Is The Buff Orpington The Best Dual-Purpose Heritage Breed?

Confession: this article is going to be extremely biased. I raise the English Orpington chicken and LOVE the breed immensely. However, I will do my best to provide you with a more unbiased view on why this dual-purpose heritage chicken breed is one of the BEST choices for anyone — homesteader or suburban backyard chicken keeper — this is one to seriously consider adding to your flock. I have plenty of pictures too of this beautiful and worthy breed.

gold laced orpington hen and rooster in front of white background
A gold-laced Orpington hen and rooster
  • Primary use: Dual-purpose (meat & eggs)
  • Size (Roosters): 8-12 lbs (and they can get MUCH bigger too)
  • Size (Hens): 6-8 lbs
  • Egg production (Annual): 200-250
  • Egg size: Large
  • Egg colour: Light brown
  • Origin: United Kingdom
freshly laid and washed light brown egg covered in speckles. It is held between two fingers.
Some Orpingtons will lay pretty speckled eggs like this hen of mine that lays light pinky-brown eggs with reddish brown speckles!

Top Reasons To Choose The Orpington For Your Flock

  • TRUE Dual-purpose. The Orpington is a fantastic meat bird with large breasts and thighs, but it is also an excellent layer, producing anywhere from 200-250 eggs annually. There is something special about an old heritage breed like this that does it all.
  • Orpingtons lay large to jumbo large eggs and will lay throughout the winter under the right conditions.
  • Orpingtons do well in colder weather due to their profusion of feathers. So long as your flock has the appropriate winterized coops, they shouldn’t mind colder temperatures.
  • Although they do not lay exotic blue or green eggs, the eggs they do lay are very pretty and range from light brown to an almost pinkish-beigy-brown. Sometimes they are speckled like in the photo above.
  • They are BEAUTIFUL! Orpingtons are some of the flashiest, fanciest, prettiest birds you will ever see. They come in a variety of colors (including black, blue, splash, lavender, speckled and more) and are so fluffy!
  • They are BIG! And they look even bigger due to the amount of soft fluffy feathers covering them. Bigger birds means more meat too. The roosters are particularly impressive size-wise and mine come up past my knees in height.
  • Speaking of roosters — Orpington roosters are perfect gentleman. Although I do not recommend leaving children unattended around roosters, I really have no fear from mine at all. They are friendly, wary, and respectful of people, and this has been the case even when I have hatched out too many of them. (Wish I could say the same about my Bresse roosters, they are terrifying and aggressive!)
  • Great with children. Orpingtons are a great choice for a family with children, especially young children.
  • Orpingtons are also known for being a very docile and easy to handle bird, making them a great choice for first-time chicken owners. They are not known for being particularly flighty or skittish.
  • QUIET! I’m amazed how quiet my Orpingtons are, even when laying eggs. The roosters crow maybe once a day in the morning.
  • They lay for a long time. Years in fact. Did you know that many egg laying breeds will reach their peak within two years and then drastically decline? Not Orpingtons. You can expect many years of beautiful large eggs from your flock.
my large black orpington rooster on pasture
My large black English Orpington rooster on our pasture. He is already massive but still has more to grow.

Cons

  • Orpingtons are slow to reach full slaughter weight. In general, they are slow growers like most heritage breeds are.
  • Although they do lay many eggs and for a long time, it can take them quite a while to get going. Orpingtons don’t start laying until they are 6-8 months old.
  • If you’re raising them for meat, they take longer to reach slaughter weight too — about 6 months.
  • Orpingtons are cold-hardy due to their size and immense feathering but they may not do as well in very hot climates.
  • They require more food, due to their size, and this should be taken into account as well. Smaller and more focused to egg production chicken breeds require less feed.
  • If you only want chickens for eggs and are worried about the rising costs of chicken feed, consider a different breed.
one black orpington hen and one black hen in side profile
A black and Blue colored hen. This is the type I have alongside Splash.

Eggs

Depending on the lineage and genetics of your stock, your Orpington will lay anywhere from 200-250 eggs or more annually. The Buff Orpington chicken is particularly known for being one of the best egg laying chickens.

Orpington chickens lay large to jumbo sized eggs and unlike production breeds, they will not peak at the customary second or third year, but rather continue laying well for a long time.

How long, again, depends on the health of your birds as well as their particular genetics.

The above chart demonstrates the typical egg production decline of your average commercial egg laying chicken. Orpingtons will not follow this as a rule.

As noted, your Orpington will not start laying until she is 6-8 months of age.

Your Orpingtons will probably continue laying throughout winter their first year and if you’re curious about this important topic, read Keep Hens Laying Eggs All Winter {Tips, Pros & Cons} for more information.

profile view of a rooster on straw

True Dual-Purpose

These days everything is being touted as dual-purpose, but it really? Is the Ameraucana or Cinnamon Queen chicken breeds really as good as laying eggs as it is in providing quality meat for the family?

No.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to be great at one thing.

True dual-purpose breeds are great at both and the Orpington chicken is a true dual-purpose breed that provides an excellent abundance of high quality meat and eggs.

For older hens and roosters, I highly recommend you try my recipe for authentic coq au vin.

a beautiful and fluffy buff orpington hen in her coop
a buff orpington hen.

Free Range

My Orpington chickens free range over the entire property as they wish. This really helps with keeping the costs of chicken feed down during the warmer months when the land is teeming with life.

They are incredible at hunting down their own food and keeping insects and pest numbers down.

My Orpingtons love clover and dandelion and the see heads of the tall fescue grasses.

There are pros and cons to free-ranging your chickens and I highly recommend you read my article on how to free-range your chickens safely for more information.

Cold Hardy

Your Buff Orpington will be very comfortable in the winter months thanks to her fluffy, abundant feathers.

If your coop is properly winterized and you utilize the deep litter method for coop management, your birds will be very comfortable, even in northern winters like ours where the snows come in hard and it gets very cold very fast for a long time.

The only drawback is that the large combs and wattles (particularly of concern with roosters) may be prone to frostbite but that’s where proper coop management comes in.

Feeding your large Orpington chickens may add up if they are normally free ranged.

You may want to check out my article on feeding pastured chickens in winter as well as my article on cutting down feed costs for some ideas.

But in the summer months, make sure your chickens have access to plenty of shade, dust baths, and fresh water. Those feathers can be detrimental in extreme heat, especially for black chickens.

a fluffy black orpington hen outside in her run

Health

Your Orpington chicken is known for being a healthy and hardy breed.

Some common chicken ailments that may crop up are coccidiosis (which can be prevented with either medicated chick starter or the deep litter method), wry neck and sour crop — which can be particularly tough to treat, and something called pasty butt which afflicts some chickens.

Having a clean environment and the appropriate food (and great genetics tbh) will go a long way in having a healthy flock of chickens.

Personality & Temperament

Orpingtons are known for being great family birds that are fantastic for children.

Buff Orpingtons seem to be particularly graced with this distinction of being more friendly.

My Orpingtons are calm, well-mannered birds that have never given me reason to worry around my toddler or any guests.

a light colored hen outside in her run on straw

Where To Buy Chicks

My English Orpingtons were incubated and hatched from eggs at home by me.

All of my genetics come from Hugging Roosters Farm in British Columbia Canada and I cannot recommend their chickens enough. INCREDIBLE birds. I also purchased my Bresse chicken eggs from there.

Frey’s Hatchery also sells popular Buff Orpington and Lavender Orpington Ready-To-Lay pullets. They sell out FAST.

I highly recommend you source out smaller breeders if you want the highest quality genetics. If you’ve fallen in love with the idea of raising English Orpingtons this is worth it.

Here are a few to get you started. Unless stated (as above), I do not endorse or recommend anyone off this list, you must do your own research.

Join local chicken groups and ASK.

Canada

Breezy Bird Farms

Briarwood Poultry

Wild Acres

Hawthorn Hill Poultry (Buff Orpingtons)

USA

Hilltop Farms

Papa’s Poultry

a splash orpington hen outside on pasture

Care, Feeding, & Housing

Taking care of chickens is easy. Healthy birds like Orpingtons are no problem especially.

Provide your chickens with a coop (and nesting boxes), choose a coop cleaning and management system (we do deep litter), and figure out what and how to feed them (we free-range our chickens, ducks, and geese, and ferment their feed).

That’s it.

Our coops are converted wooden sheds and our chickens and ducks live together happily.

For baby chicks I recommend you read Chick Care: Raising Baby Chickens The Right Way and When Can Chicks {FINALLY!} Go Outside?

Breed Origins, History & Standard

In 1886 William Cook of Orpington, England set out to create a hardy and fast growing chicken breed that would provide abundant eggs for the family table while also making a good table bird.

He crossed the Minorca, Plymouth Rock, and Langshan breeds to eventually create the first Orpington which was an all-black bird with a strikingly beautiful iridescent green beetle sheen to her feathers.

(See my article: 16 Black Chicken Breeds {5 Have Black Skin!})

Cook wanted a black bird as it would also do well in the exhibition poultry shows being able to hide the dirt and soot that covered London during that age from coal and pollution.

In the late 1800’s was a period known as “Hen Fever” that had ignited a passion in the public for peculiar breeds of chickens and the Orpington was borne from that era.

But after causing a stir with his new breed at a show, the Orpington and its profusion of beautiful feathers quickly also became a favorite chicken breed for those who love to exhibit and show poultry.

Their feathers were also used in hat-making and other accessories.

a buff orpington hen outside on pasture in the summer

The Buff Orpington Frenzy

By 1890, Orpingtons were being imported to North America where the Buff Orpington variety quickly became the most popular breed.

It remains so today.

Originally the Black, Buff, White, and Blue were the only accepted colors.

References:

American Poultry Association

United Orpington Club

speckled black and white orpington in side profile view

Color Varieties

Although the Orpington now comes in many colors, these are the original accepted varieties.

Note that not all colors are accepted in all breed standards depending on the country.

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Buff
  • White

Broodiness

The hens do tend to go broody and are thought to be excellent mothers. The hen is a sitter and will hatch out her eggs and raise the chicks by herself.

I have one Buff Orpington that is incredibly broody to the point where I am constantly having to monitor her.

gold laced orpington side profile in front of white background

Varieties

There are three main types of Large Fowl Orpington chickens to take note of, there are also bantam varieties of Orpingtons — although we will not be focusing on that in this article. And there is an additional unique breed that was once associated with Orpingtons too:

English Orpingtons

English Orpingtons are what I raise. They are the largest, fluffiest, and most beautiful with short backs and upright tails.

These are the original Orpington breed. They have single combs, and their legs are covered by their fluffy feathers although the legs themselves are clean.

They are broad and round and come in a variety of colors, including buff Orpingtons, white, black, blue, and even a combination of colors (often referred to as diamond or splash).

black english orpingtons siting on green grass
This is a black English Orpington chicken; you can see her rounded body and broad chest.

American Orpingtons

The American Orpington is a chicken first bred in New York in the early 1900s and was bred based on the English Orpington.

Buff orpingtons are most commonly found.

American Orpingtons have rose combs, and their legs are not as hidden by feathers. They are also not as broad in stature as their English counterparts and are overall leaner foul. They lack the short backed appeal of the English varietals that I find particularly charming and beautiful.

buff orpingtons chicken outdoor during day time
This is a buff American Orpington; while smaller than the English, they are still a striking chicken.

Hatchery Orpingtons

Hatchery Orpingtons are a ‘cheaper’ version of the breed that does not resemble an Orpington in body type.

A hatchery or ‘commercial’ Orpington is a chicken mass-produced by a hatchery. Hatchery Orpingtons are the most common type of Orpington chicken found in the United States. They are typically white or buff, although there is some variation in color depending on the hatchery.

(Not all hatcheries are the same and there are very high quality ones too.)

Hatchery Orpingtons are usually smaller than English or American Orpingtons, with roosters averaging about seven pounds and hens around five pounds. They are very good layers of brown eggs, and like other Orpingtons, they are docile and calm.

lavender hatchery orpingtons during sunny day
This is a lavender Hatchery Orpington; most notably, her size and the appearance of the feathers on her lower body are quite different from her English and American counterparts!

Australorp (Australian Orpington)

Australorps were developed in Australia from Black Orpingtons brought from Great Britain in the 1920s. Australorps are the largest type of Orpington chicken, with roosters weighing in at about 12 pounds.

This is another worthy, true dual-purpose breed.

Read more about the incredible dual-purpose Australorp chicken.

black australorp australian orpington chicken outdoor
Note the upright posture and unique stature of the Australorp chicken.

Orpingtons are a notoriously docile, well-mannered breed. They can be handled most times and are a good choice for beginners or families with children who want to raise chickens.

Whether you are a homesteader on several acres or live in the suburbs with a small yard, this breed is an amazing choice.

It’s a friendly and versatile chicken for a backyard chicken coop. Whether you’re seeking a pet, a source of fresh eggs, meat, or all three, these chickens have a variety of appealing traits, including a history of being an overall healthy breed with a friendly temperament and excellent egg production.

FAQ

Are Orpington chickens good layers?

Orpington chickens are one of the best egg laying chicken breeds you can get! They will lay from 200 to 240 (or even more) large to jumbo sized eggs annually. As they are a heritage breed, they will lay longer than their modern commercial hybrid counterparts too.

What color eggs do Orpingtons lay?

Orpington chickens lay large eggs that are a very pale brown or creamy beige color. Some eggs have a pinkish hue and some are also speckled. Orpington eggs are very pretty.

Are all Orpingtons friendly?

Although all chickens will have share certain characteristics within a breed, you have to account for individual variances. Orpington chickens are considered a very docile breed that is great with humans, including chickens. If raised from chicks, they can become quite friendly with their owners too. Even the roosters are respectful and mild mannered. That said, sometimes individual chickens can turn out aggressive, scared, or cold for no real reason or because of bad genetics and breeding practices.

What colors do Orpington chickens come in?

The very first Orpington was black, this was shortly followed by the Buff, White, and Blue colors. Today the standardized colors include those as well as Jubilee, Spangled, and Cuckoo. Breeders will come up with many different striking colors for fun too and that has given rise to the Partridge, Red, Ermine, Chocolate, and MANY more incredible colors.

Are Orpingtons lazy?

If you do not allow your Orpington to free range for at least a part of the day, they can be prone to laziness and weight gain. Feeding them a set amount of food at roughly the same time each day will cure them of any laziness as they will be forced to hunt and forage for insects and plants. This is best for the health of the bird.

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2 Comments

  1. If you had to choose between the Bresse and Orpington, which one would you get? I’m looking for a true dual purpose with decent egg production and great, healthy meat.

    1. You can’t go wrong with either to be honest. The only reason we’re not doing Bresse this year is because I hatched out an absurd amount of roosters and TWO hens! And neither hen was breeding quality, one being absurdly small.

      Some points to consider from my personal experience which may or may not apply to you: Bresse roosters are extremely aggressive, at least mine were. Even when separated out into their own bachelor pad for fattening up, I had to be extremely wary of them. Orpingtons are considerably more docile and easy to manage, roosters included, and the Orpington rooster is much quieter. If you have children this is something to think about especially.

      Orpingtons have more meat on them — larger breasts and thighs, white skin, a good amount of fat. Even with finishing both my Orpingtons and Bresse in the same way, I didn’t notice a difference in flavour. This may be because of the North American genetics and may not apply to true French Bresse. Bresse get to slaughter weight faster though. Orpingtons are slow growers. Both are great foragers but the Orpington will consume more feed by the end.

      Both lay a good amount of eggs but the Bresse hen will start to lay earlier by as much as 4 weeks.

      The other issue is that I really only have roosters to compare and they require different cooking methods. Because both breeds reach slaughter weight after sexual maturity, and I’m not willing to caponize myself nor do I know of a vet that could come do it, I’ve only been able to cook them with more traditional slow/low/wet methods like coq au vin. I personally prefer a good coq au vin over a roasted chicken but it would also be nice to have the option for either.

      This may not be much help unfortunately.