What rare breed of chicken, raised near Hanoi, lives on crickets, has enormous feet, sells for $2,000 each for meat, weighs 6 to 16 pounds, and takes 8 months to 1 year to be ready for market? The Dong Tao “Dragon” Chicken, once bred in Viet Nam only for royalty.
Dong Tao Background and History
Dong Tao Chicken is served in luxury restaurants. It is prized for its delicate and delicious meat. Dong Tao Chickens (ga Dong Tao in Vietnamese) are raised for meat, for eggs, and also as pets. They are very popular in Vietnam.
But Dong Tao Chickens were once bred only for royalty and their mandarins (bureaucrats), or for ritual offerings, starting in Đông Tảo, in the Khoái Châu district, about 18 miles from Hanoi, not far from Hoa Lu, the ancient royal capital of Vietnam.
Because these very large chickens with thick, scaly, dragon-like legs and feet are very rare, and because they take 8 months or more to reach maturity—chickens more typically mature in 16 to 24 weeks, a female-male pair of Dong Tao Chickens can sell for as much as $2,500.
DomesticAnimals.com ranks Dong Tao Chickens as the rarest in a top 10 list of rare chicken breeds, not just in Vietnam, but in the world, including countries such as Poland, Germany, Japan and the US.
Their festivals required many compulsory rituals. The Dong Tao Royal Chickens would have been one of the many integral parts of these rituals, especially during Tet Lunar New Year’s family reunions.
Mongols, Laotians, Thais, Cambodians, Chinese and French styles of cooking, have influenced Vietnam’s cuisine, Vietnam’s culture has an exaggerated eating process and dining etiquette culture.
Traditions and festivals included thousands of people, many gods and offerings to gods, and drums, gongs and firecrackers.
Dong Tao Chickens would have cut a dashing figure and would have held great significance and honor, in royal ceremonies, or as food fit for an emperor and his royal family.
Breed Standard of Dong Tao Chickens
Dong Tao Chicken is considered unique among dozens of chicken breeds in Viet Nam.
The legs of Dong Tao Chickens grow as thick as a human’s wrist. The size of their legs is not just unusual for chickens; it is rare for any kind of bird their size
- They are large birds that can be wider than a human holding one.
- Their height is as tall or taller than a bottle.
- Female Dong Tao Chickenfeathers are a beautiful all-white, or white mixed with light brown, while roosters are multi-colored in auburn and red, grey, white and black. Chicks are white with black wings.
- The feet of both females and males are covered in reddish scales, which is what gives them their resemblance to dragons.
- Many delicious dishes are made from Dong Tao Chickens, which have firm, crisp, sweetmeat, pink brisket, and well-developed thigh meat.
The biggest pair of Dong Tao Chicken legs possibly on record, are soaked and preserved in alcohol. Each leg weighs 1 kg (2.2 pounds).
Part of the reason for the high price per chicken is that it can take 8 months to 1 year for a Dong Tao chick to mature. Typically chickens reach sexual maturity and begin laying eggs at 16 to 24 weeks.
Personality and Temperament.
Dong Tao Chickens look like they could tear you apart, but fortunately, as one breeder in Germany puts it, Dong Tao Chickens good-natured, with a calm temperament, and they develop trust with humans quickly and easily.
They can be cold-sensitive because it takes time for their full plumage to grow out, but once they have all of their feathers, they can manage fine walking around in the snow. They are sensitive when the weather changes.
Their knees are bent inward, which can seem awkward, but this seems to work to their advantage in balancing between their very large legs and very large feet.
In general, it’s not unusual for chickens to occasionally fly over fences, as high as 4 to 6 feet and sometimes even more. Normally this is in search of food, and they return to their coops after that. In spite of their tremendous bulk and size, Dong Tao Chickens can fly too, but not higher than 3-1/4 feet (1 meter).
Dong Tao Chicken Egg Laying
Dong Tao Chickens can be bred specifically for meat or for their eggs.
- Dong Tao hens are good mothers, are attentive to their eggs and sit on their brood much like other mother chickens normally do.
- However, with their large legs and feet, Dong Tao hens sitting on their brood can be a bit dangerous.
- Dong Tao hens lay 10-15 eggs for about 2-3 weeks, rest for a few weeks, and then do so again.
- This is less intensive than hens that are raised commercially for egg production, producing 180-300 eggs per year depending on climate.
- Dong Tao hens lay approximately 60 eggs per year.
- With scientific methodology, 70 eggs per year may be possible.
- Egg color is typically tinted white.
- Hatching can be a challenge. In smaller operations, breeders may manually assist hens in laying their eggs, so that with their big feet, they won’t accidentally crush the eggs. In larger operations, Dong Tao breeders often use incubators.
- Eggs can be shipped around the world to incubate, based on rules or restrictions that apply for each country.
- A Vietnamese farmer with 200 hens and 50 roosters said in a 2017 interview that he feeds Dong Tao Chickens rice and corn if he wants them to produce eggs.
Because of difficulties raising Dong Tao broody hens for their eggs, raising Dong Tao Chickens for meat is more common. However, Dong Tao chicken hatching eggs can be purchased in the United States for $51-$55 per half dozen.
Health Issues and Care
Dong Tao Chickens are usually considered healthy in spite of their unusual bulk but are known to be very sensitive to weather changes. Nevertheless, once a particular weather pattern settles in, such as cold weather or snow, they adjust very well.
Legs are stout but fragile.
Feeding and nutrition:
- Dong Tao Chickens like to dine on crickets, which is one of their favorite foods.
- They can also be raised in a free-range environment up to 1.5 years on a diet of natural bran.
- A research team recently came up with a nutritional formula suitable for Dong Tao Chickens which charts 8 materials to feed Dong Tao Chickens, along with the percentage for each ingredient, as best applicable to ages of the chickens in 4 categories of ages from 0-40 weeks. These ingredients include corn, rice bran, fish flour, bone flour, and a premix of vitamins and minerals.
Tips for Raising Dong Tao Chickens
A farmer in Vietnam 200 hens and 50 roosters named Do Quoch Vuong, interviewed in 2017 after raising Dong Tao Chickens for 10 years, said that a lot of his chickens became ill when he first started, but that he learned along the way to cure them of diseases and treat them well.
He stated that because he now knows how to predict and ensure their health going forward, is able to sell some of the chickens just after they are born.
Do Quoch Vuong described the raising process as quite complicated, including knowing when to give vaccinations to newly hatched Dong Tao Chickens. He said he releases them into the garden with other chickens when they are just over 2 pounds in weight, and at that point feeds them like regular chickens, and said he gives them a mixture of foods starting from when they are very small.
A farmer named Vu Ngoc Tuan has 400 pairs of breeding stock and supplies dozens of Dong Tao Chickens daily in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
A farmer named Le Quang Thang, known as a Dong Tao Chicken billionaire, has been developing a closed supply chain, production and distribution process to ensure sanitation and quality. He supplies up to 2 tons of Dong Tao Chickens annually. He sends standing orders to restaurants in Hung Yen, including Van Hanh Restaurant, which has become known for its Dong Tao Chicken dishes.
Many visitors are said to arrive from England, Continental Europe, Japan and the US, to import Dong Tao Chickens for research or breeding and marketing.
The cost of breeding stock can average $4-5 per chicken.A couple of pounds of Dong Tao Chicken meat can fetch $17-19.
Dong Tao Chickens have enormous heads, legs, and feet, and are very colorful. Once bred for royalty, they are now in popular demand but short supply, and require much longer to raise than other chickens, and produce fewer eggs. But the meat is considered one of the tastiest in the world, and the demand is becoming international.