Are Australorps the best layers?
Updated: 2 December 2022
If you're thinking about getting Australorps because you've heard they're great layers, please read on!
In my experience, bloodlines are far more important than the breed when it comes to egg-laying potential.
A lot of my clients stress that their purebred hens are not laying, or not laying as expected.
There are many possible reasons for this.
Sometimes it's simply because it's autumn (or fall) and they're moulting.
But some people expect eggs every day! This is not normal for any hen. Yes, commercial layers such as ISA Browns will lay up to 300 first-class eggs in their first year of lay. But if you've read "all Australorps lay 250-300 light brown eggs,"... it's just not true!
I’m not here to deter you from buying Australorps or pure breed chickens. Quite the opposite. But I will give you realistic expectations of how many eggs you're likely to get from your pullets and hens.
So, where has this information come from? Why are Australorps considered good layers?
Let's go back in time.
Australian Egg Laying Competitions
Back in the days of Egg Laying Competitions - yes, that was a thing! Leghorns, Australorps, and Rhode Island Reds ruled the roost.
Langshans, New Hampshire, Light Sussex, and Anconas were also up there, but not in massive numbers like these three breeds.
These were true utility fowls, bred for farm and backyard production.
We’re talking well before the days of ISA Brown chickens and hybrids, television, and motor cars.
Many people bred poultry in big numbers, competing for the prestige that came with owning a fowl that got to compete in competitions such as the Burnley Egg Laying Competition. The competition was regulated by the Australian Agricultural Department and ran for 335 days each year. It was so popular that people entered a ballot just to be able to enter a bird or team of birds!
The above extract is from a newspaper dated 1954. After 244 days, the best layers in Victoria had laid 175 to 213 "first-class eggs.”
That’s 71.7% to 87.3% production!
The leader (by one egg) was an Australorp! Keep in mind that they would have laid more than that, but only first-grade eggs were counted.
However, these breeds - particularly Australorps - have come a long way since the end of Burnley Egg Laying Competitions in the 1950s. The Australorps of today may be prettier, but they are not the egg-laying machines that they once were.
Interpretations of the Australian Poultry Standards
So how and why have purebred Australorps changed over the last 60 years? Reasons include that the interpretation of the Australian Poultry Standards has naturally evolved and changed over the years.
What are the Australian Poultry Standards?
The Standards are the criteria or expectations for which exhibition poultry breeders breed exhibition fowls (show chickens) for poultry shows.
Poultry shows are different from egg-laying competitions. Birds are judged not on production but on their physical attributes and how aligned they are to the description of the breed outlined in the Australian Poultry Standards.
If people are selectively breeding for shape or size and no longer breeding from their best layers, the bloodlines will naturally reflect this selection over time.
The Australian Poultry Standards is now a published book, collectively written over four years by the Victorian Poultry Fanciers Association (VPFA).
Utility and exhibition Australorps
In Australia around the 1950's we had two distinct types of Australorps emerging:
- Utility, egg-laying machine Australorps, and
- Their prettier, fluffier exhibition cousins.
After the closure of Burnley in the 1950s, many poultry breeders gave up breeding the egg-laying Australorps. Instead, they focused their efforts on producing another breed, the white Leghorn.
White Leghorns were typically a better layer and therefore commanded a higher price for backyards and egg farms.
Poultry breeders could also show these Leghorn fowls as utility and exhibition birds.
Alan Bradshaw (W. A. Bradshaw, mentioned in the article above) recalls, "The expectations for Australorps were changing every year, depending on the judge. I had a much better chance of winning with my white Leghorns. I entered the same white Leghorn cockerel in two Royal Shows in different states, one under the utility class, and the same bird in an exhibition class. It won both. I did it just to prove to the judges' panel that there should only be one class of white Leghorn: the utility white Leghorn. There is only one breed of fowl. And that's the [white] Leghorn!
Alan believes that many leghorns of today resemble the utility Leghorns (unlike Australorps) but that they would have to come a long way to bring back the epic egg-laying abilities that the majority had 60 years ago.
W.A. Bradshaw (Alan) aged 97 at the Geelong Poultry Show, August 2018.
Old school egg-laying Australorps vs. modern day exhibition Australorps
Comparing the birds of today to yesteryear, you can see some remarkable differences in size and appearance:
Australorps in 1936: Slimmer, tighter feathering, especially around the tail.
June 2016: A modern Australorp show bird. Fluffier, looser feathering, bigger, wider bird with a fuller breast.
Birds that put a lot of energy into creating feathers do so at the expense of egg-laying.
Do you want Australorps that lay eggs?
If you’re looking into buying backyard chickens - some Australorps are ripper little layers—particularly some bloodlines of Australorp bantams for sale.
But don't expect it from the majority.
A friend believes he got high 200s to 300 eggs from bantam Australorps of a particular bloodline in 2017. I didn't perform an egg count, but I’m sure I got the same results from the sisters of these birds.
Interestingly, when he crossed them with a different bloodline, he was lucky to get 160 eggs in year one from the daughters!
How many eggs do Australorps lay a week?
Three eggs a week, give-or-take, is standard, depending on the time of year.
160 eggs across the year would be typical and sounds closer to what you should realistically expect. Keep in mind that Australorps are notorious for going broody, too!
It's not fair to compare purebred poultry to hybrids, such as the ISA Brown chicken, either. An ISA Brown’s production will be closer to 300 eggs in her first year, but you may only see consistent egg-laying for two years or so.
Purebreds are in it for the long haul and will lay a lower number of eggs per year but lay for many years to come.
Want to know where to buy Australorp chickens or find ISA browns for sale? I’ve compiled a guide of reputable chicken breeders Australia-wide.
My favourite laying breeds
Three of the best chicken breeds for eggs for backyards are Ancona, Hamburghs, and Bantam Australian Langshans. They all cope well in Australian conditions.
Hamburghs and Bantam Australian Langshans lay smaller eggs, but they are cracking little layers!
I know I've just said it's all about bloodlines, not breed. But I do think these breeds of chickens are underrated!
It's also important to remember that eggs are naturally a seasonal food.
Egg-laying depends greatly on bloodlines, what you’re feeding your chickens, keeping them healthy with minimal stress, and maximising available sunlight outside your chicken coop.
Optimise for these conditions, and you'll get more omelettes in the years to come!
Are you on track to get 250+ eggs per year from your purebred hens? If so, I want to hear from you! Drop a comment below, tag me on Instagram or Facebook, or send me an email at - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer backyard chicken workshops, online programs, phone coaching, and in-person support to families, schools, and free-range egg farmers. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.
Grab my free guide, The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy & Happy Backyard Chickens now!
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.
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