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.
Jubilee Orpingtons stand at the pinnacle of the breed, and Greenfire Farms was the first to import these birds into America from British stock. 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.
Chocolate Orpingtons have achieved cult status among poultry hobbyists. The “chocolate” gene, so called because it imparts a rich brown hue to the color of chicken feathers, is the Holy Grail of color traits among the dedicated chicken enthusiasts. The gene was originally described in 1994 by the late British geneticist, Dr. Clive Carefoot, when he observed the unusual color mutation in a single Orpington hen. He discovered that the chocolate gene is sex-linked: hens with the gene always display chocolate color while roosters with the recessive gene hide the chocolate color. When the chocolate gene manifests, not only does it add a chocolate color to the feathers but also the skin and beak of a chocolate bird. Dr. Carefoot chose not to widely distribute the gene, instead working until his death to breed the gene into several types of chickens including bantam chocolate Orpingtons.
The quality of the color varies considerably among chocolate Orpingtons, so Greenfire Farms has been diligent in seeking out the deepest and richest chocolate coloring as a basis for bringing the chocolate gene to America. We have imported bantam chocolate Orpingtons (and they are very large bantams) into the United States from two top breeders in Britain so we are able to offer you pairs of their unrelated offspring; a significant advantage if you want to maximize the genetic diversity and health of your breeding flock. To the best of our knowledge Greenfire Farms is the only source of unrelated chocolate Orpingtons in North America.
Although the British chocolate Orpington lines have many strengths, they also carry with them some notable weaknesses. We have found that all lines of British chocolate Orpingtons currently in the United States occasionally produce chicks with light feathering on their legs; a deviation from the breed standard. Of greater concern, chocolate Orpingtons may also have low disease resistance, and low fertility is also common in this variety. These problems may be linked to inbreeding. To address these problems we have acquired championship lines of black Orpingtons to cross into chocolate lines in order to further boost the genetic diversity of this variety. This strategy has proven effective in reducing the frequency of these flaws in the chocolate young they produce while carrying forward the best traits of the British bloodlines.
Greenfire Farms also introduced gold laced Orpingtons to America. This variety of Orpington was created in Germany by Jobst Veltheim in the early 1960s. They were shown in the Frankfurt Show for the first time in 1965. The birds later slowly spread through Europe although they still remain exceedingly rare. The breed has been ardently pursued in Britain where we found our breeders. With the dramatic contrast between their burnt gold base color and the precise black penciling that defines the lacing on their feathers, it is hard to imagine a more striking color pattern for the backyard flock. The hens have the black lacing over most of their bodies while the roosters have a lion’s mane of pure gold and lacing spread across their broad chests. Coupled with their large body size and classic British Orpington shape, these birds are now poised to create a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.
Greenfire Farm’s also introduced the red Orpington to the United States. Red was added to the Orpington palette by British breeders in 1910, but despite the beauty of this color red Orpingtons have remained rare. Great strides have been made in improving the body type, and some of the best representatives of this variety can be found outside Britain in the Netherlands and Germany. In those countries red Orpingtons have a dedicated following that breed birds for the demanding show circuit. Greenfire Farms has sought out the exemplars of this variety to bring you large birds with a deep, pure red color.
Our most recent Orpington “first” is the introduction of the partridge Orpington to North America. These are large birds –roosters weigh 8 lb. or more– and perhaps the most striking physical trait is the clearly delineated chevron markings on the feathers of the hens. Their beauty is equaled by a very pleasant disposition and prolific egg production. Their offspring are the hardiest Orpington chicks we have hatched. Our birds occasionally exhibit traces of leg feathers; a defect for this breed. We have a breeding program that aims to minimize this trait, but birds you receive may exhibit this flaw. We believe this tendency can be reduced or eliminated over several generations, but recognize that effort may be required in this regard.