Orloffs

by Craig Russell

Following text with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 1997, 2(2):5-6


This is a bearded, muffed, walnut combed breed. . . . In the West the Orloff has been generally considered to be a Russian breed, although some modern poultry writers have concluded that they might be a German creation. Both suppositions are probably wrong. As with the naked neck and many other breeds, Germany was the land of the Orloff's perfection--not the land of its origin. And while Russia made the breed known to Western Europe and America, Persia (Iran) was the probable site of its development. However, at one time it was wide spread in Central Asia and as recently as the early eighties I saw fowl of this type while watching footage on the war in Afghanistan. The earliest mention of this breed that I know of was published in 1774. The description was obviously that of the Orloff, but at the time the breed was called Chlianskaia, which was probably a corruption of or based on Ghilan, the Persian province where the breed was most common. Its present name is probably taken from Count Orloff-Techesmensky, at one time a well-known Russian horse breeder and livestock enthusiast. This despite the fact that Orloffs were well established in Russia before his time.

The well-known English poultry writer, Edward Brown, wrongly, but probably sincerely (if not very modestly), claimed to have introduced the breed to the West in 1899.

Not surprisingly, a fowl as distinctive as the Orloff had attracted the attention of other visitors and had been known for better than thirty years in America (and elsewhere) usually simply as Russians (a name unfortunately, but not surprisingly, also applied to other breeds from the East).

These early importations were principally black--a variety not mentioned by Brown--and they had not created a great stir in poultry circles. Also judging from some of the things that Brown said about other breeds, his work was often based more upon enthusiasm than upon exhaustive knowledge. This slight lapse can be forgiven as his work popularized the breed and expanded our knowledge of Eastern breeds in general.

Nevertheless, the first North American standardization was as Russians not as Orloffs. Unfortunately interest in the breed declined and the APA dropped them from the Standard.

While I've been known to have had some association with the Orloff breed over the years, I'm not the only one to collect old standards. Several times other poultry people have told me about the Russians and about how much like Orloffs they were, except for the rose comb. It's true the APA did call the comb rose, but when you read the description it was clearly what today would be called a walnut, cushion, or strawberry comb--not a true rose comb.

When first imported from Russia, Orloffs were heavy boned, hard muscled, meat fowl that reminded Brown of Malays or Indian games (now called Cornish). However, in American and German hands they were bred more along utility lines and height was reduced and egg production was improved. Still the breed resembles the Malay and that fowl certainly was a major contributor to the Orloff's genetic makeup. Its other ancestors are less obvious and without access to Persian sources may never be authoritatively named. However, Brown stresses that this is a "powerfully built fowl, capable of defending itself in the extreme." And a German breeder once told me that this was originally a game fowl. So, muffed and bearded games, which are themselves quite old, could be at least part of the answer.

If Orloffs in the West never achieved widespread and long lasting popularity (at least outside of Germany) they were certainly popular in some areas and periodically caught the public interest.

This was one of my late friend, Vic Corson's, favorite breeds and I wish I had copied some of his material and taken notes on some of the things he told me. I do remember that in the early part of the century a hatchery here in Pennsylvania hatched Orloffs in seven colors and nothing else. It billed its home town as the Orloff capital of the world. I don't recall the town, but I believe it operated for more than twenty years and finally closed around the time of World War II.

This is an old, distinctive, and useful breed and I hope we can help get it back in the APA standard. The ABA currently recognizes three varieties. The British Standard lists four varieties--Black, Mahogany, Spangled, and White. There are at least three others--Black Breasted Red (with a Cinnamon hen), Mottled, and Buff. The last was probably an American creation and is almost certainly extinct, but, with a little effort and a Buff Chantecler, probably [could] be recreated. A recreation could also be attempted with a Buff Wyandotte, a Buff Cornish, or some other Buff fowl and an incredible amount of work. The ABA calls Mahogany [the] Black Tailed Red and it is roughly the same color as a Rhode Island Red. It is probably the Orloff that was the first breed to sport the solid red color. The ideal Mahogany is a brilliant, dark, reddish brown. Today this is a very rare fowl in the United States and Canada and most Mahoganies are colored like commercial Rhode Island Reds, but we can bring back the breed and the color. The future deserves an Orloff.


Russians (the old standard)

Disqualifications

Combs other than rose; decidedly wry tails; crooked backs; pure white in any part of the plumage extending over one-half of an inch, or two or more feathers tipped or edged with positive white.

Standard Weights

Cock: 8 1/2 lbs
Cockerel: 7 1/2 lbs
Hen: 6 1/2 lbs
Pullet: 5 1/2 lbs

Scale of Points

Symmetry: 8
Weight: 6
Condition: 6
Head - Shape 3, Color 3: 6
Comb: 8
Wattles and Ear-lobes 4, Beard 4: 8
Neck - Shape 4, Color 4: 8
Back - Shape 4, Color 4: 8
Breast - Shape 5, Color 5: 10
Body and Fluff - Shape 5, Color 3: 8
Wings - Shape 4, Color 4: 8
Tail - Shape 4, Color 4: 8
Legs and Toes: 8

Total: 100

The Male

HEAD: Of good size and well formed:
BEAK: short, stout, well curved, and black or dark horn color
EYES, full, prominent, bright, bay or dark bay
FACE, red

COMB: Rose, narrow at the rear, without spike, and bright red.

WATTLES, EAR-LOBES AND BEARD:
WATTLES: long, pendant, well rounded, and bright red
EAR-LOBES: of medium size and bright red
BEARD: full, heavy under the beak, extending around in a curve to the back of the eyes

NECK: Of medium length, well arched, with hackle descending well upon the shoulders

BACK: Broad and tapering to the tail
SADDLE FEATHERS: abundant

BREAST: Round and full

BODY AND FLUFF:
BODY: broad and compact
FLUFF: moderately full

WINGS: Of medium size and well folded

TAIL: Of medium size, carried in an erect position
SICKLE FEATHERS: rather short

LEGS AND TOES:
THIGHS: of medium length and strong
SHANKS: of medium length, strong, and in color dark lead
TOES: the same as shanks in color

COLOR OF PLUMAGE: Green, glossy black throughout, except fluff and primaries and secondaries of the wings, which are black.

The Female

HEAD: Of medium size and well formed
BEAK: short, stout, well curved, and black or dark horn color
EYES: full, prominent, bright, bay or dark bay
FACE, red

COMB: Rose, similar to that of the male, but smaller, and bright red

WATTLES, EAR-LOBES AND BEARD:
WATTLES: small, well rounded, and bright red
EAR-LOBES: of medium size and bright red
BEARD: full on the throat, and extending around in a curve to the hackle

NECK: Of medium length, slightly arched, with full hackle

BACK: Moderately broad, and tapering to the tail

BREAST: Round and full

BODY AND FLUFF:
BODY: rather broad and compact
FLUFF: moderately full

WINGS: Of medium size and well folded

TAIL: Of medium size and moderately erect

LEGS AND TOES:
THIGHS: of medium length and strong
SHANKS: of medium length, strong, and in color dark lead
TOES: the same as shanks in color

COLOR OF PLUMAGE: Glossy black, with more or less green lustre, throughout, except fluff and primaries and secondaries of the wings, which are black.


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