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 Farm’s most recent Orpington “first” is the importation into the United States of the red Orpington. Red was added to the Orpington palette in 1910, and 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.