Dominique Chickens: The First American Breed

Dominique chickens are considered the first truly American chicken breed. The first USDA publication in 1862 recognized the Dominique as the sole uniquely American breed at that time.

Their French-sounding name is misleading. Historically, the name may have come from the cuckoo chickens that came to the mainland from the Caribbean island of Dominica, which was colonized by the French. You may know them as Dominikers. That’s the Americanized name that they are often called.

The term ‘cuckoo’ refers to the irregular slate barring on their feathers. The black/slate varies in shade. Their barred feathers are similar in color to Barred Rocks. That color pattern may have provided protective camouflage for them when they found their own living by foraging in the barnyard. Dominiques are still good foragers.

Dominiques are the rock solid dual purpose bird, comfortable as roasters or fryers at 7 lbs. for mature cocks and 5 lbs. for mature hens, and steady, reliable layers of brown eggs. They lay well through the winter months. They are good broody hens and mothers who will raise their own chicks.

The males have long sickle feathers. Their bright yellow legs stand out. Getting the rose comb perfect is a challenge to breeders. It may lack the required spikes or the spikes may be misshapen. Tail angle in both males and females can be difficult to perfect. Dominique tails should stand at a jaunty 45-degree angle.

Those French cuckoo chickens may have provided the name but they were only a small part of the Dominique’s genetic background. Although their origins are clouded in history, the International Correspondence Schools Reference Library on Standard-Bred Poultry (1912) says they were plentiful in the United States by 1820 and were documented on Ohio farms by 1850. ICS cites Rose Comb White Dorkings and Black Javas as being among their forebears. Other 19th century writers, such as Lewis Wright in The Illustrated Book of Poultry (1890) credit the Rose-comb Cuckoo Dorking and the Scotch Grey, with Hamburgs influencing the comb. Harrison Weir in The Poultry Book (1912) cites the Dorking influence, but notes that Dominiques have only four toes and yellow, rather than white, shanks. He quotes T.F. McGrew’s opinion that Hamburgs had substantial influence.

By 1890, Wright noted that the Barred Plymouth Rock had replaced the Dominique on many farms. Dominiques were eclipsed by Rocks in the early 20th century and nearly disappeared with the rise of industrial poultry methods by mid-century. Dominiques rallied in the late 20th century under the influence of significant breeders but have since struggled. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy keeps the breed in the Watch category, with numbers declining since 2007.

The Dominique Club of America champions the breed’s interests. Thanks to Mark A. Fields for locating that original 1862 USDA document and posting the information on the DCA site.

Dominiques are a satisfying breed that will connect you to American history.