Tips on Raising Orpington Chickens
Chickens are becoming increasingly popular as pets and have long been considered a standard livestock animal. Orpingtons are an ideal chicken breed for people who are new to chickens; they are a dual purpose breed, meaning they produce eggs at a good rate and also grow to a good size for eating. Let us learn more about how to raise Orpington Chickens.
About Orpington Chickens
Orpingtons are large chickens, weighting about 7 to 12 pounds at maturity, although there is also a Bantam sized bird. Their natural lifespan is over 10 years; however egg laying declines with every year. Orpingtons are a friendlier breed of chicken, but roosters can sometimes be aggressive. They come in many colors, the "buff" or brown, being one of the most common. They tend to have a fluffy appearance, although not quite to the extreme of the Silkie. Unlike most chicken breeds Orpingtons do not stop laying in the winter, and typically lay 1 egg every day or two.
Although the breed originated in the United Kingdom, Orpingtons are a common breed outside of the UK and can be found in most other countries.
Buying Orpington Eggs, Chicks, and Birds
Depending on your area you may be able to buy hatching eggs, week old hatched chicks, or older birds.
Many people select to start with hatching eggs. These are not the same as eggs from a grocery store (which will never hatch). Hatching eggs need to be incubated either with an incubator, or broody hen. This is the most risky venture as not all eggs will hatch out healthy chicks. Hatching chicks can be rewarding and fun, but you take a risk not knowing how many hens, or roosters, you will get. If they will not be kept with a broody hen, one will also require a brooder, a place to keep the young chicks warm and safe while they grow up.
Buying week old Orpington chicks is a good way for a beginner to start without having to worry about incubation. All the work is done. You can get the chicks presexed for an additional fee, or a random mix of chicks. These chicks will still need to be kept warm and require extra shelter for for their first 3 months.
Older Orpington chickens are a good choice if you want eggs right away. Hens start to lay at about 5 months, so birds that are approaching this age will soon be ready to lay. Roosters are not needed to produce eggs, but one rooster per 6 hens is a good ratio if you want to get chicks.
You can purchase your eggs, or birds, from a hatchery. Most only ship when the weather is good, not in the winter or heat of the summer. Many livestock feed stores will help you get in contact with a hatchery or may even sell the birds themselves in the spring. Additionally Orpingtons can be bought privately from farmers, at livestock shows and exhibitions, or at poultry auctions (as for chickens, ducks, and pheasants).
Feeding Orpington Chickens
Chicks must have chick starter, this is a small crumble they can easily eat. As they grow up they can be switched to growing ration, and eventually layer ration.
The food should be in a proper feeder, one that will keep out water, and waste. When the birds are larger this feeder should be raised off the ground to keep out mice.
A nice daily treat is chicken scratch. When fed it should be tossed on the ground allowing the birds to peck around for it. This is like healthy candy to chickens and they will soon learn to come to their owner in anticipation of this treat.
Water is a must and should be kept fresh. There are many chicken watering systems depending on the number of birds kept. In winter it must be prevented from freezing or warm water should be given at least twice daily. Eating snow will be very hard on your birds.
Orpington chickens should also have grit for digestion, and oyster shell when laying.
To raise Orpington chickens best they should be allowed to free range for most of the day but will need a shelter at night, and a place to lay. The coop can be an old shed or proper chicken coop. It will need one nesting box per every three hens, and a place for the birds to roost at night. Quite often an old ladder works well for a few birds.
The birds should be shut in the coop at night for their own safety as this is when most predators are active. The coop, and laying boxes, should be bedded with straw. If a layer of cardboard is placed underneath this may aid in cleaning. Depending on how many birds you keep in ratio to the size of your coop, and how much time they get outside, it may need to be cleaned every day, weekly, or even once a month.
At the very least the birds should have a fenced in run. This can be made out of 2 x 4's and stucco wire. Chicken wire is cheaper but will not last as long. A good run will allow the birds at least 4 square feet of space per chicken, and ideally have grass. The door to the coop should be kept open in the day so they can return to lay, or get shade and shelter. Many keepers will free range their birds further allowing them full access to the yard.
In the winter if temperatures fall below freezing a heat source such as a light bulb is important for their coop, as well they may need extra bedding.
Tips and Other Facts on Orpington Chickens
Chickens should be checked twice a day for eggs if they are to be collected for eating, once in the morning, and again in the early afternoon - eventually the keeper will know his birds laying pattern.
Vaccinations may be required in some areas or when a lot of birds are being kept in a small space.
Free range Orpington chickens will eat insects, grasshoppers, flies, slugs, fleas, and ticks. They will also eat strawberries if they are not covered or fenced off.
Do not use sprays on lawns, weeds, or insects. These spays will be toxic to your birds, who will eat the insects, grass, and weeds (dandelions are a favorite).
Chickens can be given some treats, such as bananas, romaine lettuce, oranges, watermelon, and so forth, however onions and meats should never be given. Brown bread and whole grain breads are fine, but white bread should not be given, nor should moldy bread. Wash any store bought fruit and vegetables before giving them to your chickens.
Overall the Orpington is a good starter bird for anyone looking to get involved with Chickens. They are friendly, and easy going.