Dorking Chicken

(English class)

Prepared by Michael Schlumbohm and Keith Bramwell, Department of Poultry Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Red Dorking Chicken The Dorking is a dual purpose bird traditionally used for the production of white shelled eggs and white skinned meat. The Dorking was once highly esteemed for the quality of its meat and was the ideal market bird for its day. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes the White, Silver Gray, Colored, Red, and Cuckoo Dorking.

Standard Weights
Cock: 9 lbs.
Hen: 7 lbs.
Cockerel: 8 lbs.
Pullet: 6 lbs.

In shape the Dorking is best described as rectangular with the body being carried horizontally and being rather long, deep and moderately wide. The tail is rather long and somewhat pinched and is carried at an angle of approximately 35-45 degrees. The shanks are relatively short in proportion with the rest of the body and they have five toes on each foot, called polydactyl. The head is somewhat large in proportion to the body and depending on the variety, the comb can either be single (SC) or rose (RC). White Dorkings are recognized in RC only, while the Colored, Silver Gray, and Red are recognized in SC only. The Cuckoo is the only variety in which both RC and SC varieties are recognized. The shanks, feet, and toes on all varieties are white, while the comb, wattles, and earlobes should be red. It has been suggested that the Dorking originally came from Italy and was introduced to England by the Romans. However likely, this evidence is really only circumstantial with few hard facts. A few roman authors have written about birds that were very similar to the modern Dorking. These writers listed traits such as five toes, large square bodies, and large heads. The color of these birds was described as red or brown with black wings. And there have been more recent findings (1903) of chickens in Italy that greatly resembled the modern Dorking. However, it is not sure whether these birds were native or were sent to Italy from England. Whatever the case may be, we can be certain that 'Dorking like chickens' have been present in England for a very long period of time.

The Dorking takes its name from the town of Dorking, in Surrey England, where it was developed as a table fowl for the London market. The Dorking type would appear to have been an improvement of a "yard-bird" or an improved type of chicken which was common in three southeastern counties, Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. This is the area where the first Dorkings were found and this continued to be the place where the best quality birds were produced in the largest quantities.

According to the earliest published description of Dorkings by Moubray, 1815, the distinguishing characteristics of the Dorking were white color and the presence of a fifth toe. He admits, however, that birds of various colors with and without the fifth toe were called Dorking, as long as they had the same general body shape.

It was postulated that colored Dorkings originated by crossing the White Dorking with the Sussex or some other large colored breed, but even at this point not all of the early colored Dorkings had the fifth toe. However, once the fifth toe became a fixed feature on a colored bird strain they were considered a Dorking.

It is not known exactly how early Dorkings were brought to America. They seem to have been quite numerous and pretty well distributed in the U.S. before 1840; and they were exhibited in several colors (white, gray, cuckoo, red, and black) at the first show in America in 1849. A great deal of interest was shown in them until it became evident that the Plymouth Rock was to become an American favorite for meat production. With the rise of the American class the Dorking all but disappeared, except as a fanciers fowl. Unfortunately with fanciers it got, and to this day still gets very little attention, and is normally only seen at large shows. Furthermore, when Dorkings are seen they are often undersized and tend to have poor body shape and color. More serious breeders are needed to improve the quality and increase the population of the old Dorking breed.

Silver Gray (SC) - recognized in 1874

The Silver Gray Dorking color pattern is the same as that described for the Silver Duckwing description found for other breeds. In the male the hackle and saddle are solid white with no black striping, while the breast and tail are solid black. The female is an even shade of gray on the back, body, and tail coverts, with the tail being black and the breast being salmon. In America the Silver Gray Dorking is the most common variety. This variety was once prized over others for having exceptionally fine grained meat and it dressed out for the table well. The French, in particular, preferred the Silver Gray Dorking to any other variety of Dorking. Interestingly, it is thought that the Silver Gray was the most recent variety to be developed. It has been said that the Silver Gray is a result of crossing "Silver Gray" Games on Colored Dorkings. In addition, some reports indicate that other breeders made the Silver Gray by crossing the White and Colored Dorking varieties.

White (RC) - recognized in 1874

The White was probably the first variety of Dorking to be consistently well developed and widely established. Early White Dorkings probably had both single and rose combs, but only the rose comb has been recognized by the APA. It has recently begun to gain more breeders and some quality whites are now being produced.

Colored (SC) - recognized in 1874

For a very general description of the color of Colored Dorkings it could be said that it is somewhat of a similar pattern to the Brassy Back pattern found in Old English Games. However, there are very significant differences between the two and to get the full description of the color pattern one should consult the APA Standard of Perfection. To go into more detail, the Colored male is mostly black with straw colored hackle and saddle while the female is black on the back and tail with straw shafting with the breast being a dark salmon.

This variety was most likely created by crossing the old Dorking stocks, Red Dorkings or something similar to a Red, with the Spanish. This seems to be accurate because the early Colored Dorkings were described as a little flatter in the breast than the other varieties. It is not known whether the Spanish was what we now know as a Minorca, White Faced Black Spanish, or the old Castilian breed. This influence of a black breed could also explain the abundance of black in the plumage.

The modern Colored Dorking was improved by Mr. J. Douglas in the late 1800's, when he crossed a bird imported from India on Colored Dorking hens. This bird from India was similar in body shape and size to a Dorking but did not have the fifth toe. No one knows for certain what breed this Indian bird was, but it could possibly be traced back to the Dorkings exported to India many years ago. Today there are very few Colored Dorkings in existence and it is probably the rarest of all recognized Dorking varieties.

Red (SC) - recognized in 1995

It is quite likely that this variety is as old as the White Dorking because birds similar to the Red Dorking were described by English authors when referring to the original Dorking stock. The Red Dorking is not solid red in color but is somewhat comparable to the Light Brown Leghorn or a Black Breasted Red Old English Game. The Red Dorking at one time was very common in Kent and Sussex counties in England, but starting around the mid-1800s the Red Dorking dwindled and was kept alive by only a small handful of breeders. Due to their lack of popularity it was admitted nearly 120 years after the first Dorkings were admitted to the first APA Standard of Perfection, but today more are beginning to be bred and exhibited.

Cuckoo (SC and RC) - recognized in 1998

From the beginning of Dorking history there have probably been Cuckoo birds in existence. This would not be uncommon since flocks of chickens that have no selection pressure applied to them will produce many colors, including cuckoo. This variety never had much favor among breeders, and today is rarely, if ever, seen at shows.

Bantam Dorking
(Single Comb Clean Legged & Rose Comb Clean Legged classes)

Both the APA and American Bantam Association (ABA) recognize the bantam Dorking. The APA recognizes the SC Silver Gray, RC White, SC Colored, SC Red, and the RC and SC Cuckoo. The ABA recognizes the SC Silver Gray, RC White, RC and SC Colored, SC Red, and the RC Cuckoo. The bantam version was also created in England, and much like the large fowl the bantam Dorking is another rarity.

Standard Weights
Cock: 34 oz.
Hen: 32 oz.
Cockerel: 32 oz.
Pullet: 28 oz.

Works Cited
Robinson, John H. Popular Breeds of Domestic Poultry. Dayton: Reliable Poultry Journal, 1924.
Brown, Edward. Races of Domestic Poultry. Liss: Nimrod Book Services, 1985.
The American Standard of Perfection Illustrated: A Complete Description of All Recognized Breeds and Varieties of Domestic Poultry. Burgettstown, PA: American Poultry Association, 2010.
Bantam Standard for the Breeder, Exhibitor, and Judge. 2011 ed. Kansas City: Covington Group, 2011.
Origin and History of all Breeds of Poultry. Chicago, IL: American Poultry Journal Publishing Company, 1908.