Development of the Australorp began in Australia around 1890 to 1900, based on Black Orpington stock from England. Orpingtons were primarily being bred in England for meat. Breeders outcrossed the Black Orpington with Minorcas, White Leghorns and Langshans, all known for their egg-laying ability. There is mention of Plymouth Rocks possibly having being used in their development as well.
The goal of the breeders was to maintain the dual-purpose nature of the breed, while focusing on improving its ability to lay eggs. They wanted a bird with an excellent rate of lay that would also produce a good-sized carcass for table use. They were quite successful.
In egg-laying contests during the 1920s, a group of six Australorp hens averaged 309.5 eggs per hen in a 365-day period. Another Australorp record was set by a hen that produced 364 eggs in a 365-day period. While these are exceptional records set by exceptional hens, Black Australorps as a group are well known for their ability to lay copious quantities of large, brown eggs.
As evidenced by their name, they are black-feathered. In the sunlight, their adult feathers have a sort of iridescent, green hue, with some purple. The hue changes with the angle of the light falling on them—a feature that is difficult to capture well in a photograph. With their bright red comb and wattles, they are a very attractive bird. Despite their dark feathers, their skin is white, owing to their Orpington heritage. The white skin makes for an attractive carcass that browns nicely when cooked.
The Standard specifies a live weight of 8.5 pounds for cocks (over a year old) and 7.5 pounds for cockerels (up to a year old). In cockerels we culled at 17 weeks of age, we saw live weights of 4 to 5.4 pounds, and the birds dressed out to about 60% of their live weight. Ideal processing age is around 20-24 weeks. Hens, according to the Standard, will be 6.5 pounds at maturity and pullets, 5.5 pounds. The quality of the meat has been excellent, with good flavor and good texture. They are a true dual-purpose breed.
Due to their dark feathering, some have asked, “how well do they handle the heat?” Having raised them through two hot, Texas summers, I’ve found that they tolerate the heat quite well. The important thing is that they always have access to both shade and clean (preferably cool) drinking water. Their black feathers seem to also be somewhat of a deterrent against aerial predators such as hawks as compared to birds with lighter feathers. Though they were initially developed for Australia, they are excellent birds for Texas and the southern states.
Our Australorps have a calm disposition and are not flighty. They don’t seem to mind human presence. and will continue eating, foraging and such nearby with me present in the coop or pen.
They are calm, mild-tempered and can handle confinement well. We are raising them in portable hoop-style coops on pasture where they have access to fresh ground every few days.
Our Australorps began laying in early December 2015, and have quickly become very consistent layers. Our flocks average 85% lay rate during their peak (for example, in a pen of 13 hens, we are getting about 10-11 eggs a day). As this is our first year with this line we do not yet have a year’s worth of egg-laying records, but we are anticipating an average of 220 or more eggs per hen per year.
We’ve seen some tendency toward broodiness, but it has not been excessive. In a pen of 10-12 hens, several hens would begin to brood in spring and some on into summer and fall. Several successfully hatched and raised chicks. As we want to develop our line as a good fit for the homestead as well as being productive, we do not plan to cull for broodiness unless it becomes excessive.
(Click to enlarge photos.)
AT A GLANCE
- Excellent brown egg layers
- Good winter layers
- Dual-purpose for meat and eggs
- Calm temperament
- 8 1/2 pound cocks
- 7 1/2 pound cockerels
- 6 1/2 pound hens
- Selectively bred for 9 years