Why Australorps are NOT the best layers
If you're thinking about getting Australorps because you've heard they're great layers, please read on!
In my opinion, bloodlines are far more important than the breed when it comes to egg-laying.
I get a lot of people complain that their purebred chickens are not laying as expected. Sometimes it's simply because it's autumn/fall and they're moulting, but other people expect eggs everyday. If you have read "All Australorps lay 250-300 light brown eggs" please know that it's just not true!
The purpose of this article is not to put you off Australorps or pure breed chickens, but to give you realistic expectations of how many eggs you're likely to get from your girls.
So where has this information come from? Why are Australorps regarded by some as great 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 big numbers like these three breeds.
These were true utility fowls, bred for farm and backyard production. This was well before the days of Isa Browns and hybrids. Before "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 went 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 dated 1954. After 244 days, the best layers in the Victoria had laid 175 to 213 "first class eggs" - 71.7% to 87.3% production. The leader (by 1 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 1950's. The Australorps of today may be prettier, but they are not the egg machines that they once were.
Interpretations of the Australian Poultry Standards
So how and why has the Australorp 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 chickens for poultry shows. Poultry shows are different to 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 a group of amazing through the Victorian Poultry Fanciers Association (VPFA).
Utility and Exhibition Australorps
Around the 1950's we had TWO types of Australorps emerging - utility, egg-machine Australorps, and their prettier, fluffier exhibition cousins. After the closure of Burnley in the 1950's, many breeders gave up breeding egg laying Australorps, instead focusing their efforts on White Leghorns. They were typically a better layer and therefore commanded a higher price for backyards and egg farms.
Breeders could also show these Leghorn fowls as utility and exhibition birds. Alan Bradshaw, (W. A. Bradshaw listed 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 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.
Side By Side Comparison of Old School Egg-Laying 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.
So you want Australorps that lay eggs?
The good news is that some Australorps are ripper little layers, particularly some bloodlines of bantams. But don't expect it from the majority. A friend believes he got high 200's to 300 eggs from Australorps of a particular bloodline in 2017. I didn't egg count, but believe I got the same results from the sisters of these birds. Interestingly though, when he crossed them with a different bloodline he was lucky to get 160 eggs in year one from the daughters!
How many eggs you can expect from a typical Australorp
3 eggs a week would be pretty standard, give or take depending on the time of year. 160 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 really fair to compare pure bred poultry to hybrids, either. A hybrid layer such as the Isa Brown will lay closer to 300 in her first year, but may only lay consistently for 2 years or so. Purebreds are for the long term.
My Favourite Laying Breeds
My favourite laying breeds for backyarders are Ancona, Hamburghs and Bantam Australian Langshans. They all cope well in Australian conditions. Hamburghs and Bantam Australian Langshans lay a smaller egg, but are highly efficient. Now I know I've just said it's all about bloodlines, not breed...but I do think these breeds are underrated!
It's important to remember that eggs are a seasonal food, and egg laying depends greatly on bloodlines, feed, keeping them healthy with minimal stress and maximising available sunlight. 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 chickens? If so, I want to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org