The Dominique chicken is recognized as America’s first chicken breed. Their exact origins are unknown, but their initial creation may have involved European fowl and later Asian varieties during its refinement. The name “Dominique” may come from birds that were imported from the French colony of modern-day Haiti and were possibly used as part of the development of the Dominique.
Barred chickens with both rose combs and single combs were somewhat common in the eastern United States as early as 1750. As interest in poultry breeding increased, attention was given to develop uniformity in chicken breeds. Early names of these fowl include Blue Spotted Hen, Old Grey Hen, Dominico, Dominic, and Dominicker. The breed was widely known on the east coast as the Dominique.
The Dominique was bred plentifully on American farms as early as the 1820s, where these birds were a popular dual-purpose fowl. In 1871, the New York Poultry Society decided that only the rose-combed Dominique would become the standard for the breed, and single-combed Dominiques were folded into the Plymouth Rock breed – a popular breed in New England, created by crossing large, single comb Dominiques with Java chickens. Dominiques were never used commercially, and the breed was eventually eclipsed on the farm by the gradual shift to the larger Plymouth Rocks. In 1874 the Dominique was officially admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.
The breed enjoyed popularity until the 1920s when interest in them waned due to the passing of long-time Dominique enthusiasts and breeders. The breed managed to survive during the Great Depression due to its hardiness and ease of upkeep, but as industrial poultry operations took a foothold in the U.S. after World War II, the Dominique again experienced a decline. By 1970, only 4 known flocks remained, held by: Henry Miller, Edward Uber, Robert Henderson, and Carl Gallaher.
Through the effort of dedicated individuals, the remaining owners were contacted and convinced to participate in a breed rescue. From 1983, following published reports on the breed by The Livestock Conservancy, until 2006, Dominiques steadily rose in numbers. As of 2007, the breed’s enthusiasts have reported that numbers are once again beginning to decline as old-time breeders are no longer involved with keeping and promoting the breed.
The Dominique is a medium-sized black and white barred bird, also known as “cuckoo” patterned. The barred plumage coloration is also referred to as hawk-colored and serves the Dominique in making it less conspicuous to predators. The Dominique sports a rose comb with a short upward curving spike that is characteristic to this breed. The males average seven pounds and the females five pounds. The Dominique’s tightly arranged plumage, combined with the low profile of the rose comb, makes the breed more resistant to frostbite than many other breeds of fowl. Dominiques are can also adapt well to hot, humid climates. Historically, the close feathering of this breed not only protected the birds in cold weather, but provided ample material for the pillows and featherbeds of their owners.
Dominiques carry their heads high up on well-arched necks. The males of the breed have an almost “u” shaped back outline. Their body is broad and full with long and full tail feathers that are held the highest of the American breeds. Females have back outlines that slope from head to tail. Although categorized as a dual-purpose breed, these birds are first and foremost egg producers with hens historically averaging 230 to 275 small to medium-sized brown eggs.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.