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Dong Tao Chicken Breed Guide

There are many unique breeds of chicken out there, but few are as eye-catching as the Vietnamese Dong Tao. With an unusual appearance and cultural importance, the Dong Tao is certainly a breed worth knowing about. That said, due to their price and popularity, getting your hands on a Dong Tao for your flock might be a wild goose chase.

Everything you need to know about the Dong Tao chicken is coming up in this breed guide, including what these chickens look like, how they behave, and more.

dong tao chick
Photo credit: Flickr

What is a Dong Tao Chicken?

Also known as Dragon chickens or Ga Dong Tao, this super rare breed was once bred solely for royalty as a ritual offering. These days Dong Tao chickens are used for creating meals at luxury restaurants, because their meat is incredibly delicious. However, these chickens are also raised for their eggs and companionship throughout Vietnam and the Philippines.

Dong Tao chickens originated in the Khoai Chau district of Dong Tao, which is about 18 miles from Hanoi. Hoa Lu, the old capital of Vietnam, is also close by. It was the Mandarin royals from long ago who decided on the name of the Dong Tao breed.

But what makes the Dong Tao so rare and coveted? One look at the bird and you will realize that it’s all in the legs. Yes, these chickens are large and have massive, dragon-like feet. They look a little intimidating, to be honest.

Physical Characteristics of a Dong Tao Chicken

dong tao roosters
Photo credit: Flickr

Although the feet of a Dong Tao chicken are the defining feature, they also look unique when compared to more common breeds. Dong Tao roosters are full of color, as they have red, green, and black plumage. Hens are predominantly white, though it isn’t uncommon to see them mottled with light brown. Because of this, distinguishing between a male and female Dong Tao is no issue.

Regardless of gender, all Dragon chickens have reddish combs and wattles. Their skin is also a combination of pink, red, and white, and you may see this on their feet.

These birds are not sex-linked. All chicks are white with black wings.

Considering their shape, you will notice that no other breed of chicken stands quite like a Dong Tao. This may be due to their more reptilian heads that are completely red.

Personality and Temperament of Dong Tao Chickens

Despite their imposing stance and dragon-like appearance, Dong Tao chickens are calm and affable. They would much rather be your friend than your dinner, and they will prove that to you by standing or laying in your hands and cuddling. When foraging, which they are good at doing, these birds have a playful side. They do not bully much, but they do enjoy a good game of tag with other chickens.

Dong Tao roosters, on the other hand, can become aggressive whenever they feel their flock is endangered. If you have any other roosters in the yard, it is possible they will fight one another. That said, as long as the environment is peaceful and safe, even Dong Tao roosters will enjoy accompanying you around the yard.

They are not the best for confinement. Their size demands that they get plenty of exercise, so feel free to let them free range when possible.

Dong Tao Chicken Egg Production

Sure, Dong Tao chickens can be used for eggs, but they are rarely seen as productive. Dong Tao hens are not particularly broody. In fact, they want very little to do with their eggs once they hatch, which is why human intervention is often needed to hatch Dong Tao chickens. Even if these chickens were broody, though, their large feet would endanger the eggs.

Additionally, Dong Tao hens are not prolific egg-layers. The average amount of eggs annually is 60.

Obviously, if you are looking for fresh eggs throughout the year, this is not a breed you would want. You also can’t ignore that, due to temperature sensitivity, hens will cease laying eggs as soon as they are uncomfortable.

If you want to purchase a clutch of Dong Tao eggs to try hatching them, it will cost you around $55 for 6 eggs.

Raising and Caring For Dong Tao Chickens

When raised and cared for properly, a Dong Tao has a lifespan of 6-7 years, though they can live longer. At full size, Dong Tao chickens weigh between 10-13 pounds. However, they do not reach this size quickly. Dong Tao chickens often take 8-12 months to fully mature.

As with most large chicken breeds, Dong Tao chickens need a high percentage of protein in their diet. If you plan on bringing some Dong Tao chicks home, be prepared to combine a premium quality chicken feed with free ranging, as these chickens prefer to roam.

Many chicken farmers in Vietnam give their Dragon chickens a mixture of crickets, rice bran, bone flour, chicken grit, and a mixture of vitamins and minerals. In order to produce the most flavorful meat, a lot of research has gone into the adequate diet for these birds. In fact, some breeders and farmers like Giang Tuan Vu, who was interviewed for his expertise at raising Dong Tao chickens, have been perfecting the best ways to eliminate diseases in these birds for more than 20 years.

Health Issues with Dong Tao Chickens

Despite being so bulky and clumsy, Dong Tao chickens are usually in good health. Their energy levels and egg production will drop during the colder months, since they are vulnerable during temperature changes.

You may also assume that their strong-looking dragon legs give them added durability, but they are fragile. This is because they cannot move as agilely as other breeds.

Also, this breed needs the proper care. Breeders and chicken farmers in Vietnam often specialize in Dong Tao care, because it is a demanding job. Without proper nutrition, medication, and attention, the Dong Tao can fall prey to injuries and illnesses.

As you can imagine, this does not help the rarity or price tag of this breed.

Why Are Dong Tao Chickens So Expensive?

Having read all this information about Dong Tao chickens, you may be wondering why these birds are so expensive. First, the history of Dong Tao chickens makes them popular among the masses. Second, they require quite a bit of maintenance when being raised, driving up the cost of labor. These birds, despite their size, are rather susceptible to temperature changes.

You also can’t overlook their legs. Besides their aromatic meat that is used in all kinds of cooking, the legs of a Dong Tao are said to be delicious. Dong Tao legs are indeed a delicacy in Vietnam.

Compound this with the breed’s overall clumsiness due to oversized eggs, a lack of broodiness, delicate eggs, and a slow growth rate. It is no wonder these birds sell at $2,500 for a pair. To this day, only those with money can afford to sup on Dong Tao meat.

However, Dong Tao chickens are not the most expensive breed in the world. That title is held by the Ayam Cemani, an Indonesian breed. Both breeds are extremely difficult to acquire, but you may have better luck seizing a Dong Tao for your flock.

Final Thoughts

Once a coveted gem of the aristocracy, the Dragon-Footed Dong Tao chicken is now a prized Vietnamese bird used in all kinds of cooking. This breed is among the rarest, and it has a unique look to match. With a dragon-like appearance and massive legs and feet, it is no wonder the Dong Tao has left a footprint on Vietnamese culture. Hopefully, in the future, the Dong Tao breed will be less expensive and more accessible to those who would love to have this breed as a part of their flock!