Heritage hens

Heritage poultry breeds are slow-growing, long-laying and one of the keys to our long-term food security, writes Jessamy Miller. The Astralorp is one of our favourites.

Photo: iStock

The Australorp is the quintessential Aussie chook. It started as the Black Orpington, a dual-purpose breed developed in the UK and imported into Australia after 1890. Here, Orpingtons were outcrossed with Minorcas, White Leghorns and Langshans, transforming it into an excellent egg producer.

The Hawkesbury Agricultural College held a six-month egg-laying contest in 1902 with Black Orpingtons the surprise winners. Their success caused worldwide interest and improved Orpingtons were imported into England and America in the early 1920s. A new name was required; the Australorp was chosen.

Utility flocks of Australorps were retained by the laying industry in Australia to breed the crossbreds used as layers for decades. Exhibition Australorps followed a different trajectory: fanciers selected for beauty, abundant feathering and a larger frame, not utility properties. Today there are few of the small bodied laying strain available, but most are the exhibition style. 

These stately birds have big black eyes and slate legs and come in Black, Blue and White, in large and bantam. They are relaxed, tend to rule the roost and love their tucker. 

The exhibition strain are only moderate layers of middling-sized, tinted (between white and brown) eggs, but look simply stunning on the lawn.

To read Jessamy's article in full and learn more about heritage chooks like the Sussex, Leghorn and Plymouth Rock, get the latest issue of Organic Gardeneron sale now!


For more information on backyard chooks try the following:

Hybrid hens

Good chook neighbour

Keeping chooks in small spaces

Storing chook feed


By: Jessamy Miller

First published: February 2021

Related topics

Animals & Insects, All Gardens, poultry, hens, astralorps, heritage chooks, chooks, Issue 123 – February/March 2021, Poultry & livestock