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The Silver-Grey Dorking

by Bruce Pattinson

Silver Grey Dorking RoosterAs the rare poultry breed of the year the Silver – Grey Dorking is an excellent choice as while its rare status cannot be questioned nor can its genetic value and versatility. To begin to understand its value a brief history of the breed is essential. Undeniably British in its makeup the breed was said to have been brought to Britain by the Romans in about AD30 and is mentioned by historians such as Columella and Pliny in early historical writings and is discussed as the five-toed fowl. It is also known in writings as the common fowl and the Darking. Edward Brown in ‘Races of Domestic Poultry’ (1906) discusses how they can be traced back to antiquity and he had seen 5 toed fowl in Italy in his travels. He praises the bird for its qualities. Fortunately in England the bird has its own breed club and while not common, is surviving.

The Silver – Grey is probably the last of the colours to be developed in the breed with the Red being most commonly agreed upon as the first. Other colours are the Dark, Cuckoo and White non-of, which I have seen but they may exist. In the Dark a rose or single comb is acceptable but in the Silver Grey it must be a single comb. The colour of the Silver – Grey is complex, especially in the Standard and the best I can find is in ‘ British Large Fowl ‘ by Roberts (1994) which states " a striking combination of pure white hackle and saddle in the cock with black underparts, and the hens are a delicate shade of slate grey on the back, finely pencilled with darker markings, silver hackle striped with black and a salmon breast". This does not do them full justice, as this ancient breed is a wonderful sight in the paddock.

The breed has always been known for its table qualities and was widely used by early breeders to produce not only other breeds but also the first meat cross strains. The most popular early cross was with the Cornish or Indian Game to produce an early maturing table fowl. The breed on its own produces a large and full flavored bird with a large breast and for its size is very lightly boned. In its early days it reached massive sizes but all the birds in Australia I have seen or bred have not reached the top weights in the Standard. This does not mean they are small, as the last cockerel cull was a size 22 clean. Early hatching can alleviate some size problems as can space. As an egg layer the are moderately good for a meat breed and lay pretty consistently in the first few years but will go broody if allowed, making good mothers. The eggs are a good size and are white to cream in colour.

Being what is termed a heavy breed the Dorking is a friendly and tractable breed, easily tamed and popular with the children that visit even though they are a large breed of fowl. They have proven immensely popular at my sons pre-school! For a large breed they can fly well and this has surprised a few people so be forewarned. It can be best to raise them separately from other more aggressive breeds as this docile nature allows them to be bullied and to let them reach full size they need the feed. Raised on their own, the pullets with an old cock and the cockerels separate they will reach maturity more quickly. One bonus is they can be culled early as on or two always hatch with four toes and these should never be kept to use in the breed pens although welcome as pets.

They do come in bantam form but I feel the Standard birds are better and truer to type. They do take some time to mature and birds of two years old are the best. The hens go one well for 5-6 years but I have found the male bird’s fertility is best between 2-4 years of age. Fertility is not a problem and I have successfully sent eggs all over Australia. There can be no doubt that the breed does best if allowed to range from an early age. They love to do this and will cover a lot of area for a large fowl. They make an excellent chicken tractor if contained but I wouldn’t let them loose in a small garden as they can make a large hole in the ground and eat a lot of greenery in a short space of time. One problem mentioned in the old sources is feet problems such as bumblefoot due to the fifth toe. Keep the perches large and low and you won’t get a lame bird

This is a beautiful and immensely useful breed which deserves all the support being given to it by Rare Breeds of Australia because of its genetic value as well as its own inherent usefulness and style.

Last updated 6 January 2002


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