Non-commercial chicken enthusiasts often don’t want to, or can’t, keep large numbers of chickens but want to get meat and eggs from their efforts, thus enters the dual-purpose breeds. Dual-purpose chickens are good layers and also produce tender delicious flesh for the table. The down side is they don’t grow as quickly as assembly line chickens but the quality over-compensates for the extra time to reach maturity. The four most prominent all-purpose breeds of poultry in America were the Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, and Orpingtons.
In 1890/91, Mr. William Cook exhibited the first Orpingtons shown in America under the guidance of the Massachusetts Poultry Assoc. After Mr. Cook died, his son said it took Mr. Cook 10 years to create the Orpington breed. The first variety was the single comb black. The Buff Orpington single comb followed shown in 1899 in Madison Square Garden.
Mr. William Cook was both a well informed and talented breeder and a phenomenal businessman. Through the late 19th and mid-20th centuries the Orpingtons were an outstanding success and for many they are still the breed of choice.
[William Cook, Creator of the Orpingtons]
In 1912, Thomas McGrew said, “The first Buff Orpington fowls were made by William Cook, of Orpington County, Kent, England,  who set out to produce the best all-purpose breed by crossing, “Minorca cocks with Black Plymouth Rock hens, then clean-leg Langshan cocks were bred to the above hens”. Another account says Golden Spangled Hamburgs and Buff Cochins were crossed and then those offspring were bred to dark or colored Dorkings. Those offspring were then bred to Buff Cochins and thus was born the Buff Orpington.
“When Mr. Cook decided to give to the world the Orpington fowl he did a service to the poultry fraternity that never can be repaid. It consisted in furnishing us with one of the best and most popular varieties of fowls that has ever been dreamed of. They surely can be termed the sporting and utility variety as there is no better variety for family use, or one that gives the poultryman more genuine pleasure to produce and exhibit.” – The article noted that Wm. Cook & Sons had taken over 13,000 first place prizes, not counting any of the others for 2nd or 3rd place. “Suffice it to state that they have won at all the largest and most important shows in America from one end to the other.” – The Poultry Item. Jan. and April 1914.
One of the goals in breeding them was to get a white-skinned dual-purpose breed for the English market. Americans usually preferred yellow-skin, but the English had a different preference. Mr. Cook compared his Orpingtons to turkeys in flavor and in the color of the meat
Mr. Cook, proprietor of William Cook & Sons, showed two of his Orpingtons at the Crystal Palace, after which he received orders for birds he could not fill because he only had the stock birds he was using as breeders. Sometime later he did sell two hundred sittings of eggs and in 1887 they were acknowledged as a pure breed. A club was established that year to promote the breed. [The Crystal Palace was built in 1851 and stood until it was destroyed by fire in 1936 so it is difficult to attach a date to Mr. Cook’s presentation.]
The marketing strategy for pure Buff Orpingtons worked so well it was impossible to keep up with the demand and some unscrupulous poultry yards began to cash in on Mr. Cook’s success by selling chicks as Buff Orpingtons which were just the offspring of Buff Cochins and Dorkings. One English breeder said up to 75% of chicks sold as Buff Orpingtons were not. “Anything bearing the name Buff Orpington was saleable, or as a Lincolnshire breeder wrote us, ‘If I call my birds Lincolnshire Buff, I cannot get more than 4 s. each for them; if I call them Buff Orpingtons, they readily sell at 10 s. each’”. There is little wonder that advertisements for Cook & Sons promised pure bred chickens from the original strain.
Cook’s second variety was the, buff followed by white, Jubilee (speckled) and Spangled (mottled). It is difficult to tell who actually created the blue. Some accounts say Cook’s son-in-law, Arthur C. Gilbert, should receive credit, some sources give credit to Mr. Cook’s daughter, Elizabeth Jane Cook Clarke.
Elizabeth Jane has also been credited with having bred the first Cuckoo in 1907.
The Jubilee Orpington was named for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (a commemoration of the queen’s 60 years on the throne). Mr. Cook was able to present some Jubilee Orpingtons to Queen Victoria during the Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Most people couldn’t tell any real difference in productivity or flavor between one color and another. Mr. Cook created the many colors so that growers might choose a color that appealed to them.
“The Orpingtons have made a reputation for themselves as the best winter egg producers we have, and the reputation is increasing by leaps and bounds, because the fowls live up to expectations when given half a show.
The chicks are hardy, quick growers and until they begin to run to leg are always ready to sell for broilers or fryers. As roasters they are world beaters and the most remarkable feature of the Orpington hen is, that it continues to pay its board until six or seven years old. At three years old they are in their prime and will lay quite as many eggs as in the first year if kept from putting on fat. This can be done with exercise and correct feeding”.
Orpingtons lay somewhere around 200 light brown eggs per year on average, and continue to lay through winter. They will go broody and are good mothers.
The Black Australorp was bred from the original Black Orpingtons as created by Cook. It was produced in an effort to tailor the Orpington for South African commercial production.
William Cook also bred dual-purpose Orpington ducks in several colors. The duck is considered “threatened” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The breed was recognized in England in 1910 and in America in 1914.
See: Drevenstedt, John Henry. “Standard-bred Orpingtons, Black, Buff and White. 1911. Quincy, IL.
Wheeler, Arthur Stanley. “Profitable breeds of Poultry”. 1912. London.
Swaysgood, Susan. “California Poultry Practice”. 1915. San Francisco.
Basley, A. “Western Poultry Book. 1912.