Poultry pals: on a chicken mission

A rare sight of Red Dorkings in their breeding paddock

A rare sight of Red Dorkings in their breeding paddock - Credit: Archant

Friends Grant Brereton and Andy Cawthray are both experienced poultrymen. They decided to hit the road and visit leading poultry people, from conservationists through to meat and egg producers

Andy and Nick with a Dorking male

Andy and Nick with a Dorking male - Credit: Archant

Grant and Andy’s first visit was to Nick Bohemia, a long-term poultry keeper and breeder of red Dorkings. Nick has been involved with poultry most of his life and even worked at the Domestic Fowl Trust in the 1980s.

Andy and Grant say:

“Our ‘Chicken Mission’ mission was to highlight the plight of many of these breeders/producers who are in a worrying minority. In many cases they are out their on their own with their individual causes and could do with some much-needed support. Many pure breeds were once ‘dual-purpose’ fowl created primarily to feed us, which many people seem to have forgotten. We all like the idea of some hens for eggs in the garden - and may feel we are helping by keeping pure breeds - but someone has to produce them and maintain the standards by which they are measured. After all, it’s part of our agricultural heritage...

Grant said

“Not many people have the same dedication, passion and goals for their poultry as Nick. He has chosen a particularly difficult breed in the red Dorking - the original Dorking colour and probably Britain’s oldest breed - and is doing sterling work with his flock. As this is a dual-purpose breed, he has his work cut out, and has worked very hard over many years in striving to produce the kind of birds that live up to the breed standard and also produce well and have good, fleshy carcasses.

“One of the problems is the distinct lack of other breeders of the red Dorking and hence a shortage of fresh bloodlines to work with. Nick’s aim is to get more people interested in this fascinating and very rare British breed and spread stock around. He also keeps dark and white Dorkings in large fowl, but doesn’t intend to get distracted by any additional colours as he’s well aware that more colours means more space, which for all of us comes at a premium.

Grant with one of Nick's Red Dorking hens

Grant with one of Nick's Red Dorking hens - Credit: Archant

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“Whilst Nick has a bit of diversity in his stock, he showed us the kind of birds he’s aiming to produce more of, and they were very impressive size-wise. His birds displayed that wonderful ‘Dorking type’ that is becoming rarer these days: the short legs, long rectangular bodies and straight keel bones in many birds suggested that

he’s definitely on the right track, although he believes he has a way to go.”

Andy said

“It’s always a pleasure to meet up with other poultry keepers and breeders and wile away a few hours chatting about chickens. It is, however, an absolute honour to be invited to see their set-up and birds, and this was most definitely the case when visiting Nick Bohemia.

“Poultry breeding can be hard work - particularly if you are breeding with a specific conservation or exhibition end game in mind. Nick’s poultry-keeping certainly falls into this labour of love category and this was evident as soon as he met us at the gate. His focus is the Dorking and whilst there were one or two other characters wandering around, when it comes to chickens it’s the Dorking for him.

“The energy and enthusiasm he expresses when talking about the Dorking fowl is as impressive as his depth of knowledge on the history of this ancient breed, but he really does do it for the love of it. Specialising in a single breed of chicken, and particularly a heavy table breed like the Dorking, takes strength of character and determination. This isn’t a popular breed of chicken despite its long association with this country, and Nick is amongst only a handful of serious breeders that are focused on it.

“Nick has to give away most of his surplus stock and has only sold a handful (even then barely getting the money it had cost to rear them) and yet he still presses on with his objective of conserving and improving the breed.

“Single breed specialists are always enthusiasts, but I for one hope the infectious passion and dedication Nick shows for the Dorking begins to rub off on more people, as this ancient British breed is in need of as much help as it can get.”

What Nick says

Nick Bohemia lives with his partner Miles in rural Herefordshire. They keep Dorking chickens, Manx Loaghtan sheep and Hook Bill ducks on their smallholding. He has been keeping poultry since 1982, and started specialising with the Dorking seven years ago. He has won prizes at several leading shows, including the Poultry Club of Great Britain National Show.

He said: “As a boy looking in old poultry books, I was captivated by the painted images of these magnificent birds and I became the proud owner of my first trio of Dorking chickens shortly afterwards. On our smallholding, the Dorkings provide us with ample food and allow me to pursue my interest in poultry breeding. I particularly enjoy the idea of conserving one of our ancient breeds, something that smallholders are ideally placed to do. Exhibiting my Dorkings is also a lot of fun and I try to ignore fashions and breed according to the standard, written when the Dorking was an important farm bird.”

Nick can be contacted at: nick@thelittlesheep.co.uk