Last Saturday, Pat Foreman and Jeannette Beranger joined us for dinner. Pat is the author of City Chicks (and co-author of Chicken Tractor, Day Range Poultry and Backyard Market Gardening) and founder of The Gossamer Foundation. Jeannette is the Research and Technical Programs Manager at The Livestock Conservancy and co-author of An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry. Red Hen co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson, Eftoo Farm owner Ann Waller and Jeannette's awesome husband Fred rounded out the table. Pat and Jeannette are helping us with our Dorking Project. In addition to the entrees, Chef Matt surprised everyone with giant chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms and his own spin on Pommes Anna (he adds fennel). Chef Matt does not want anyone to go home hungry!
This adorable Dorking chick is one of twenty that arrived at Eftoo Farm over the weekend. Eftoo and the Red Hen, with the help of the Livestock Conservancy, have partnered to form The Dorking Project to protect this very important breed. You may not know it, but many of our heritage farm breeds are endangered. It is particularly important that the Dorking be saved as it is a foundational breed. This means it is a building block for other chicken breeds. Many if not most American chicken breeds contain some Dorking, so its genetics are particularly important.
Dorkings can be traced back to Britain during the Roman Era. Before that, no one knows for sure, although one chicken expert likes to say, "Dorkings? Why Caesar ate them!" No one is certain when they arrived in America either, but they were a well-distributed and popular table bird by 1840. In fact, the Livestock Conservancy says: As a table fowl, the Dorking chicken has few peers and no superlatives. In 2009 the Livestock Conservancy sponsored a heritage breed tasting competition, and the Dorking won hands down. Yet another reason we need to save it!
But if they are rare, you shouldn't eat them, right? Au contraire! In order to save a heritage breed, people have to use it. In the case of the Dorking, that means eating it. Our breeding program depends on its ability to sustain itself. So we will be serving the culled birds (the ones not chosen as breeding stock) at the Red Hen.
It will be a good four months before these birds are mature.
PS. If you would like to see the chicks when they were first hatched (thanks, Livestock Conservancy!) check them out here.