Black Orpington Chicken: Complete Breed & Care Guide

For anyone who loves chickens, the Black Orpington is certainly a sight to behold. Not only is the Black Orpington breed among the most successful, it is also one of the most popular throughout history. There is no doubt that the Orpington chicken is worthy of a place in your flock. If you are looking to add some Black Orpington chickens to your yard or farm, there are a few things you need to know about this breed, though.

This complete breed and care guide will give you insight to the Black Orpington, so you can decide if it is right for you.

History of the Black Orpington Chicken

black orpington chicken head

Did you know that a Black Orpington holds the Guinness World Red for the most eggs laid in one year by a purebred chicken? In 1930, a Black Orpington produced an impressive 361 eggs — that is nearly an egg every single day! Although no Black Orpington has gotten close to those numbers since, it is how this breed began and one of the reasons why they continue to be so well-loved throughout the US, UK, and Europe.

As such, any chicken nerd should know the history of this breed. At the 1886 London Dairy Show, a man named William Cook unveiled the first Black Orpington to the masses. He had bred the Black Orpington with a couple of goals in mind. He wanted a bird that was excellent for meat, could lay eggs through the winter, and was also beautiful in appearance. You could say he succeeded.

Cook bred together Black Plymouth Rocks and the Mediterranean Minorca chicken to achieve the glossy black feathers. Croad Langshan males were also incorporated into the gene pool.

Of course, the Black Orpington breed has been refined throughout the years. Black Cochins were soon crossed with Croad Langshans, developing the feathery Black Orpington most recognizable today. If you want to see what the original Black Orpington looked like, check out the Australorp breed!

How The Burdett Family Kept Black Orpingtons Alive

Throughout the years, more and more colors were introduced, including blue, gray, buff, and more. But the Black Orpington remained at the center of the breed. The Burdett family, namely Will Burdett, eventually carried on the legacy that William Cook began when they started producing Black Orpington bantams by crossing them with Wyandottes and Pekins.

Will Burdett is an icon in the world of poultry who is accredited with the foundation of the Broiler Foundation and also wrote the book “The Orpington Fowl.” He is the creator of both Blue Orpington and White Orpington bantams.

Since the days of Burdett, Orpingtons of all colors have changed a little. These birds are fluffier and more heavily feathered than in the past. Buff Orpingtons became the face of the breed, though the Black Orpington continues to be an inspiration for many chicken breeds around the world.

Black Orpington Appearance

portrait of black orpington chicken in garden

When you see a Black Orpington for the first time, you will fall in love with their gorgeous plumage, black beaks, bright eyes, and small heads. Despite their small heads, their bodies are heavy, densely packed with feathers, and fluffy. This creates an exaggerated look that is a little bit comical. All those feathers descend towards their grayish legs, giving them amazing resilience against the cold.

As you may assume, Black Orpingtons (as well as many other Orpington variations) cannot fly well, if at all. Their massive bodies and weight bog them down. Hens weigh an average of 8 lbs (4 kg), and roosters often reach 10 lbs (5 kg) or more. The bantam variety, however, weighs around 3 lbs. Their rounded underline, curved back, and low stance keep them close to the ground.

Both the American Poultry Association (APA) and Poultry Club of Great Britain (PCGB) have breed standards for the Orpington that have some subtle differences. The above information details what is common. If you wish to read up on the PCGB standard, you can check out the information at the Orpington Club.

Black Orpington Temperament

One of the reasons Black Orpingtons continue to be favored by many chicken keepers is their disposition. These chickens not only look fluffy and lovable — they are! Orpington chickens of any color are mellow, calm, and friendly. This is one breed that will quickly climb onto your lap and content themselves with falling asleep there. They love to be a part of the family.

If you are worried about noise, don’t be. Orpington chickens tend to be chatty, but they are also well-mannered about it. Your neighbors will have nothing to complain about!

Orpington chickens do have a tendency for laziness, too. Therefore, you have to be careful about their food intake. These chickens are not ones for foraging, and so they may tend to overcompensate when you bring out their breakfast or dinner. Make sure they get plenty of exercise.

Since they like to follow you around, that should not be too hard!

Furthermore, Black Orpington chickens are very hardy. They use that thick plumage to their advantage and can shake off color temperatures without much issue. On the flip side, those feathers tend to seal in the heat during the summertime. They are not the best chickens for hotter climates. Be sure to provide them with plenty of shade and water. Otherwise, they could suffer from heat stroke.

Egg-Laying and Broodiness of the Black Orpington

the chick is a black orpington and the mum is a pekin bantam

If you want more chicks running around and bringing more joy to your flock, then you are going to love the broodiness of Orpington hens. Yes, Black Orpington hens go very broody. The downside here is that you cannot use them to incubate other eggs. Why? Because of their size! These birds are rather clumsy given their weight, and they could damage the very eggs that they sit upon.

On average, the Black Orpington lays around 200-280 medium or large light brown eggs per year. Expect about 4-5 eggs per week from each chicken. Once your chickens start slowing down with egg-laying, you could always use them for the table. A fully grown rooster would provide you with 8-10 lbs of fresh chicken.

Black Orpington Lifespan

On average, Black Orpington chickens live around 7 years, though it is not uncommon for these birds to live around 10 years. Truly, their lifespan depends upon the individual bird. When a Black Orpington lives in a calm, quiet environment and receives the right food and care, they will live for many years longer than a chicken in a high stress home. Since they have minimal health conditions, it falls to their care. If you want your chickens to live a long and fruitful life, make sure you are keeping them as healthy as possible. That includes giving them plenty of space to roam and to sleep.

One of the main reasons Black Orpington chickens die prematurely is predators. Black Orpington chickens may be an old breed, but they do not have the survival instincts of some other chickens. In fact, they are not the most vigilant, and that can get them killed when a predator comes along.

Caring For Your Black Orpington

You might think that Orpington chickens are high maintenance due to their size, but these birds can more or less take care of themselves. They require the usual things all chickens love, including dust baths. You will want to give them plenty of space in the run. Aside from that, consider the following care tips for Black Orpington chickens:

Feeding

different orpington chickens

Your Black Orpingtons are not going to be picky. Given their size, these birds love to eat, and they will try anything you give them. What they don’t like to do, however, is work for their meals. Black Orpington chickens will rarely roam and would rather you give them a delicious mix of high quality pellets and layer feed. Vegetables and fruits, including broccoli, kale, and banana, also supplement their diet.

When putting together their nutrition, make sure the adults are getting no more than 16% protein. Chicks will need about 20% for the first few weeks. Again, monitor their weight carefully. The last thing you want is an obese Orpington waddling about.

During the hotter months, you can provide your Orpington flock with frozen fruit pieces to help them stay cool.

Housing

Big birds usually mean a diminished ability for flight, and that is true for the Black Orpington. In other words, you do not have to worry about them getting out of the coop or flying over the fence. Do ensure that the coop is secure and has a roof. Despite their size, Black Orpington chickens can easily fall victim to an eagle.

For a decent sized flock of Orpington chickens, you want a coop that provides each of them about 4-10 square feet of personal space. Any rails and perches should be at least 1.5 inches wide. Otherwise, these birds could fall off and get injured. Also make sure the nesting boxes are big enough for the hens to comfortably sit when laying their eggs.

Outside, you want to give them room to roam. If your Orpingtons do not have the space to roost and move about in a mixed flock, they may be picked on by more aggressive breeds.

Health Problems

Despite being known for their robust bodies and resilience, Black Orpington chickens do have some medical problems. The main threat to these birds is catching a chill after getting too wet. Furthermore, if they spend too much time out in direct sunlight, they could end up suffering from heat stroke. Other than that, Black Orpingtons have few problems aside from those related to their weight.

If you notice that these food-loving birds suddenly become disinterested in eating or act lethargic, assume that something is wrong. Also, watch out for discharge from the eyes and nostrils, labored breathing, or a sudden decline in egg production. These could all be fatal issues that need to be addressed immediately.

Sometimes, you can add supplements to your chicken’s feed to keep them healthy, such as garlic or turmeric, but you should also take your birds to the veterinarian when necessary.

Breeding Black Orpingtons

Compared to some other breeds out there — hybrids included — the Black Orpington is slightly slower to mature. The good news is that, if you want to breed more Black Orpington chickens, the broodiness of the hens will serve you well. Though they are not the best sitters due to their size, they do try to be the best mothers they can be. If you want your Black Orpington hens to care for the chicks, then you are going to need to incubate them separately from their mother.

From the point of fertilization to hatching, it takes about 21 days. On the 18th day of incubation, you will want to remove the eggs from the incubator (if you are using one). Hatching can sometimes be delayed, but do not give up until about 23 days have passed.

Once your Black Orpington chicks have hatched, you can care for them as you would any other chick.

Final Thoughts on the Black Orpington Breed

What do you think? Is the Black Orpington right for you? Whether you want a chicken that is going to give you hundreds of eggs per year or a feathery companion to follow you around the yard, the Black Orpington breed is sure to please. These birds are calm and friendly, but they can also be used for dual purposes. They are ideal for backyards and also farms. Just make sure that you give this breed plenty of fresh water and shade in the summer!

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