Are Australorps good egg layers?

Australorps have a reputation for being excellent egg layers. During the 1930s they won egg laying competitions and broke egg laying records. But are they still as good as they used to be?

My take is that most of the Australorps around today are average egg layers at best. I know that's probably not what you've heard elsewhere, so let me explain.

About a year ago I added two Australorps to my backyard flock. My flock was getting old and I needed some young hens to keep supply going.

Before I chose Australorps, I had done my research (or so I thought). I chose them because of their reputation as: 

  1. Good layers - with between 250 and 300 eggs a year.
  2. Good foragers - that thrive in a free range environment.
  3. Calm temperament - known for being tame and good with kids.
  4. Hardy - as a heritage breed, Australorps are known for being hardy, disease resistant and long living.

On paper they sound like the perfect backyard chicken. But my Australorps certainly haven't lived up to their egg laying reputation.

Was I just unlucky? Or is this pretty normal? 

While there is no definitive answer, anecdotally it seems that heritage breeds just ain't what they used to be. In the past farmers relied on heritage hens, bred specifically for their egg laying. To maintain breeds that are consistently good egg layers, breeders have to continually select the best laying hens. But that doesn't usually happen these days because commercial farms no longer use heritage chickens. Instead they use hybrids developed scientifically using a complicated process of crossbreeding. Most of the heritage chickens around today have been bred as ‘show birds’ with a focus on how they look rather than on their egg laying. The end result is heritage breeds such as the Australorp, that are often poor layers compared to the past.

I’m not saying that you can’t still find Australorps that are good egg layers. There are still some breeders (such as http://www.heritagehatchingandhens.com.au) with the old utility strain of Australorp bred for egg laying . But they certainly don't seem to be as common as they were.

Have you had experience with Australorps or other heritage chicken breeds? Has their egg laying lived up to their reputation? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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