If you’re interested in cool, calm, and collected birds, the Russian Orloff will surely pique your curiosity. This old Russian chicken breed is docile and as mysterious as they come. Aside from their frosty personality, they’re also a dual-purpose chicken that will give you meat and eggs.
Sadly, the Russian Orloff is an endangered chicken that needs a new generation of dedicated breeders if it wants a comeback.
There are many reasons why other chicken farmers look to other breeds today. However, the Russian Orloff has tons of redeeming qualities that might make you fall back in love with it. Today, we’ll take a look at some of them, as well as this breed’s origins, appearance, and personality.
History and Origins of the Russian Orloff
The Russian Orloff is a chicken breed named after Count Alexey Grigoryevich Orlov, who was thought to be the first breeder of the bird in the 19th century. This Russian count and statesman is also known to have bred the Orlov Trotter, a prestigious and prized Russian horse breed.
Legend has it that the Count had been concerned that chickens could barely survive in Russia’s extremely cold climate. So, he sought to breed a chicken that could withstand the harshest winters of the north.
It’s said that some of the Orloff’s ancestors include Gilan chickens, English Gamecocks, and bearded birds, among many others. The characteristics of these hardy chickens resulted in what is known today as the Russian Orloff.
While popular belief says that it is Count Orlov who bred this chicken, some research shows that the breed might have been around since the 17th century. Its real roots were likely in Persia, and then imported to the Russian Empire, and much later, Central and Western Europe.
In the 1920s, the Orloffs were brought to Great Britain. Five years later, people in Germany had miniaturized the chicken and bred an Orloff bantam. It was even recognized as part of the American Poultry Association (APA) and included in its Standard of Perfection.
And while the breed was popular in the twenties, it lost its appeal along the way. The population of this breed started to go down until so few of them were left.
It was removed from the Standard of Perfection and declared an endangered chicken breed. Today, it is considered a “threatened” breed by the Livestock Conservancy Priority List.
Russian Orloff Chicken Appearance
The Orloff has a distinct, game-like appearance due to the thick feathers covering its head and neck. Although it has a wide skull and a medium-sized head, it’s still drowned out by its lush, fluffy feathers.
Their bodies, on the other hand, are broad and hold an upright posture. While roosters have a rounded shape and strong muscles, hens look long and sleek. Males usually weigh around 7.5-8 lbs in adulthood. Meanwhile, females come up to about 6.5-7 lbs upon maturity.
A memorable feature of this beautiful breed is its unique, speckled feather pattern. The breed comes in many color varieties, like the Black-tailed Red, Mahogany, Spangled, White, Cuckoo, and more.
One of the most popular varieties of the Russian Orloff is the Spangled chicken. Check out how these chickens look in the coop when they’re six months old:
The Orloff is known to have a cushion comb, sometimes referred to as a strawberry comb. This type of comb has no spikes and is quite tiny. Coupled with their small wattles, this feature makes the Orloff an incredibly cold-hardy bird that is resilient against frostbite in the coldest winters.
Other features you’ll find in a Russian Orloff include its amber-colored eyes, short and curved beak, and yellow legs and feet.
Want to see how a Russian Orloff grows from a day-old chick to an adult chicken? Watch this quick timelapse to see it happen:
Poultry Production of Russian Orloff Chickens
Russian Orloffs were primarily used for meat production. However, they are still fair egg layers that can produce a few brown eggs a week. Let’s take a look at how these chickens fare for each poultry product.
Tough but flavorful meat
Since Orloffs are large, their meat yield is quite plentiful when they’re butchered. Their meat is known to be high-quality and very tasty and packed with flavor. However, it’s also notorious for being tough at times.
Another disadvantage of Russian Orloff chicken meat is that the breed grows quite slowly. It takes a while for them to mature into adulthood, so butchering is delayed as well. This is a far cry from modern-day broiler chickens that can be butchered in mere weeks to collect lots of juicy meat.
Few yet high-quality eggs
Although Orloffs are more popular for their meat, their light brown eggs are also quite delicious. Females can lay one or two eggs every week. That means an Orloff hen’s maximum egg production probably sits at about 100-105 eggs each year.
Orloff hens usually need extra calcium as a supplement before they start laying strong eggs. This is an easy task; all you have to do is serve them chicken feed that is rich in calcium and protein. After hatching eggs, these hens aren’t known to go broody.
Because Russian Orloffs are rare and aren’t the most efficient at egg-laying, their eggs are usually in high demand. This is one advantage of breeding Orloffs in your flock.
Temperament and Personality of Russian Orloffs
1. Calm and keep to themselves
Russian Orloffs are very mellow and easygoing. They’re calm and cool, so they’re great for chicken owners that don’t want fussy birds in their flock. But because they’re so quiet, they aren’t noticeably friendly either. They’re not the type to be emotionally attached to their human owners.
If you’re the type of farmer who can do without the occasional cuddle from your chickens when you handle them, a Russian Orloff might be a good match for you.
2. Stands up to more aggressive chickens
Although Orloffs are known to be non-aggressive, they don’t back down from fights started by other chickens in the coop. They’re quite large, so it’s not easy to bully them. If another chicken were to attack them, they will fight back without backing down, even if they didn’t initiate the fight.
3. No problems with confinement
Some chicken breeds are known to freak out and be flighty when they feel trapped in confinement. This is a problem that rarely occurs with the Russian Orloff.
To ensure that your chicken doesn’t get anxious about being confined in a space, make sure their coop is roomy and not overcrowded. For each chicken, allot 4 square feet of space for roosting or nesting.
Watch-Outs While Caring for a Russian Orloff
They love the cold, hate the heat
While Russian Orloffs are very resilient against the cold, they don’t perform well in the heat. In fact, they kind of struggle if they’re forced into an environment with high temperatures.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t breed your own Orloffs if you live in a hot climate. Just make sure their coop is roomy and has enough shade to keep them cool during the summer months.
They’re prone to contracting disease
One thing to note about the Russian Orloff is that are vulnerable to many diseases and health issues, especially in their younger years. They are known to easily contract external parasites such as lice and mites. To avoid these parasites, make sure to practice good hygiene in your coops.
Russian Orloffs Need Dedicated Breeders Today
Many other chicken breeds make for better meat and egg-laying chickens than the Russian Orloff. But because of their cold-hardiness and calm, quiet personality, they’re still worth breeding and pursuing.
The sad news is that it’s difficult to find good breeding stock for this species today, as it is endangered. And when you do find a hatchery that breeds them, it might cost you a pretty penny to get a few chick starters.
It’s worth the trouble to look for a hatchery that can help you repopulate this breed though. People who live in extremely cold climates will surely be happy owners of this chicken. Those looking for a low-maintenance chicken for their range may also consider breeding Russian Orloff chicks.
While the Russian Orloff might not be the best for meat, eggs, or affectionate companionship on the farm, it’s a breed that’s still worth saving.
Because of its rich history from the days of Russian Count Orlov and its unique appearance that earn a double-take from many, it’s a chicken that shouldn’t disappear from the books.
If you’re looking for a cold-hardy chicken for your farm that will give you flavorful meat and just enough eggs to feed the family, consider raising a Russian Orloff. Not only will you have a chicken to give you poultry during the winter days, but you’ll be saving a dying threatened breed as well.