Many believe that the Dominique chicken is America’s oldest breed of chicken. The breed was brought to the new world by the settlers and attributed to helping them survive the first brutal years of when the United States was colonized.
The Dominique chicken truly a multi-purpose breed in that they were not only a dual-purpose chicken—providing both meat and eggs—their feathers were also used to stuff pillows and mattresses.
Unlike many of the breeds we see today, the Dominique chicken was in no way or manner spoiled. They had to provide for themselves, surviving on what they found when they free range.
History Of The Dominique Chicken Breed
Over the centuries, many theories have developed as to the origins of the Dominique breed of chicken. As their original name was Pilgrim Fowl, the most popular theory is that they came to American with the original Pilgrims.
However, there are also rumors that the breed originated from Saint Dominque, a French colony in Haiti. From this story is the derived name of Dominicker. The breed has also been known by many other names through the centuries, such as Old Grey Hen, Blue Spotted Hen, Pilgrim Fowl, Dominic, and Dominicker.
With all this said, it is a sure bet we will never know the lineage or the exact origin of the breed. However, what we can say with confidence is that this hardy bird that foraged for its very existence was undeniably indispensable to the early settlers of this nation.
As it was known to the settlers of the 1750s, we also understand that the Dominique breed is indisputably the oldest breed in America.
The comb of the original Dominique breed of chicken was both the single comb and the rose comb. Back in that time, standards were not really paid that much attention to. It was the decision of the New York Poultry Society that the comb was to be rose and, as such, set about creating a standard for the breed.
During its lifetime, the Dominique breed of chicken’s popularity has ranged from periods of extreme popularity all the way to periods nearing extinction.
The Dominique chickens first recorded decline was in the 1920s—where it was able to survive both the Great Depression as well as the 1st World War. Because the breed was both hardy and thrifty, many of those with smaller flocks kept them.
A second crisis occurred with the mechanization and industrialization of the poultry industry. Like many other breeds of that time, the Dominique was quickly deemed not productive enough to benefit the commercial sector. As a result, a slow yet steady decline of the breed began
There were only four breeding flocks for the Dominque known to be in existence by the 1970s. In an effort to save the Dominique breed, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy worked to convince flock owners of the importance of participating in their breeding program.
With today’s renewed interest in the Dominique breed, their endangered status has been downgraded and classified as “watched.” With the breed now seen as a viable homestead bird, their numbers are steadily rising.
Appearance Of The Dominique Chicken
When once look to determine if a chicken is of the Dominique breed or the Barred Rock breed—its all in the eye.
The foremost and primary tell between the two breeds is that of the comb. Barred Rocks typically present with a single upright comb. Whereas the Dominique has a flattened cushion comb, referred to as a rose comb.
The rose comb is significantly beneficial in those colder Northern climates as it has the ability to resist the chances of developing frostbite more effectively. A rose comb will also present with a leader, which is a backward-facing spike on the combs back end.
The second distinction between the two breeds is the barring. Barred Rocks typically present with a crisp black and white barring, with a significant contrast of both the black and the white.
Whereas, with the Dominique, the barring presents with a more staggered, cuckoo appearance. The contrast is minimal between the black and white, with the feathers giving the appearance of black/slate and the white being more of a white/off white.
The Dominique breeds comb, wattles, and earlobes all carry a red coloring, which indicates that they are a layer of brown eggs.
They have a yellow/horn-colored beak, which is not only short but also quite stout. The eyes are a color of reddish bay.
A somewhat well-rounded bird, the Dominique is of a medium length as well as being moderately broad. Their back is slightly concave and rises upward to the tail, which they typically carry at a 45-degree angle.
Although typically neatly folded against their body, their wings are somewhat large. The breast is both full and round.
As for the males, they present with well-curved hackles, saddles, and sickle feathers. Their legs are yellow in color, clean feathered, and both short and stout. They will have four toes on each foot.
Dominique Chicken Breed Standards
There was no agreed-upon or written standard for the Dominique breed before 1870. Because of the uncertainty that existed regarding the breed it had not been determined what was required to make a “good” Dominique.
Many birds that were referred to as Dominiques at that time had not only presented with single combs but several other impurities that were associated with the breed we know as Dominiques today.
By the end of the 1870s, the New York Poultry Society made the decision that the confusion over the breed needed to be cleared up once and for all. At that time, the standard was established that to consider them Dominiques, the bird would be required to carry a rose comb. Others would then be considered as Plymouth Rocks.
Simply put—if the comb was rose, it was a Dominique—if it was a single comb, it was a Barred Rock.
As it happened, the standard was redrawn several times, as the comb specification proved to cause a significant uproar amongst breeders at the time. Then, in 1914, all reached an agreement, and The New York Poultry Society put a standard into effect that all involved were able to live with.
Dominique Chicken Temperament
The Dominique breed of chicken is a true delight—gentle, calm, sweet, and docile. Many flock owners, if asked, would sing the praises of the personality on these little birds.
They are friendly to the point that it would not be unusual for them to follow you around. This friendliness starts at a very early age, as the chicks are significantly friendly as well.
Although if they had their choice, Dominiques would prefer to have the ability to forage and free-range, they also handle confinement quite well. Although not typically aggressive, the roosters will take an aggressive attitude regarding their hens during the mating season.
The Dominique breed presents as a nice-sized bird. The males, when fully grown, typically weigh around seven pounds, whereas the hens will weigh around five pounds.
There is also a bantam breed of Dominiques that, as a rule, sees the males weighing 28 ounces and the females weighing 26 ounces.
Egg Production and Broodiness
The Dominique breed can lay up to 4 eggs a week, which equals out to anywhere between 230-270 eggs a year. Their eggs laid are light brown in color and medium in size.
Dominiques are known to go broody occasionally. However, they assuredly went broody in colonial times because logic would dictate that they would not have survived and endured to modern times.
Even though they are not known to go broody often, Dominique hens are very attentive to their chicks and make great mothers. Because of this attentiveness, they have a significantly high rate of survival for the chicks that they raise.
The Dominique breeds chicks are auto-sexing, which makes them easy to determine if they are male or female upon hatching.
When distinguishing the sex of the chicks, it depends on the white spots located on their heads. The females will present with small and concentrated spots, while the males will be scattered and diffuse.
Another method of distinction between the sexes is with the legs. The males will present with a dark yellow/orange color, whereas the females will have burnt orange/brownish legs.
It is essential to know that distinction by way of leg color is typically not as reliable as that of the head spots, mainly when applied to the different strain of birds.
Issues Known To Dominique Chickens
As with most any breed of chicken, illness with occur. However, Dominiques are typically known to have the significant ability to withstand even the worst environmental conditions. With its rose comb, they usually do not suffer from frostbite.
However, like all breeds, they are susceptible to those parasites, including mites and lice.
Although they are not typically susceptible to most diseases, that is not to say that they can’t contract those diseases that are known to be bird-related.
Are Dominique Chickens A Good Choice For You?
If you find yourself looking for a new breed to add to your existing flock, or to start your flock with, the Dominique breed is an excellent choice.
The breed is both gentle and non-aggressive and very good around children. Although they are not going to be a “lap chicken,” they seem to tolerate being picked up and carried quite well.
Because of their gentle and calm manner, Dominiques typically fall victim to being bullied. If you have a bully in your flock, or you notice some bullying going on towards your Dominique, it is best to handle the situation right away and separate the birds for a while.
For Dominiques to truly thrive, they would be better served to be introduced and kept with other like-minded, docile breeds—such as Cochins, Polish, or Orpingtons.
The Dominiques are not only self-sufficient but one of the lower maintenance members of the fowl family. This low maintenance and self-sufficiency make them one of the best choices for those first-time flock owners. Then, there is the fact that they grow somewhat quickly.
Because of their calm personalities and attitudes of tolerance, Dominiques make excellent show birds. They are often the choice of for younger farmers or those in a 4H project.
The Take Away On Dominique Chickens
Even with the increased interest in the Dominique breed and the bird’s increased breeding, their numbers remain very low worldwide.
With their calm, docile, and friendly temperament, they are quickly becoming the domesticated breed to own by homesteaders, farmers, and backyard flock keepers.
They are hardy and durable little birds with their long life span, typically eight years or more.
Dominiques are a quiet breed and make great additions for those that live in either a rural or suburban setting.
Not only do they provide delicious eggs they are also a dual-purpose breed.
As interest increases in moving toward a homestead lifestyle coupled with self-sufficiency, the Dominique breed is an excellent choice for these situations.
They are known to be aggressive foragers, providing the majority of their own food. They are one of the lowest maintenance breeds and are capable of providing nutritious eggs for the entire family.