The dead of winter, even in California, is not exactly baby chick season. It is a time for hens and their keepers to hunker down and dream hopefully of the coming time of daffodils. But I needed chicks and I needed them now, so we grabbed our coats and scarves and headed up the road one chilly day in mid-January to Dare2Dream Farms. Farmer Jeremy led us into a room where a few hundred newly-hatched chicks peeped away, huddled on stacked trays like cupcakes in a bakery.
It being January, the breed choices were limited. I knew I wanted a Buff Orpington, so that was easy, like choosing a vanilla cupcake. From there I decided to just try new flavors – I’d never had a Rhode Island Red. And, from the name, alone, an Australorp sounded interesting. Farmer Jeremy scooped three little peepers from the trays and home with us they came. Nothing exotic, just basic standard-fowl chickens.
Yet Ava the Australorp stole my heart from the get-go. While Bella, the Buff Orpington, coolly regarded her new surroundings (cardboard brooder on the bathroom counter – she was not terribly impressed) and Nugget the RIR murderously pecked at her siblings, Ava cocked her little head upwards and looked right at me with her kohl-lined eyes. She seemed more trusting than the other two; if anyone was going to run around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, it wouldn’t be her.Australorps are as bumptious a concoction as their name. Black Orpingtons from England were imported to Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century, where they were bred with Minorca, White Leghorn, and Langshan chickens to create an optimal production chicken. Indeed, a storied Australorp hen set a world record when she laid an amazing 364 eggs in 365 days. As they gained popularity, these highly-valued production birds crossed the ocean again, imported back into Britain and into the United States in the 1920’s. Breeders sought a name that would distinguish the breed from Orpingtons and finally settled on the Australorp, honoring both their breed and geographical heritage. I knew that Australorps had a reputation for being docile. I didn’t know that Ava would be so calm as to make Bella, the Buff Orpington, a breed known for its stateliness, seem skittish. Or that Ava’s feathers would be so irresistibly soft. She’s like a feather duster with feet! And then there is that “beetle-green” sheen which is the breed standard for Australorps – who knew she would be so pretty? At three months of age, the “three graces” as I think of them, are officially pullets, gaining size and confidence as they grow into hens. They are about half-way to their point of lay, so come end of July we should be awash with eggs.
While broodiness has largely been eliminated from most breeds by commercial breeders (a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs) the Australorps have a reputation for occasional broodiness, as do the Buff Orpingtons. I’m hoping that Ava or Bella will eventually go broody and perhaps raise a few more exotic chicks for me by and by. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these girls, especially the sweet, soft, well-mannered Ava. Australorps are awesome!