In 1880, William Cook began experimenting by combining a number of popular breeds with the aim of producing a breed “of handsome appearance and a good winter layer.” Seven years later he had produced the first Orpington chicken, named after the town of Orpington in his native England. The earliest Orpingtons were intentionally bred to be dark birds so they wouldn’t show the soot that settled on them from the polluted air of a newly industrialized Great Britain. Cook, who rose from humble beginnings as a coachman to become an international poultry entrepreneur, introduced the birds to America in 1890. Cook would later own breeding farms in England, the United States, and South Africa. Orpingtons were adopted by upper-class Britons as a superior breed that reflected their owners’ superior breeding. Today, Orpingtons are the most popular breed in England, the lingering result of Cook’s skills as a breeder and as a tireless salesman of the breed he had created.
Orpingtons are large, flightless chickens, and their most distinctive characteristic is the huge round bodies of the hens that give them the appearance of having been derived from inadvertently crossing a chicken with a basketball. It must be said: The wildly exaggerated butts of a classic Orpington are unlike anything in the poultry kingdom, and they dwarf the other features of the bird. Orpingtons are easy to raise, and a mere 18” fence is generally sufficient to frustrate the wanderlust of a full-grown Orpington.
Greenfire Farms was the first to import a number of Orpington varieties including jubilee, gold laced, red, and partridge. Most recently we imported silver laced and crele. While they are all beautiful birds, limited space and a desire for superior breeding results have forced us to choose between the many varieties. Beginning in 2014 we’re focusing on three varieties: jubilee, silver laced, and crele.
Jubilee Orpingtons stand at the pinnacle of the breed, and Greenfire Farms was the first to import these birds into America from British stock in about a century. With their huge, round bodies and striking color pattern, they create an unforgettable impression. These are the largest variety of any Orpington we have seen, and with their deep mahogany bodies punctuated with flecks of ruby and emerald, their visual impact is difficult to overstate. Jubilees were recently described in the Smithsonian Magazine as “speckled brown and white, like a hillside on which the springtime sun has begun to melt the winter snow,” and this is a perfect and apt description. Despite their remarkable size and appearance, jubilees are among the most gentle of any chicken breed. Gorgeous, calm, and prolific egg layers, they manage to strike a wonderful balance between beauty and utility.
Silver laced Orpingtons are rare, and it is difficult to find birds with clean lacing and the correct Orpington body type. After literally years of searching we were able to locate a beautiful flock and imported them from Europe. While the birds are healthy, they aren’t very fertile, and it is a slow process to build a breeding flock. We have crossed some gold laced birds into the silvers to try and boost the genetic diversity, and it will be an ongoing process to produce more robust silver laced birds. We will probably begin selling a small number of silver laced Orpingtons in 2014.
Crele Orpingtons are probably the rarest Orpington variety, and their beauty makes them doubly desirable. Like silver laced Orpingtons, crele Orpingtons tend to have low fertility. We imported a perfect pair of crele Orpingtons from Europe in 2012. We have been able to produce a few chicks and are working toward a 2014 introduction date.