Of the many different chicken breeds available in the United States, the Dominique is perhaps the breed most shrouded in mystery about its origin. The Dominique is reported as being the earliest breed of chicken in US history. The barred black and white chickens were very common on US homesteads in the mid-1700s. The backyard chickens had both rose combs and single combs, which is probably how both the Barred Plymouth Rock and the Dominique came to exist.
Although there is no recorded evidence to trace the breed’s lineage, it likely began in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which is now known as Haiti. Settlers and traders during this time period could transport the chickens from the relatively short distance from Haiti to the US with ease. As more interest grew in breeding specific poultry breeds in the 1800s, the barred birds with single combs were included in the Barred Plymouth Rock breed, while the rose-combed birds were labeled as Dominiques, thus marking the main distinction between the two breeds.
After further refinement by selective breeding, the Dominique was admitted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1874. Although the Dominique was a popular breed on early American farms, it became overshadowed by the Barred Rocks and other heavier-bodied breeds that could provide more meat for families. By the 1920s, the Dominiques popularity began to decline drastically.
At first glance, the Dominique is almost indistinguishable from the Barred Rock. The rose comb is a requirement for the breed. Any Dominiques that develop anything other than a short rose comb with the classic upward spike at the end would not be true to breed standard. The barring pattern on the Dominique appears more closely spaced when compared to the barring on the Barred Rocks. The Dominique feathering is also smoother and held more closely to the body. Both the roosters and hens are smaller when compared to the Barred Rock.
Since it is a smaller-bodied breed, the Dominique’s main purpose now is for egg production. It is still listed as a dual-purpose breed as an homage to its original role on family farms, but since the development of our modern broiler industry and other laying breeds with heavier bodies, the Dominique is rarely used as a meat source. The Dominique hen can lay around 275 small to medium-sized light brown eggs. Hens weigh around 5 pounds and roosters 7 pounds. In the early days, the Dominiques’ feathers were used for pillow and mattress ticking, which gave the breed another important purpose on homesteads.
Because of its vague history, the Dominique is known by a few other names around the US; Dominicker, Dominic, and Dominico being the more popular. In fact, we sometimes hear the Dominicker name used even today.
The Dominique is an important breed to preserve as a part of our nation’s heritage. If you are interested in owning and maintaining a piece of American backyard flock history, consider keeping some Dominiques on your farm.
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