heavy meat and egg production. The eggshells are brown and the skin is white and they have a single comb and red ear lobes. The American Poultry Association's (APA) Standard of Perfection recognizes them in Buff, Black, Blue, and White.

Standard Weights
Cock: 10 lbs.
Hen: 8 lbs.
Cockerel: 8.5 lbs.
Pullet: 7 lbs.

The Orpingtons are a large breed and being loose feathered gives them an even greater massive appearance. The body of the Orpington is rather long, fairly wide, and very deep, with the breast being broad, deep, and well rounded. The topline is level and smooth, gradually rising from the base of the neck to the tail which should be carried at an angle of 15-25 degrees. The shanks are moderately short but the profile of the hock should still be visible. The shanks of the buff and white varieties should be white. The black and blue Orpingtons have a lead blue to black shank, with the bottoms of the feet being white. The breed has a single comb which is bright red in color as well as the wattles, face, and earlobes.

When the Plymouth Rocks and Wyandottes had become popular in America, and began to attract attention in England, Mr. William Cook, of Orpington, Kent, conceived the idea of making a dual purpose English breed. He carried out this idea and produced a single comb black chicken which he introduced to the public with the name Orpington in 1886.

It had the white skin and the white or black leg which the English consumers preferred over yellow skin and legs. For this reason, Orpingtons rapidly gained a position in England corresponding to that of the Plymouth Rock and Wyandotte in America. As a result, within 10 years Orpingtons spread and became well established in England. Orpingtons eventually made their way to America and in 1900 a few were exhibited at the New York show by Wallace P. Willett, of East Orange, New Jersey. In the next two years the entries of Orpingtons at New York shows increased, and in 1903 Mr. Cook brought over an exhibit which, along with the birds shown by his American customers, made the Orpington class one of the features of the show.

In 1904 Mr. William Barry Owen, of Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, who was formerly a resident of England, developed an interest in Orpingtons. When he retired from business he began breeding and exhibiting all varieties of Orpingtons. A little later Mr. Ernest Kellerstrass, of Kansas City, Missouri, started breeding White Orpingtons extensively. These two men advertised the Orpingtons on a larger scale than any other breed had been advertised, and this created a boom for the breed, particularly for the White and Buff varieties. The Orpington boom continued until the general depression in the poultry business began in 1912. After that time the breed began to fall off in popularity, and eventually Orpingtons were largely discarded by commercial growers in favor of the American breeds.

The history of the Orpington in America is equally instructive for what it teaches about the value of advertising and about the limitations of advertising. It was possible to interest poultry producers in breeding Orpingtons, but it was not possible to influence the publics' taste in the color and appearance of dressed poultry. Producers of market poultry soon realized this, and returned to the production of the American developed yellow-legged chickens.

Buff - recognized in 1902

Ideally the plumage color the Buff Orpington is an even shade of rich buff color throughout, while the shanks, feet, and toes are white. The Buff Orpington was said by Mr. Cook to have been produced by mating a Buff Cochin cock to reddish brown pullets obtained from a cross of Golden Spangled Hamburg on Single Comb Dorking. On the contrary, many English authorities of the time argued that the Buff Orpington was produced from an old local breed known as the Lincolnshire Buff, with some addition of Cochin blood. Both versions may be true, however Mr. Cook's claim should be taken as the truth since he was the originator of the breed.

The Buff Orpingtons first brought to America showed little resemblance to the Cochin. Except for the difference in the color of the legs and beak, they more closely resembled Buff Plymouth Rocks and in fact some were occasionally shown as Buff Plymouth Rocks. As a rule, the Orpingtons were sounder in color than the Plymouth Rocks, and for a time many Buff Plymouth Rocks showed plain indications of a Buff Orpington cross to improve color. Shortly after arriving in this country imported Buff Orpingtons were in demand, but within a few years the variety had been so improved here that the American strains became more popular.

In many parts of the middle and western states Buff Orpingtons were highly popular as farm fowls because they generally had better table quality than was usually obtained in American dual-purpose breeds. But as fanciers bred Orpingtons more to the "Cochin type", farmers began to lose interest in them.

At one time a rose comb Buff Orpington was shown, however the Single Comb birds were much better quality and people lost interest in the rose combed Orpingtons rather quickly. Today the Buff is the most common variety of Orpington and is seen across the country and at almost every poultry show.

White - recognized in 1905

As in the case of the Buff Orpington, the facts as to the real origin of White Orpingtons are somewhat in dispute and in doubt. Without question, William Cook introduced the White Orpington to the public in 1889. This first Cook White Orpington was said to have been produced by crossing White Leghorn (presumably rose combed) with Black Hamburg hens, the white pullets from this cross were then mated with White Dorking males. The stock thus produced, as described by T.W. Sturges, were rose combed, small, and more of Hamburg body shape. A single-combed variety was said to have been produced by using single-combed Dorking males with the pullets from the Leghorn-Hamburg cross. This stock was sold as utility poultry and according to Sturges was never exhibited.

According to Sturges, white birds of real Orpington type did not appear until around 1894, but none were shown until 1900. This first exhibit occurred when two exhibitors, W. Richardson and Godfrey Shaw, exhibited some white chickens at the London Dairy Show under the name "Albion". This same stock was subsequently shown as White Orpington in later years. Several years later Mr. Shaw claimed that his Albions were the original ancestors of the exhibition White Orpington, and stated that they were produced from Light Sussex, by breeding out the black markings in the hackle and tail. Mr. Richardson stated that his Albions were "pure sports" from Buff Orpingtons. Sturges, however, seems to take the position that Albions from Shaw and Richardson jointly furnished the foundation for the modern White Orpington, as distinguished from Cook's earlier White Orpington of Hamburg type.

However, this explanation is inadequate. Illustrations published in 1897 and 1898 showed that the Cook White Orpingtons were quite varied in type, with some that closely matched the body shape of the other Orpington varieties at the time. It is also necessary to take into account the possible influence of the White Plymouth Rock and White Wyandotte. When such points are given due consideration, the White Orpington appears to have been made in England by the amalgamation of several white breeds and individuals having the desired characteristics.

The first exhibit of White Orpingtons in America was at Madison Square Garden, 1903. The advertising done by Mr. Kellerstrass, created a tremendous demand for single comb White Orpingtons in America. His efforts were so successful that it was said that in order to meet demand all the white-skinned white birds in England that would pass as White Orpingtons would have to be shipped to America.

While such a boom continued, body shape was not much considered. Nor were most White Orpington breeders critical of color. Purity of white that would satisfy the breeders of the American white varieties wasn't found in Orpingtons until about 1911-1912. Since that time rapid progress in breeding has been made, both in color and in body shape, and today the standard White Orpington is one of the most beautiful fowls seen in our exhibitions. Despite this, the White Orpington is a rarity at most shows not being nearly as common as the Buffs.

Black - recognized in 1905

Mr. Cook's account of the origin of the Orpington states that the Black Orpington was produced from a mixture of Black Minorca, Black Langshan, and the black culls from Barred Plymouth Rocks. Early illustrations of Black Orpingtons indicated rather close-feathered birds of medium size and medium length of leg; and the birds first seen in this country were of that type. But in later years larger and looser feathered shorter legged Black Orpingtons began to be exhibited and bred. This "cochin like" appearance increased until many of the birds did not have much more 'daylight under them' than Japanese bantams. The Black Orpingtons were by far the most numerous in the first large classes shown in America, but with this short legged loose feathered type little interest was created in them. Today, more Blacks are being seen once again and they are possibly the second most popular variety of Orpington.

Blue - recognized in 1923

This variety was made in England by A.C. Gilbert, a son-in-law of William Cook. They were produced from crosses of Black and White Orpingtons, and were first shown about 1908. Blue, as well as Black and Splash, individuals occurred from this cross of black and white birds. The blues were afterward bred together and sometimes a cross back to black was done in order to darken the color and produce the desired lacing. Like the Blue Andalusian, the Blue Orpington continues to throw a proportion of blacks and splashes when two blue individuals are mated together. (See Andalusian history for more detail)

Blue Orpingtons were brought to this country in considerable numbers about 1913, by W.H. Depper, of Lincoln, Massachusetts, who then began to breed them on a large scale. Unfortunately, his death soon after put an end to the project, and his stock was widely scattered. A few fanciers breed this variety and occasionally they are seen at the larger poultry shows, but are probably the rarest of all Orpington varieties.

Bantam Orpington
(Single Comb Clean Legged class)

Both the APA and American Bantam Association (ABA) recognize the bantam Orpington. They were developed in England and Germany and are recognized in Black, Blue, Buff and White. Shape and color requirements are the same as for large fowl.

Standard Weights
Cock: 40 oz.
Hen: 36 oz.
Cockerel: 36 oz.
Pullet: 32 oz.

Works Cited
Robinson, John H. Popular Breeds of Domestic Poultry. Dayton: Reliable Poultry Journal, 1924.
The American Standard of Perfection Illustrated: A Complete Description of All Recognized Breeds and Varieties of Domestic Poultry. Burgettstown, PA: American Poultry Association, 2010.
Bantam Standard for the Breeder, Exhibitor, and Judge. 2011 ed. Kansas City: Covington Group, 2011.