The Dominique is a classic American creation from colonial days that early chicken keepers crafted from just about every breed available to them. What exactly went into the mix is open for debate. Sussex, Dorking, and other favorite British breeds doubtlessly played a role. The Hamburg may also have had a major influence.
The Dominique was well known to Americans before 1750. The early 1800s saw its further development and rise in popularity in New England. By the mid-19th century, it had earned a place on countless farms in the eastern half of the country and had traveled west in covered wagons. The reason for the favored status of the Dominique was quite simple—it could thrive on little more than a handful of scratch grains and some table scraps, go out and rustle up the rest of its dinner, and yet provide a steady supply of eggs and meat, as well as feathers for stuffing pillows, comforters, and mattresses.
In the mid-1800s, poultry breeders used the Dominique to develop the Barred Plymouth Rock. In those days, the two breeds were nearly identical, and indeed the names were sometimes used interchangeably. To make matters worse, some poultry exhibitionists showed their chickens as both Dominiques and Plymouth Rocks to maximize the show points that they could garner! In 1870, the managers of a poultry show in New York decided to put an end to the confusion by labeling the rose-combed birds Dominiques and the single-combed birds Plymouth Rocks. It was a somewhat arbitrary distinction, and doubtless led to some Dominiques being absorbed into the Plymouth Rock breed. Nevertheless, it appeared to satisfy the poultrymen.
Unfortunately, the Dominique was already viewed as “old-fashioned” and slowly being rejected in favor of modern “improved” breeds. The Plymouth Rock was a heavier meat bird, while the prolific Leghorn was starting to gain in popularity for egg production. By the early 1900s, agricultural writers were pleading with farmers and poultrymen to rescue the Dominique from impending extinction.
Conservation efforts did not get underway until the mid-1900s. By that time, livestock preservationists could locate only a few dedicated breeders keeping a total of 110 hens. But with persistence and some incredible genetic planning, they brought the breed back from the brink of extinction and saved many of the historic bloodlines.
While still fairly rare today, the Dominique is once again holding its own in America thanks to renewed interest in sustainable small-scale agriculture and the heritage livestock breeds that fit so well into such systems. Several strains exist, including a bantam version, offering a variety of types to choose from to meet nearly every homesteader’s needs. Some hatcheries crossbreed their Dominiques with Barred Rocks in an effort to avoid inbreeding, but unfortunately they do not always make this clear, so let the buyer beware.
The Dominique is an excellent dual-purpose homestead breed, particularly for those who have a safe place where it can forage for its own food. It is a great layer and quite a satisfactory meat bird. Its calm temperament also makes it a good choice for show and for families with children.
Broodiness varies considerably by bloodline in this breed. Some Dominique hens have no broody instincts whatsoever, but those that do are typically excellent mothers.
The Dominique hen is active and energetic, but also calm, quiet, and friendly. She is easy to tame and handle, and is very tolerant of the antics of children. Just be prepared to be closely followed whenever you are outside, especially if you routinely feed treats! Also watch out for Dominique hens who are being bullied by other chickens, as this breed tends to rank lower in the pecking order.
The Dominique rooster can be aggressive. While he is usually more tolerant of people he is familiar with, a Dominque rooster is still probably not the safest choice for families with young children.
Like many old-fashioned breeds, the Dominique is typically healthy and hardy. It should present few difficulties even to a beginning chicken-keeper.
Of special interest, the Dominique is a particularly good choice for colder climates due to its small comb, known as a rose comb, which is resistant to frostbite.
- Suitability for beginners.
- Ease of differentiating male and female chicks (male chicks have yellow legs and diffuse head spots, while female chicks have darker, grayish legs and small, well-defined head spots).
- Excellent disposition in hens.
- Adaptability to the harshest climates, but particularly cold ones.
- Ability to thrive in either free-range or confinement settings.
- Barred color, which may provide camouflage from predators.
- Early maturity.
- Good egg production.
- Ability to lay well throughout the winter.
- Excellent mothering ability in hens with broody instincts.
- Fast growth.
- Nice proportion of white meat.
- Aggression in roosters.
- Variable broody instincts.
- Egg and meat production levels lower than those of single-purpose breeds.