For years, my family and I raised chickens on our farm—a lot of them.
In addition to the moveable pens of Cornish Cross and Freedom Ranger birds we pushed across our land every summer, we kept a wide variety of laying hens. Though we didn’t venture into some of the fancier breeds (egg production was always of primary importance to our farm-business model), our hand-built coop housed a wide swath of chicken types.
Our flock was composed of Barred Rocks, Easter Eggers, Rhode Island Reds, Comets, Leghorns, Jersey Giants and more. Our favorite, though, was a runaway winner for the top spot.
In recent years, my family of five has seen a few changes. My parents took over daily stewardship of the land while we moved closer to the city for work and school. They keep chickens but haven’t ordered chicks in a few years, and the farm’s chicken population has dwindled.
But you can keep chickens in a lot of urban areas, and this year we made the jump to bring in a backyard flock to produce eggs for ourselves and our neighbors. And when it came time to place our chick order, we knew exactly what we wanted.
Because our favorite chicken has always been the Black Australorp.
Black Australorp Origin Story
So, what is a Black Australorp?
The breed was first developed in Australia, where it’s considered the honorary national bird, around the turn of the 20th century. Black Orpingtons were imported to the country from England, where the large bird was mostly regarded for its meat.
But Aussie breeders took a fancy to the Orps’ big, brown eggs. They started breeding the chickens for egg production over its table-bird qualities. They added Rhode Island Red, Minorca, White Leghorn and Langshan into the mix, producing a large-sized laying hen with stellar egg production.
The breeders knew they had something special on their hands, but when the bird started taking home awards in laying competitions and setting world records—an Australorp holds the world record for egg production, laying 364 eggs in 365 days—the rest of the world took notice.
In the early 1920s, importers brought Australorp chickens to Britain, reversing the trip their Orpington ancestors made decades earlier. They were also imported to America and went by a handful of names, including the uber-descriptive “Australian Utility Black Orpingtons.”
Eventually, everyone decided on Australorp, a contraction of “Australian Orpington.”
As a heritage breed, the chicken was once considered endangered. But surging popularity in recent years has largely recovered the breed.
About the Black Australorp
So, why do people like myself enjoy the breed so much?
Well, for starters, Black Australorps grow faster than many other breeds. So while their chick stage is certainly cute, they don’t need as much time in the brooder. (Ours went out at five weeks on the nose, though the weather was on our side.)
They also start laying sooner. Many breeds will start producing eggs around 6 months of age, but a Black Australorp can start as early as 16 weeks.
As a large-bodied bird, an adult Black Australorp hen will weigh around 6.5 pounds. (Roosters can weigh up to 2 pounds more.) Their egg-laying abilities may be their claim to fame, but the Orpington in them make a viable heritage breed meat bird, too.
Despite their large size, though, they make excellent backyard birds, even in urban and suburban areas. They tolerate confinement (though, like all chickens, they enjoy running around the yard), which is a plus for our family. A healthy hawk population in our neighborhood necessitates a covered run.
But, after those eggs (don’t expect 364 large brown eggs, though, as 250 a year is the official average), the Black Australorp’s most-loved feature is its temperament. Quiet birds with a disposition often described as “shy,” a Black Australorp flock is less likely to disturb the neighbors with broody tantrums.
An easy-going bird with a friendly personality and no major health concerns, Black Australorps make great pet chickens. My kids spend hours with our birds, feeding them treats and occasionally pulling one onto their laps for cuddles.
And, of course, there’s nothing like watching a Black Australorp strut across the yard in a stately posture, sunlight revealing the green iridescence hidden in those black feathers.
Whether you’re just starting out with chickens or looking to add some easy-going birds to your flock, you can’t go wrong with Black Australorps.