Many years of careful, repeated selective breeding have produced unique chicken breeds, such as birds with vibrantly colored plumage, funky hairdos, and even feathered feet!
Perhaps one of the most unusual and rare breeds yet is the Dong Tao chicken, with its bizarrely bulky legs looking like something out of a science fiction film.
Dong Tao is a rare, expensive chicken breed mainly raised for food in Vietnam. In particular, it is prized for its enlarged, bulky legs, which contain large amounts of meat. The Dong Tao chicken’s leg meat has long been considered a delicacy in Vietnamese cuisine.
Keep reading to learn more about this wonderful breed of chicken, its royal background, and why it’s so special (and expensive)!
What Are Dong Tao Chickens?
The Dong Tao is a rare and expensive chicken breed originating in Vietnam. It is mainly kept and bred for its unusually large, bulky, meaty legs, considered a delicacy in Vietnamese cuisine.
If you’ve never seen a Dong Tao chicken before, you’d be forgiven for thinking its massive legs were some type of painful deformity or perhaps even caused by a rare illness.
These “Dragon chickens” have been selectively bred for their huge legs for many years, as they have long been viewed as a tasty, rare, pricey delicacy in Vietnam’s culture.
Despite their painful and bizarre appearance, these famously enlarged, dinosaur-like legs don’t cause the birds any pain or significant discomfort.
The Dong Tao is largely considered healthy and reasonably hardy with no significant health issues, though it is somewhat sensitive to cold temperatures.
The birds’ plumage colors vary significantly, though they are uniformly huge birds, often reaching weights of 10 to 12 pounds or more.
See more large chickens in our list with pictures at the link.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of details about the Dong Tao breed’s lengthy history.
We do know it likely goes back hundreds of years and was named after the Dong Tao village in Hanoi, where it originated.
Originally, Dong Tao birds were extremely expensive and only available to wealthy royals and mandarin bureaucrats.
They are still quite pricey and rare today, as even a single fully-grown bird often costs well over $1,000.
Hatchlings and chicks are usually much less expensive but also much rarer to find, and raising them for food is a prolonged, tedious, costly process.
Where Are Dong Tao Chickens From?
The Dong Tao breed hails from the rural Dong Tao village in the Khoai Chau district, just outside Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s unknown how long the birds have been around, but they were initially only made available to Vietnam’s wealthy royal family.
The Dong Tao village is well-known for this particular chicken breed and still is the main area producing and raising the birds to this day.
Dong Tao, as a breed, has likely existed for many hundreds (potentially thousands!) of years.
The trait for the chickens’ enlarged legs likely first originated with a random genetic mutation, then carried on to future generations via careful, repeated selective breeding.
Keeping and breeding Dong Tao chickens is a very slow, careful process.
The birds must receive a specific diet and live in a temperature-controlled environment.
They aren’t often exported out of Vietnam or raised elsewhere.
In addition to being valued for their leg and foot meat, they’ve also been used as a ritual offering, though this practice has largely died out.
Today, Dong Tao chicken legs and feet are still a costly delicacy, and they are primarily sold at restaurants and markets aimed at wealthy elites.
Occasionally, hobby farmers outside of Vietnam will purchase and raise the birds as pets or show birds, but this is rare due to the breed’s rarity, tricky care requirements, and cost.
Why Are Dong Tao Chicken Legs So Big?
Dong Tao chickens’ legs are significant due to selective breeding over hundreds of years. The trait for their enlarged, red legs likely originated with a genetic mutation, then reproduced in future generations via selective breeding and raising the birds in particular conditions.
Due to this unique breed’s messy history, it’s impossible to know precisely where the first Dong Tao chicken originated or what caused them to have such bizarre-looking legs.
The breed was likely produced via crossbreeding of other local species, which at some point produced a bird with a random genetic mutation causing slightly enlarged legs and feet–though probably not nearly as large as those of today’s Dong Tao chickens.
Because chicken legs and feet have been used so frequently in Vietnamese cuisine for many years, Vietnamese chicken breeders likely saw a lot of potential in raising chickens with enlarged legs.
From there, birds with larger legs were bred with each other, gradually producing birds with larger and larger legs and feet over the next few hundred years or so.
These particular Dong Tao chickens were given their distinct breed designation in time.
They were named after the Dong Tao village in which the breed was first developed and continues to thrive to this day.
In recent years, chicken breeders have developed ways to make the birds’ legs and feet larger and vibrant red.
These include feeding them a diet full of natural bran and raising them in clean, free-range, temperature-controlled conditions to prevent damage to their legs and feet.
Are Dong Tao Chickens Deformed?
Today, Dong Tao chickens are not considered “deformed.” Their large, red legs and feet are part of their breed standard. However, the original Dong Tao chickens likely had slightly enlarged legs due to a random genetic mutation.
Despite how strange and perhaps even a bit stomach-churning the average Dong Tao’s legs and feet look, they don’t look this way due to a deformity but rather human intervention.
Vietnamese chicken breeders highly value this trait!
The larger and redder the legs, the better, as larger legs mean more delicious meat!
If we go way back to this expensive breed’s confusing history, though, the first birds used in the breed’s development probably did have some kind of genetic mutation or variation, which gave them larger legs and feet.
As we touched on earlier, Vietnamese cuisine has traditionally heavily used chicken legs and feet in various dishes.
Breeders likely saw the value in raising chickens with larger-than-usual feet and legs, so they selectively bred them to further develop the breed and make the trait more pronounced.
Today, Dong Tao chickens’ legs are larger and redder than ever thanks to this repeated breeding, but they’re not “deformed.”
It’s simply how the breed has been designed to look.
Think of it like the iconic Silkie breed’s bizarrely fuzzy plumage.
Initially, it was caused by a genetic mutation.
However, the trait proved desirable in an exhibition context, so breeders ensured it carried on to future generations.
Nowadays, said trait is a prized and vital component of the breed’s standard rather than a one-off fluke of nature.
Why Are Dong Tao Chickens So Expensive?
Dong Tao chickens are expensive due to their massive legs and how challenging and time-consuming they are to raise. They mature very slowly, must be kept in pretty specific conditions to thrive, and there aren’t many breeders producing them outside of Vietnam.
While it is possible to find Dong Tao eggs or even chicks for as little as $10 to $20 each, this is extremely rare outside Vietnam’s Dong Tao village.
Still, this price is deceiving and doesn’t include the future cost of raising and caring for the bird.
Dong Tao eggs must be hatched in an incubator.
Because Dong Tao hens’ legs are so massive and heavy, they often crush their eggs when sitting on them!
On average, it’s common for a single fully-grown Dong Tao chicken to cost upwards of $1,000.
Breeding pairs are sometimes slightly less expensive at around $1,500 to $2,000 per pair.
Though this price sounds absurd, it’s justified.
Raising Dong Tao chickens is costly, time-consuming, and requires a lot of planning and careful attention.
Their legs are sensitive to cold weather and damage from wire cages, for starters.
Because they are huge birds in general, they need a lot of space to roam freely (and stretch their legs, so to speak).
Dong Tao chickens must live in a free-range setting and eat a specific, highly nutritious diet with lots of natural bran to keep their legs healthy and strong.
Additionally, they grow and mature extremely slowly.
Compared to typical broilers and other chicken breeds commonly raised for their meat, Dong Tao chickens take significantly longer to raise from birth to full size.
It is common for average Dong Tao birds to continue growing well after 8 months of age and not reach their full size until 1 year or older.
Do Dong Tao Chickens Lay Eggs?
Dong Tao hens do lay eggs, but they are very inconsistent layers. They aren’t often kept solely for egg production, as their eggs must be collected immediately to prevent the birds’ legs from crushing and breaking them. On average, Dong Tao hens lay only around 50 to 100 eggs per year.
Although these unique birds do technically lay eggs, you won’t find many farmers keeping them for anything other than their meaty legs.
On top of being infrequent, inconsistent layers, it’s very common for Dong Tao hens to accidentally crush their eggs with their clumsy, enlarged feet and overall heavy body weight.
As we touched on earlier, this is also part of why breeding additional Dong Tao birds is so difficult.
Fertilized eggs must be collected quickly, immediately placed in an incubator, and then kept in temperature-controlled conditions and closely monitored to hatch.
Additionally, Dong Tao birds grow and mature more slowly than most other breeds.
It simply doesn’t make much sense to raise them for their eggs when there are so many other breeds of chicken that lay more often, more reliably, and better, larger eggs in general.