Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Dorking - An Ancient Breed with an Uncertain Future

By Karen - 

The Dorking is an ancient breed tracing it's lineage all the way back to the Roman Empire and the birth of Christ. It was first introduced into Britain by the Romans and became a favorite of many, eventually taking the name of the region where it was most popular. Thus evolved the Dorking breed. 

The Dorking evolved as primarily a meat breed, but is also a decent layer of medium to large eggs, lays through the winter and can be an exceptionally vigilant and protective hen when broody. As a meat breed, the meat is fine textured and well flavored and has been a winner of several taste tests in recent years. The Dorking of today isn't as large as its ancestors of even 50 years ago but still retains all the finer points of the breed, so now it's up to Dorking enthusiasts to bring it back up to its ideal size.
Dorking roosters should mature near 9 pounds and hens near 7 pounds (but as I said before, many do not reach their ideal size at this time). They have a long and low structure a friend once referred to as 'barge-like'. Their legs are relatively short with the thighs hidden well up in the body feathers, have five toes and white skin. They are fairly slow growing with roosters reaching their full size by 2 years old. Hens typically start laying between 5 and 6 months old.
Unfortunately, with the advent of the commercial broilers (of which the Dorking is one of the original ancestors) and the American preference for yellow skin, the slow growing Dorking fell out of favor. Since then it seems that "Bigger, Better, Faster, More" applied to peoples' lives more and more as the years went on. A few dedicated breeders continued on with the Dorking, but their population and size decreased with their popularity.  


In recent years, with the resurgence of "Heritage" breeds, the Dorking is slowly regaining some of it's popularity. In my opinion there is no equal to the Dorking, whether it be for the gourmet table bird or the all-round usefulness as a dual-purpose egg and meat breed or as an exceptional free range bird or broody for rearing chicks.

The APA recognizes 6 varieties; (single combed) Silver Grey, Colored, Red and Single as well as Rose Combed Cuckoo and Rose Combed White. A large part of the problem with Dorkings is that there are so few sources of quality birds.
The primary sources people get their birds from are hatcheries. Murray McMurray is currently probably one of the best sources for Silver Grey Dorkings. Sandhill Preservation Center has the best readily available Red and Colored Dorkings I've seen, though if you are willing to wait and hunt around, the Roger Tice and Dick Horstman lines of Reds are my personal preference. Cuckoos are few and far between, so I have no frame of reference for them at all. The Whites, however, are best gotten from Yellow House Farm. YHF is not a dedicated hatchery, but a farm dedicated to preserving and improving a few select breeds. His White Dorkings are exceptional, in my opinion.

Now on to my own birds...

I have a small flock of Dorkings, compared to some. For the silver greys, I will be keeping my six largest hens and two best roosters for breeding. I have four red hens I am keeping, but I am short a rooster at this time, thanks to a series of attacks by predators. I have one red cockerel in the grow-out pen but he's only 7 weeks old as I write this article, and I have no way of knowing how he will mature. 


I will also be contacting the breeder that two of my girls and my previous rooster came from to see if he has anything available. So hopefully in a few weeks we will be back up and running with the reds. I also have two colored girls who have no mates to match, but will be put with a red rooster at some point, to see if I can rebuild a nice colored flock. But that is a project for later.

Some people have asked me to also write about things not usually touched on for various breeds...

One of the biggest things I have noticed with my Dorkings, is their dislike of confinement and crowding. Most of my birds free range except when they are penned for breeding. As a free range bird, they are exceptional foragers and the roosters are extremely vigilant in finding choice goodies for the girls, warning of dangers and even protecting them from attack. One rooster even took on a hawk to protect his girls, losing part of his comb in the process. I think that is why I no longer have a red rooster as well. He probably died defending his girls from the raccoons. Of that, I will never know for sure though.


Hens can be exceptionally (annoyingly) broody and like their privacy. So if free ranging at the time, they will try to find secluded nests 'off the beaten path'. I've had to relocate a number of these "wild broodies" this year. Only two girls were successful in hatching their clutches. One had her nest under the ground-level deck (beneath the welcome mat) and the other next to the tractor shed. I allowed these two to stay where they were, simply because of difficulty in getting to them to remove the eggs.


Some things I can say with certainty of my own Dorkings. They do not like being confined, but will tolerate it as long as they are not crowded and are provided ample roosting space in the pen as well as the coop. I also noticed they did not generally care for the shorter pens I use for my bantams, as they like to roost off the ground even during the day. 

They are not strong fliers, only able to fly (while flapping as hard as they can) about 20' from a roost 5' high. But they ARE exceptional jumpers, capable of launching to a perch well over 6 feet up!  So when planning pens for them, I highly recommend covering them.

So I will end now with a hope that some may decide to add this wonderful breed to their efforts.

Note: My birds were free ranging at the time the photos were taken and there may be some other breeds present.


~ Karen ~

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Comments

12 comments:

  1. Thank you, very informative and interesting article. They are a pretty bird too. Are you saving money on feed because they so good at foraging compared to other breeds you raise?

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  2. Hi I am ordering some Dorking chicks and I am curious about how the roosters tend to get along.

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  3. Yes, because they are such good foragers, they don't go through nearly as much food as the penned birds do. I fill the feeder (5 scoops) for 10 birds every other day. 15 free rangers get 1 -2 scoops a day depending on how badly they're harassing me in the afternoon. LOL

    and yes, dorking roosters get along quite well. With each other and other breeds, bantam and LF both.

    If you look at the 4th picture down (3rd up from here) you can count a number of roosters just in that one setting. There are 3 silver grey roos and 1 red roo in that picture. what you don't see are the other 10 roos that were free ranging at the time as well. Including another red Dorking, 2 BLRW (bantam and LF), multiple bantam cochin roos and an EE.
    The key to getting along is proper introductions more than anything else. And let them spar. it helps sort out who's in charge and who isn't. they're not an aggressive breed so usually won't pursue the loser once he's given up.

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  4. We have three Dorkings at the moment one Roo and two Hens, The Roo is my 2 year old Daughters favorite Chicken ever she is always holding him, such docile birds even more than Our silkies. As for getting along with our other Roo's He does great considering we have a good number of Roo's all of them are tame since they know who is in charge and usually do not try to work there way up the chain lol. Usually our Astrolorpe Females are the ones who are fighting the others including my top Roo. LOL.

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  5. Hi, interesting to read, thanks, I have about 12 hens and 1 rooster from mc murray, april hatch, not one egg yet, dec 14th, they are extremely flighty, roosting in the rafters of the barn,a good 30ft up, love tearing straw bails apart, scattering it all over to get seeds left behind and stealing the cat food from up on the shelf, not very friendly and the rooster has always been weak and gets picked on,they were very good at foraging grass hoppers etc. this summer, but nothing like what I have read about the breed, any thoughts? thanks Clive.

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  6. Well, like people, each bird is going to have it's own personality, so your 'weak' rooster may just be a submissive personality, but if the Dorkings were by themselves, I think you'd see a bit of a change in his confidence.

    As for being flighty, I have noticed that in young birds, but once they went free ranging and learned where the goodies came from, they were almost immediately underfoot and very 'pestiferous'. I have some birds that I got as adults from another farm / bloodline this summer and they are still a bit aloof but are learning quickly where food and snacks come from. I'm not sure how you handle feeding free rangers. Some people don't feed theirs at all, but I give everyone a good breakfast when I let them out in the morning and they forage for the rest all day long. Sometimes they get an afternoon snack if the weather's icky (like today with rain/sleet) or if I need to catch someone for some reason. The Dorkings also seem to prefer a higher protein than some other breeds, which is probably why your cat food is under 'attack'. I have to feed the cats before I let the chickens out and after they've gone to bed.

    Eggs are another thing entirely. The Dorkings are usually laying by the time they're 6 months old or so, but they are also very adept at hiding eggs and not wanting to lay in 'approved' areas. LOL Mine are just starting to lay again after a pretty heavy moult this fall. So far I'm finding eggs consistently in my horse trailer, on a shelf under my deck, and a nest box in one of my cochin breeding pens (open to let them range for now). I haven't had an egg in the nest boxes in the Dorking's house since I started letting them range. In addition to their habit of hiding eggs, if there's any chance of rodents, possums or rat snakes, there's a good chance the eggs are getting eaten before they're being found. We found a possum under the back steps last night, which would explain my lack of cat food as well.

    Good luck with your guys and finding your missing eggs. You may possibly find a girl with chicks before you actually find your missing eggs, as they also have a tendency to want to go broody, though McMurray silver greys aren't as prone as other bloodlines.

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  7. I have been looking for a breed of chicken for my small 5 acres that will be good for meat eggs and helpful to turn out in the garden over the winter months to help with the preparation for spring seeding. I am planning out a large chicken coop with a very large yard and I am planning to allow them to free range during the day. I was going to get Iowa blues then I thought about Dorkings what breed do you suggest given my situation. I am also new to the raising of chickens as well. Also I have nieces and nephews of a young age that may visit would be nice if the chickens were friendly to the kids who are animal lovers but live in town so would definitely be curious enough to want to visit with them. Could you advise me of the best breed for me please.

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    1. Hey! I'd whole-heartedly recommend the Dorking for what you're looking for. The silver grey is my favorite variety, but the size on the reds is slightly larger (a difference of maybe .5 to 1 pound live weights). They are extremely friendly and outgoing. Free ranging during the day I haven't had any issues at all with aerial predators as the Dorking is fairly large once it's a few months old.

      As with any animal, there will be some differences in personality between individual birds, and I've heard some people having slight issues with children, since a rooster may see a loud active kid as a potential threat to his girls. But if the kids and chickens are introduced properly and the rooster gets to learn that they are not a threat, everything should be fine.

      My own birds have learned what is "normal" around here, including their "part time LGD" aka my Standard Poodle, three house cats (one of whom tries to herd the chickens now and then) and four horses that free range almost as much as the chickens do. LOL

      Hopefully you do decide on them. They are truly worth the effort put into them in my opinion. Good luck and keep us posted!

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  8. do the coloured dorkings act different from the silver grey dorkings which color do you prefer

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  9. Hi I am ordering some Red Dorkings from Sandhill..they arrive July.I have a single car garage that I will be using for the coop. I have 18 ac. and they will be free range..the garage is s little distance from the house. I wanted to make the nesting boxes out of dish washing tubs...but am wondering if that will be big enough...what size nesting box do they like? Maybe in the brooder section it will be it a more hidden type nest..maybe where I can lift a top of...after reading your comments about yours hiding theirs.Right next to the coop is a large fenced orchard which will be their run until they get older/bigger...so plenty of room there..Want to do all I can to make my birds happy.

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  10. Hi, I recently purchased a starter flock of Silver Dorkings (six hens, one roo) from a local farm that decided not to continue with Dorkings. It was a bit impulsive on my part, but I have fallen in love with them, and have decided to set up a breeding pen to try a focussed breeding program, and improve my flock. Most of your experience with them sounds very familiar to me, even though it has only been about a month since I added them to my flock of BC Marans, Chantecler, and Ameraucana. I am still working on convincing all of the Dorkings that it is better and safer to roost at night in the coop with all of the others, LOL. After dark, my children and I have to do a head count and then locate the stragglers, sometimes in the rafters of the barn or on the hay stack. But they are such kind birds that it is easy to retrieve them. I haven't seen any eggs yet, because they haven't finished their fall moult. In the early spring, I hope to have a better idea of what sort of stock I am working with. But it has proven quite difficult to find much detailed information about Dorkings, apart from the cut-and-pasted historical information. I hope to be able to sniff out paintings and photographs, and hard data about ideal Dorking specimens. Too bad that the genetic resources seem to be so scarce and spread out. So thanks for such a great blog post! :-)

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  11. I just got two Dorking pullets, about two weeks old. They are sweet natured. Eager to see them grown up. Will keep up with this site and share with y'all their growing out.

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