Dominique Chickens

We welcomed ten new Dominique hens into our flock this week.  These young pullets have just started laying and hopefully will give us some eggs throughout the winter months. 

Dominiques are also known as Dominickers or Pilgrim Fowl.  The latter is a historical reference to the breed that originated in America with the Pilgrims.  It is believed that the birds descended from chickens brought to America by the Pilgrims.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy gives the following information on their origin and history:

The Dominique chicken is recognized as America’s first chicken breed. The exact origin of the breed is unknown, although their initial creation may have involved European chicken breeds and later in its refinement, some Asian varieties. The name of “Dominique” may have come from birds that were imported from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today known as Haiti) and which are thought to have been used as part of the development of the Dominique breed.
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 eastern coast of the U.S. as the Dominique.

The Dominique was plentifully bred on American farms as early as the 1820’s, 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 the single combed Dominiques were relegated to and folded into the Plymouth Rock breed – popular 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 breed was officially admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.

The Dominique enjoyed popularity until the 1920’s at which time interest in the breed waned due to the passing of aged, long-time Dominique enthusiasts and breeders. The breed managed to survive during the Great Depression of the 1930’s due to its hardiness and ease of up-keep. By the end of World War II as industrial poultry operations began to take a foothold in the U.S., the Dominique once again experienced 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 ALBC, until 2006, Dominiques steadily rose in numbers. As of 2007, it has been observed by the breed’s enthusiasts that numbers are once again beginning to decline, as old time breeders of Dominique age and are no longer involved with keeping and promoting the breed.

The Dominique is a medium-sized black and white barred (otherwise known as “cuckoo” patterned) bird. The barred plumage coloration is also referred to as hawk-colored and serves the Dominique in making the bird 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, make this breed more resistant to frostbite than many other breeds of fowl. Dominiques are also known to adapt well to hot and 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.

 They are considered a dual purpose bird, raised for both their meat and the eggs that they lay. (The birds weigh approximately 6-8 pounds when mature and lay between 230-275 eggs a year)  In recent decades as the Cornish and Cornish X birds have set a new standard for meat birds and birds such as the Leghorn and Sex Link chickens have set a standard for egg producing birds, the Dominiques have been rejected.  At one time, they almost became extinct, but thanks to recent interest in heritage birds, they have made a come back and are no longer on the critically endangered list but are now listed on the "watch" list with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. 

Often confused with Barred Rocks, Dominiques are in fact different. The Dominique has a rose comb and the Barred Rocks have a single comb.

Rose Comb

Single Comb

(Illustrations courtesy of University of Illinois Extension)

Dominique photo courtesy of Harvest of History

Barred Rock photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Barred Rock has a more distinctive barred pattern in their plummage than the Dominiques.
Dominique hens are an easy going bird, good foragers, and tend to be good mothers.  They are  a welcome addition to our flock!

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