The Russian Orloff is the only distinctly Russian breed of chicken to be found in America. Russian tradition credits Count Orloff – Alexey Grigoryevich Orlov (1737-1808) – with the importation and promotion of this breed of chicken. This is the same famous Count responsible for the Orlov horse breed. Count Orloff is said to have imported the breed from Persia.
But there is also some speculation that the European breeds the Bruge, Thuringian, and Ushanki formed the basis or have contributed to the Russian Orloff chicken. The Bruge is a heavy-boned, Malayoid type Game chicken found in Belgium. The Thuringian is a bearded chicken breed found in central Germany, light-weight and in size close to that of a Leghorn. The Ushanki is an eastern European landrace of fowl very much like the Russian Orloff chicken in appearance, with the exception of having a single comb. The Ushanki is an ancestor of the Thuringian and it seems quite probable that some Ushanki birds have been, at the least, incorporated into the Russian Orloff chicken breed.
The Russian Orloff chicken was not known in England and western Europe until 1899. But clearly the breed arrived in America much before this, being included in the American Poultry Association’s standards from the first in 1875 until 1894 when it was removed due to lack of popularity. Famous American poultry author, John Robinson of Reliable Poultry Journal, also remarked that he had seen the breed as a child in America many decades before 1899.
The Russian Orloff chicken is tall, with a very thickly feathered neck, Yellow legs, minuscule wattles and a cushion/strawberry comb. The first APA standard lists the breed has having a rose comb (a.k.a. double comb) without a spike and solid black plumage. This lack of spike is genetically consistent with what we term today as a cushion comb, or another variant, the strawberry comb. Strawberry, cushion, and walnut combs result from the interaction of the dominant genes for rose and for pea shaped combs. The Russian Orloff chicken males should weigh 8.5 lbs and the females 6.5 lbs.
The Russian Orloff chicken can be found in three color varieties: Red; White; and Spangled. The once popular Black variety is seldom seen anymore. At least three other color varieties of Russian Orloff have existed: Mottled; Black Breasted Red (Wheaten); and Buff. The British Standard lists four varieties of this breed: Black; Mahogany; Spangled; and White. The chief distinction of the Russian Orloff chicken, besides its looks, is the extreme hardiness of the breed. This is a breed that will tolerate cold and foul weather and survive when other breeds cannot. Russian Orloffs are indifferent layers of light brown eggs. They are classified as non-broody and are noted to be calm in temperament. They were primarily favored for meat production, though they are noted for being hard fleshed.
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