"Red Dorkings"

painting by C. Richard Getz

The Red Dorking

by Craig Russell

While it was only accepted by the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection in 1995, the Red Dorking is the oldest variety of that venerable race of five-toed fowl so well described by the Romans.

This old five-toed breed has known many names in its long history and takes its present name, Dorking, from a market town in the south of England.

From Roman times until the middle of the last century, Dorkings were the zenith of poultry development and Red was the most common color, although in Dorkings that term covers a lot of ground. Red Speckles and Spangles, the various versions of Black Breasted Red and even Brown Reds were included. What was not included was the Black Tailed Red, as in the Rhode Island Red, that is the color pattern most commonly called Red today.

The bird the Romans wrote about was certainly a B. B. Red; and while the description of the female is less certain and they could have been variable, the typical type was probably the stippled hen that we see in the B. B. Red Game today. Records from the 18th and early 19th centuries not only describe this pattern, but also Clay, a darker, richer version of Wheaten; Dark Reds, a red version of the Colored or dark gray pattern (males in this pattern have striped hackles and are black on the back, while red-brown replaces pale straw on the females); and the pattern that is in the English standard today (this might be called Black Spangled Red--the male is a typical Black Breasted Red, the female is roughly the same pattern as a Red Cap hen, except that it is lighter, brighter and redder).

Unlike many of the Dorking varieties of the past century, all four black breasted versions of the Red Dorking still survive.

At once commoner and aristocrat, the Dorking has graced the lawns of manor houses, the barnyards of established farms, and the clearings of wilderness homesteads.

The birds pictured here are stippled, the APA standard type, which was historically the common red pattern in North America. (Dorkings are classed as an English breed despite actually originating elsewhere.) Today most Americans consider the Dorking a rare fancy fowl, a show bird, a foreign breed. But the breed has a long American history; Dorkings were among our most common farm fowl prior to the Civil War. This position was maintained in New York and elsewhere into the 1860s and '70s. In a few localities, they remained a common production fowl well into the early part of the 20th century.

Dorkings contributed to the development of many of our modern breeds. Even today, Dorkings retain their historic character, remaining perhaps the best breed for natural production that has ever existed.

When you look at Dorkings, you are looking at history!

Dick Getz pictures them on a frontier farm, emerging into fresh snow during a late winter dawn.

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