Back Yard Chicken Flocks — The Good and Bad of Buff Orpingtons

buff orpington hens

An old English breed with nurturing instincts still intact and plumage the color of a gold watch. Photo by Em(mE) at; CC 2.0 License.

When you choose chickens for the back yard flock or the farmstead, you probably base your decision on the breed’s reputation for production, either of meat or eggs, and probably you want the best of both. Heavy breed chickens provide that maximum output, but sometimes at a cost. These larger birds eat more, so you put a little more money into the flock, and they also don’t move quite as nimbly as smaller chickens do. Wild predators enjoy a good chicken as much as you do, and even in a fenced pen chickens stand a better chance of surviving if they can jink and dodge effectively. Much of the work involved in maintaining a flock of chickens involves keeping them out of the jaws and claws of your wild or roving neighbors, such as hawks or the most horrible enemy of all, a chicken-killing dog. Any help you get from the natural athleticism of your chickens will be appreciated. One year when a neighbor’s dog raided my flock while I was away at work, the only two chickens that survived were a couple of wily, tough, Dark Cornish hens. Dark Cornish are the most athletic of the heavy breeds. None of the Buff Orpingtons made it.

Every breed of chicken has good points and failings. You might wind up basing your final decision on appearances, and the Buff Orpington’s golden plumage certainly could pull in the final vote.

painting of buff orpingtion chickens

Heavy bodies and thick plumage make the Buff Orpington a hardy winter breed. Illustration from Murray MacMurray Hatcher.

Buff Orpington Chickens for Meat, Eggs and More Chickens

This old farmstead breed of chickens carries the traits needed for a renewable flock. Many breeds of chickens don’t actually reproduce effectively, dependent upon incubators and artificial rearing systems to replace the missing nurturing instincts. Buff Orpingtons keep going, if owners permit. Hens go frequently into the nesting stage, an oddly psychotic episode during which the hens don’t lay and spend all their time sitting on a clutch of eggs, either imaginary or real, dodging out only briefly to grab essential food and water. Setting hens have a crazy look about them, often spending all their setting time staring blankly into space with their heads cocked sideways and their beaks slightly open. Laying hens cackle and keep an intent, focused look when on the nest. Setting hens have no idea you’re even there when you’re standing right in front of them.

Good setting habits make more chickens, and Buff Orpingtons do have excellent setting qualities as well as excellent nurturing qualities. Buff Orpington hens are devoted and cautious mothers. If you don’t eat the extra chickens, you could be overrun with poultry unless you replace real eggs in the clutch with fakes. After the incubation period ends, the hens wake up to the real world again and get back to eating feed, foraging for grub, and laying more eggs.

Prefab chicken coop and run
large enough for three mature
Buff Opingtons.

Reproductive expertise does not mean maximum yields, oddly enough. The disruptions in the laying cycles take chunks out of the summer laying season, reducing egg production. Truly efficient meat production depends upon chicks selected for meat and raised artificially, eliminating the extra cost of feeding the parents. But, if you’re interested in a self-sustaining flock, Buff Orpingtons are a very good choice. In fact, you’ll find it hard to stop them from producing more chickens. I’ve raised chickens primarily for the eggs, and have usually avoided the unpleasantness of more chickens to butcher. In spite of my best efforts to keep Buff Orpingtons under control, the hens have occasionally outsmarted me and appeared magically one summer morning with a new brood in tow. That despite my counting the flock on the roost every night and seeing no one unaccounted for, with to my knowledge nothing but empty nests in the house. How they manage to still produce chickens, I have no idea. If you want chickens that make more chickens, choose Buff Orpingtons. They’ll find a way.

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Flocks do degrade in quality gradually, due to in-breeding problems, and every few years you’ll need to find a new rooster with a more distant genetic background. Roosters live short lives anyway, falling prey to all sorts of problems you’d expect if you lived your life in defense of hens every predator in the country finds delicious. If roosters could be stored in suspended animation and taken down off the shelf when a replacement was needed, that would be a wonderful boon for small flock owners. Finding an adult replacement of the same breed can be tough. The only answer might be to order a new batch of chicks and select out the best of the lot when they mature. The rest wind up in the pot or in the laying flock.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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