By DAVID NEILL
How long have you been keeping poultry? What got you started?
There has always been a few chickens around the house for as long as I can remember. My Dad always liked Oxford game in particular. I can remember a very grumpy Silver Duckwing cock. These birds lived a very nomadic lifestyle, roosting in trees and scratching a living, the hens laid well and brooded many a batch of chicks. So I suppose this started the interest.
I then ended up with a pet Oxford hen I bought for the princely sum of £1 when I was about nine. I somehow managed to train her to walk along on a small cat harness. She toured around the pet shows and won a lot of oddest pet competitions.
So I got the show bug, so to speak, after I bought a gold sebright cockerel and showed it at Lurgan Show, gaining a third. I would like to take this opportunity to blame Darren Gillespie, who showed me how to prep using baby oil, etc, to get the combs and feet to look good. “So it’s all your fault!”
Favourite breed and why?
So the breed I have become known for has been the black Orpington. I just love the shape and style of the breed. Fantastic, confident temperaments, especially the females, makes for just a fantastic show bird. Equally they make a fantastic pet and when the sun hits a batch of young pullets coming into lay with green sheen, it is just a sight to behold.
I have found them a very rewarding breed to show in both large and bantam, having won Best in Show awards with both on numerous occasions alongside best of sections.
An Orpington in full condition, fit and showing itself off, is hard to ignore when it comes to further awards. I have kept them in both bantam and large alongside an array of other poultry, but it’s always the Orpingtons that I want to hatch first and am most excited to see the progression of each season.
The bantams I have found to have a more dominant character than the large, which for the most part are the most docile of birds.
Biggest challenge with the breed.
Fertility can be an issue but as long as they are kept fit this is normally resolved easily, although some older males need the sun on their backs to be steadily active.
On saying that, I used a five-year-old male this year and have some early chicks from him so there’s no hard and fast rules. Every year brings its own unique challenges and you must just meet and adapt to these challenges as best you can.
The breed is standardised in black, blue, buff, white, spangled, cuckoo, jubilee. Although the black and buff are by far the most common colours, the others do have a dedicated following.
The buff and the black are the most popular colours. There are currently two breed clubs: The Orpington Club and the Buff Orpington Club. Therefore, you will see at larger shows the Champion Buff Orpington and the Champion Orpington awarded separately, akin to the separation seen in Wyandottes.
The question that I normally get asked is what makes a good Orpington?
So I will do my best to give a description of how I interpret the standard.
A good Orpington has a good front, the feet are visible, the feathers will be glossy, plentiful but not fluffy to the degree of a cochin. A strong yet sweet head is required with bright red comb and the appropriate eye colour in blacks and blue, this being black or dark brown. I like to see a bold black eye akin to the Woodcock, free of any sunkiness or sleepiness.
A good Orpington must have a U in the back, with the head and tail being level although sometimes pictures can be deceiving, showing tails at wrong angles, etc, or showing birds to tilt.
Wing carriage should be tight and horizontal. In bantam males this can be a particular difficulty with a lot displaying slopping wings. Ideally the toenails will be white, even in the dark legged varieties.
The bird should be like a “rounded cube,” meaning as wide and deep as the bird is long. They are a heavy breed and this must be remembered when handling them, especially in large you need a large well fleshed body which will appear even bigger with the feather.
I can remember a utility breeder once telling me in regards to their birds, “no body eats feathers,” and this is very true. Sometimes you will find birds in the show pen which look very impressive but when handled the mass is not there, in fact they seem just to shrink in the hand. Similarly, the bantams need to handle like a heavy breed but not be overweight and coarse. I have always been outspoken on the size of bantams and I maintain that the bantam should visually be a quarter the size of the large fowl.
My best achievement was Best Bantam Orpington at the English Federation, Orpington Club Show and Reserve Best of Breed in 2019. The last time a Northern Ireland breeder had done this was Trevor McCullough in 1995. I also won 1st and 2nd in the Black Bantam Cockerel class.
Also, I won the Orpington Bantam Trio class. This was a particularly funny moment because of a gentleman’s wager with fellow NI Orpington breeder Dermot Gardiner, who had beaten me at the National in the same class. We had been competing against one another throughout the season in this breed, and the rivalry and banter had reached a zenith. To be honest, I think that is what the Fancy is all about; we are a group of all like-minded individuals who like to breed and compete as a hobby and, for me personally, it is this banter amongst rivals and genuine friendships that keep me working at it.
I like birds and would always keep them but the showing adds a new dimension to the hobby. So I would encourage anyone out there who would like to try it to join your local poultry clubs and get involved.
Advising a newbie?
I would say find the breed you like, get a copy of the breed’s standard, study it and study any books you can about the breed. Join the breed club, through this you will get to know the local breeders of your variety. And get to a few shows, see what is expected in the breed, eg, what characteristics it has, etc.
Then source your birds – remember, breeding birds are not always show birds, particularly with the patterned varieties. And work towards creating your own strain of birds and enjoy it.
Before signing off I would like to wish all the readers well during these unprecedented times. Keep the chin up, keep safe and good luck rearing the future champions.