Our flock consists primarily of pastured Speckled Sussex and Silver Gray Dorkings. We do have a few other breeds, but the Dorkings and Sussex will be my focus in the coming years. These birds do not grow quickly, but they grow to a large size and are renowned for their table quality. Both are white skinned and are ancient breeds hailing from southeast Britain. The Dorking’s bloodlines go back more than a thousand years to the Romans who described Dorkings in their writings. The Speckled Suessex is an old English breed derived from the Dorking.
Speckled Sussex are considered to be a recovering breed, based on census data from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC-USA.org) Ideally the roosters should weigh 9 pounds and the hens 7 pounds. They are supposed to lay more than 200 light brown eggs per year, making them an “eggs with meat” version of a dual purpose chicken. They are active foragers, and are very curious, adventurous and friendly.
Silver Gray Dorkings are a threatened breed, meaning there just aren’t that many of them and serious breeding efforts will be needed to maintain the breed. They have five toes on each foot. Roosters should weigh 9 pounds and hens 7. Another dual purpose breed, the Dorking is considered a “meat with eggs” chicken. They should lay about 150 cream/lightly tinted eggs per year. Thus far, my Dorking girls are quiet things, not very prone to wandering. They are polite, but a little standoffish. It is very difficult to tell the girls apart. The roosters crow at a higher pitch than the Sussex, so I can always tell who’s talking. Dorkings are known for being good layers in the winter when many other breeds shut down. They are also prone to broodiness which is one of the biggest factors in their decline. Once the hens decide to sit a nest, they stop laying, thus a large number of eggs for hatching are hard to come by.
My goal is to breed small pairings from each breed in the spring of each year and select for traits that are true to the breed. I will be focusing primarily on getting the correct body type in each breed which in turn will increase egg production and finished size. These chickens will never be hugely profitable, but once I breed up to standard egg production, the laying flock should pay its own way, with meat sales to supplement my income.
By purchasing eggs or whole chickens from my flock, please know you are helping to conserve these breeds (and all their diverse genetics) for the future. Think of it this way. When flu season hits, there are some people who get sick every year. There are those who never catch the flu. That’s genetic diversity at work. By conserving heritage breeds of livestock, we are all taking out insurance on our nation’s dairy, meat and egg supply. A disease or climatic change that might wipe out one breed, may not touch another breed at all. Who knew food insurance could be so lovely to look at?