The Dorking chicken is an ancient breed first developed as a landrace in the area of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey counties in England. This area was famous for producing poultry of the highest quality for the table; the five-toed Dorking having been the most sought after of these chickens. It is the town of Dorking, once called Darking, for which the breed was named.
The origin of Dorking chickens is a bit of a mystery. The Roman author, Columella wrote of five-toed fowls in Rome whose description fits Dorkings fairly well. Popular history is that the Romans brought five-toed fowls with them when they invaded in 43 A.D. Curious is the fact that these five-toed fowls were so respected by the Romans for their fine table qualities, but none are to be found in Italy. One could speculate that the Romans may have brought the five-toed Ardennes chickens from Belgium and that these formed the basis for the Dorking breed. We also know that prior to the Roman arrival in Britain, Phoenician traders were known to visit from the Mediterranean and exchange poultry for tin in Great Britain.
Dorking chickens are to be found in several colors, the most ancient of these being the White, the Colored (or Coloured), and the Silver Gray. Much old literature speculates that the White Dorking chicken is the original variety. We know that the Colored Dorking is the largest of the Dorking chicken varieties and that the Silver Gray Dorking was derived from it. Other colors of Dorking chickens include Cuckoo, Black, Red, and Speckled.
As a table fowl, the Dorking chicken has few peers and no superlatives. The flesh is tender and delicate. The chickens are well fleshed in the choicest sections: breast, merrythought (wishbone area), and wings. Early Dorking chicken breeders so valued the breed that it was only with great difficulty that any live chickens could be obtained at any price. At one time it was rumored that the town of Dorking had a law against selling the chickens alive.
Though easily fattened for the pot, Dorking hens are excellent winter layers, and could be said to be very good layers except for their propensity to sit after laying 35-50 eggs. They are exemplary sitters and mothers; often staying with the chicks far longer than hens of other breeds. Dorking hens also tend to welcome chicks of other hens. Dorking pullets are slow to come into lay, but will be found to lay all through the winter – a time when eggs are harder to come by. The breed is not much inclined to wander far from home, though they are good foragers. They like to roost in trees when given a chance – something unexpected of a large chicken with short legs.
Exactly when Dorking chickens arrived in America is a bit of a mystery. We do know they were well distributed here before 1840, and were even shown at the first poultry show in America in 1849. By 1904 they were the most popular breed in their native England. The Dorking chicken is recognized by the American Poultry Association in three varieties: White (1874), Silver-Gray (1874), and Colored (1874). Males weigh 9 lbs and females weigh 7 lbs.
Photo credit: Moss Mountain Farm
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