The Vietnamese chicken breed Dong Tao has a rather unusual appearance. They are large chickens with very chunky legs, often as thick as a human wrist. The legs have large scales, and this has given them the nickname Dragon Chickens. The size of their legs makes brooding eggs difficult, even though their eggs are stronger than those of other chicken breeds.
Table of Contents
- Thickest legs of all chicken breeds
- Superior meat quality
- Originated in Vietnam
- Very rare Vietnamese heritage breed
Background and History of the Dong Tao Chicken Breed
The Dong Tao is an ancient chicken breed from Vietnam. They originated in the village of Đông Tảo in the district of Khoái Châu, which is close to the city of Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s ancient royal capital.
The relevance of the village’s proximity to this ancient capital is that these chickens were once bred purely for the culinary enjoyment of royalty. Their meat is prized as being the most delicious of all chicken breeds.
They were also used for rituals in Vietnamese festivals such as the Tet Lunar at New Year, and this continues today. These birds had great significance in royal ceremonies and the rich, dark meat they provided for the emperor’s delight.
Today they are still bred for their meat, which is served in luxury restaurants, and dragon scales stew is served as a medicine. Due to their personable natures, Dong Tao are also kept as pets.
The American Poultry Association does not recognize the breed, and they are not on the list of endangered species with the livestock conservancy organization. However, the Dong Tao is one of the rarest chicken breeds in the world, and a hen can cost as much as $2,500.
Dong Tao Temperament and Behavior
Despite their rather fearsome appearance, the Dong Tao is a very gentle bird that is calm and trusting of humans when given regular handling.
Dong Tao chickens like to free-range but can also be kept in a large coop.
The hens go broody quite easily, but they have limited success in setting and hatching eggs as their large legs and feet often break the eggs, even though they have harder shells than other chicken breeds. Chicks also struggle to get out of their shells which causes a high mortality rate.
It takes around eight months for young birds to mature, which is much longer than the average four to six months of other chicken breeds.
They are also known to be somewhat sensitive to changes in the weather and are slow to grow feathers, so they often have bald patches.
Their ancestors were used in cock fighting, and this means that roosters can sometimes be aggressive towards other males.
If the Dong Tao were not so very rare, they would make good children’s pets due to their friendly temperament. Unfortunately, their high price tag and difficulties with hatching really make them unsuitable for kids or beginners.
Breed Specifics and Traits of Dong Tao Chickens
The Dong Tao is primarily a meat bird, as its egg production is relatively poor. Some people also keep them as pets in Vietnam.
The quality of meat produced by a Dong Tao is said to be exceptional. It has a delicious flavor and is dark, more like the color of beef.
Full-grown roosters can weigh in at 12 to 13 lbs, while hens are generally closer to 10 lbs.
The appearance of a Dong Tao Chicken
Apart from their large legs, the appearance of Dong Tao is pretty similar to many other Asian chicken breeds.
Most Dong Tao have a red rose comb which is called a strawberry comb in Vietnam. Some may also have a single red comb that flops forward over their face, which is looked on as a fault in the breed. They have large red wattles and earlobes and also a long dewlap. This sags loosely on their necks and is quite an unusual feature.
They have strong, cone-shaped beaks that are short and stout. They usually have bay eyes, but other colors can also be found.
Their legs are their most unusual feature, as we have already discovered they are far larger than the legs of other chicken breeds and can be a couple of inches wide. The skin is bright red and has a scaly appearance. They are said to resemble the legs you might find on a dragon, all be it a miniature one!
At the end of these trunk-like legs, you will find equally plump toes, four in total, that are well spaced around the foot.
The knees of the bird fall inwards, making them rather knock-kneed. This results in a slightly peculiar gate but does seem to help them with balance in compensation for their extraordinarily large leg size.
When looking at the body in comparison to the legs, the two really don’t seem to match at all. They hold themselves quite upright, and roosters have a traditional red and black feather pattern with additional auburn, grey, and white feathers. They have shorter tail feathers than a lot of other breeds.
The hens have smaller legs than the roosters, but they are still comparatively large compared to the chicken’s size. Hens are usually white or white mixed with a pale brown.
As the birds age, their legs become thicker. On average, they will live to around 7 years.
Chicks hatch out yellow but soon turn white with black wings. It can take eight to twelve months for them to fully mature.
Quite surprisingly, the Dong Tao is able to fly about a meter into the air, possibly a little more when they are still young. Their weight and relatively small wing size prevent them from being true fliers.
Dong Tao Health and Disease
Despite Dong Tao chickens having very thick, strong-looking legs, they are quite fragile. They need to be washed and scrubbed to keep them clean and free of mites.
The birds also need protection from the weather and require a well-insulated and ventilated house. They are relatively cold tolerant but can become stressed in hot weather and must be able to get out of the direct sun and into some good shade.
Due to the size of their feet, they find gripping onto a perch quite difficult and prefer low platforms instead.
As with any chicken breed, preventative measures should be taken against pests such as worms, lice, and mites.
Fresh, clean water must be made available at all times. To help keep it clean and fresh, we recommend using a nipple waterer.
Dong Tao hens are not particularly productive and start to lay far later than other breeds.
They lay around 60 very large eggs per year. This is done in cycles. The hen will produce around 10 to 15 eggs in a two to three-week period, then stop for a while before doing the same thing again.
The eggs are known to be strong-shelled and are a tinted white color.
Where to Buy Dong Tao Chickens
Due to their rarity, it is extremely difficult to find Dong Tao chickens to buy.
You may have some luck by running an internet search or chance upon seeing one at a fair where you can talk to the breeder.
Hatcheries don’t generally stock Dong Tao due to the problems with hatching and the very slow maturity rate of the birds.
One of the few sources I found in the US is Alex Family Farms, which stocks young birds at the cost of $200 per piece or chicks at $100 per piece, or hatching eggs for $50 each.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as to me, the Dong Tao is a very unattractive chicken breed. In Vietnam, they are entered into beauty competitions, and the best specimens can be worth several thousands of dollars.
You’re unlikely to ever see a Dong Tao chicken, as they are still incredibly rare in the United States and everywhere else outside of Vietnam.
They are said to produce superior-tasting meat compared to other chicken breeds. The meat itself is dark in color and described as having more the appearance of beef.
Raising Dong Tao can be challenging as their huge legs make successfully brooding eggs difficult, and they are easily broken. Chicks also struggle to get out of their shells. For this reason, they are usually brooded in an incubator and helped to hatch when necessary.
Are Dong Tao chickens healthy?
Dong Tao are descended from Asian gamefowl and are considered to be generally healthy. They can become stressed due to sudden weather changes such as cold to hot, and although they are relatively cold tolerant, they do need to be provided shade from the sun. They are prone to mites, lice, and worms. Leg mites can be a particular problem due to the deep crevices in the thick skin folds on their legs.
How much does a Dong Tao chicken cost?
In order to get genuine Dong Tao, you may need to buy them directly from Vietnam. The best quality chickens can sell for over $2000. Young birds can be found in the US and are produced by specialist breeders. Their price can range dramatically, but expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars. Hatching eggs is another option, and again, prices vary considerably.
Does Dong Tao chicken taste different?
The meat from these chickens was once reserved only for royalty. People who enjoy eating Dong Tao in restaurants say the skin has a particularly good flavor and the meat is firmer and sweeter than that of other chickens.
Why are Dong Tao chickens expensive?
Dong Tao take a long time to mature, between eight and twelve months, and they are difficult to breed. The meat is considered a delicacy and demands a high price, and the best chickens are kept by farmers to enter into beauty contests, which are hotly contested. These are all reasons why the Dong Tao is sold for so much money.