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The Dominique Chicken: Everything You Need To Know About America’s Oldest Chicken Breed

The Dominique Chicken: Everything You Need To Know About America’s Oldest Chicken Breed

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This truly American breed dates back to the Pioneer days when chickens were brought over from Europe by the first settlers. They were used for eggs, meat, and their attractive black and white barred feathers.

Is the Dominique chicken right for your flock?

  • The Dominique is the oldest chicken breed in America
  • They are a dual purpose fowl used for eggs, meat, and originally feathers too
  • Good choice for kids and beginners
  • Hardy in the heat and cold

Background and History

There is quite a bit of mystery and speculation surrounding the Dominique Chicken. Its name is thought to have originated from connections to birds that came from Saint-Dominique, a French Colony now known as Haiti.

The Dominique chicken is the oldest chicken breed in America and arrived with the early settlers from Europe. The exact history of the Dominique is unknown, as with many European chicken breeds.

Chickens with a barred feather pattern, which sported both single and rose combs, were commonly found in the Eastern United States from the mid-1700s. As poultry interest grew, so did the idea of creating some uniformity with a poultry breed, including the Dominique.

The New York Poultry Society decided in 1871 that only the rose-combed bird would be included in the Dominique breed standard. Birds with single combs were partitioned off as being part of the Plymouth Rock breed. 

In 1874, the Dominique chickens officially became recognized by The American Poultry Association and were given a Standard of Perfection.

The Dominique is now a heritage breed and has been called by a variety of different names. These names include – Old Grey Hen, Blue Spotted hen, Dominic, Dominicker, pilgrim fowl, and Dominico, but Dominique is the given name today.

Dominiques were never used as a commercial bird and remained popular until the 1920s when enthusiasts became few and far between. It was only due to the hardiness and easiness to keep of the fowl that they survived the Great Depression. After World War II, industrial poultry farming was taking hold in the United States, and again, the Dominique chickens went into decline.

By 1970 the Dominique bloodlines were close to extinction, with only four flocks remaining. These were owned by Edward Uber, Henry Miller, Carl Gallaher, and Robert Henderson. It was due to the dedication shown by these men that the breed survived.

A dedicated effort was made to publish articles about the Dominique by The Livestock Conservancy, and numbers increased steadily until 2006. Today they are again dwindling, and the birds have been placed on the watch list for being an endangered heritage chicken. Dominiques can be considered a rare breed and in need of help.

dominique chicken
Dominique hen, Photo credit: Cackle Hatchery

Temperament, Behavior, and Personality

A calm, gentle, docile bird, the Dominique is an easy-going, sweet breed of hen. These barred chickens are a pleasure to have in any backyard flock or farm, and are good choice for children. They will run away if chased, but by teaching children to sit quietly and wait for a few minutes, they will soon come willingly to them.

Once tamed, they can tolerate quite a lot of handling. However, they aren’t as docile as some other breeds, which means they don’t usually become lap chickens.

It can be amusing to watch them fly if they think you have a treat to offer, and they will often follow you around with interest hoping you have something tasty to give them.

The Dominique is a reasonably quiet bird and is unobtrusive. They don’t tend to pick fights with flock mates and mingle well with different breeds. They are suitable for keeping with other calm and docile breeds such as Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, or Polish Crested. More assertive breeds like the Rhode Island Red may bully passive breeds like the Dominique. 

Due to their hardiness, docility, and ability to either free-range or be kept confined, they also make an excellent choice for a beginner.

The Dominique rooster can sometimes be aggressive, particularly as youngsters towards each other or during mating season. Generally, they are not hostile towards the chicken keeper.

Many keepers find their Dominiques to be broody hens and good mothers. There are, however, mixed reviews about this, with some saying they very rarely go broody.

To discover why there were these two opposing opinions, some research was done. It seems that Dominiques coming from hatcheries don’t seem to get broody. So the question is, why? 

It appears from how hatcheries operate that somehow the broody gene is eliminated from the Dominique hen that hatcheries produce. With chickens raised in small backyard flocks, the gene remains intact.

Another finding was that hens tend to become more broody and better mothers in their second and subsequent years. To encourage broodiness, “fake” eggs should be left in the nest to encourage them to set.

Dominique Chicken Breed Specifics and Traits

The Dominique’s barred black/grey and white/cream plumage is also referred to as the “Cuckoo Pattern.” Only a rose comb that features a short upward point at the end is allowed.

A rose comb is preferable in colder climates, as it is less likely to suffer from frostbite. Dominiques also do well in hotter and humid locations when provided with an appropriate chicken coop to retreat from the sun and plenty of fresh, clean water

Female birds weigh in at around 5 lbs, while males average 7 lbs. There are also Bantam Dominiques, which are a miniature version, weighing approximately 26 oz for females and 28 oz for males.

The American Poultry Association first recognized bantam Dominique Chickens in 1960. Just like its larger version, it is also calm and docile and makes a good pet.

Historically not only were Dominiques used as a dual purpose breed to provide eggs and meat for their owners, but also giving feathers for pillows and mattresses. Due to their medium size, they tend not to be used as much as a dual-purpose bird today but are kept more for their friendly demeanor and egg-laying ability.

Due to their heritage, they are exceedingly good foragers. They will search eagerly for any tasty morsels, from bugs to seeds. It’s possible to reduce your feed bill considerably if you allow your flock to free-range, plus it helps increase the health of the birds.

dominique rooster
Dominique rooster, Photo Credit: The Livestock Conservancy

The Appearance of Dominique Chickens

The Dominique has tight feathering in a cuckoo or barred pattern that can sometimes be referred to as “hawk.”

The breed standard defines the plumage as slate. This refers to all parts of the fowl having dark and light bars that are not quite black or white. There must be no metallic sheen or brown tinge to the feathers.

Dominiques exhibit off-black and white markings that are transverse and irregular, unlike those seen on the Barred Rock chicken, which has straight, uniformed barring.

The Dominique has a rose comb that is close to the head. Their skin is yellow, and the ear lobes and wattles are red. The eyes are a bay red color.

The bird carries its head high and has a well-arched neck. Dominique roosters have a “u” shaped back with a broad body and long, full tail feathers held high. The female’s outline is more sloped and less upright than the males.

The Dominique chick is primarily dark grey/black with off-white wingtips, off-white rear underside, and an off-white dot on their heads.

They are auto-sexing and can be identified as either male or female after hatching. This is done by looking at the white head dot.

In females, the dot is small and concentrated, while it is larger and more diffused in males. A slight difference in leg color can sometimes be detected, with females having orangey-brown legs and males with dark yellowy-orange legs.

The Dominique Chicken: Everything You Need To Know About America’s Oldest Chicken Breed 1

Very occasionally, a white Dominique is produced. This is a genetic throwback and has almost been irradicated from the breed, but not entirely. White Dominiques are born as yellow chicks. They are not recognized in the breed standard.

Dominique Vs Barred Rock

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a Dominique chicken and a Plymouth Barred Rock at first glance, but there are subtle differences.

The easiest way to tell the difference is the Dominique chickens have a rose comb, while Barred Rocks have a single comb.

The Barred Rocks feathers consist of regular likes of black and white, while the Dominique has irregular lines which appear jagged or “V” shaped.

Barred plymouth rock chicken
Barred rocks have a single comb and distinct black and white barred plumage

Health and Ailments

A Dominique chicken will typically live for 6 to 8 years, depending on the conditions it is kept. They lay well for the first two years, but after this production will usually begin to fall year-on-year at a rate of approximately 10% per year.

Their rose comb is resistant to frostbite, and their close, dense feathers also protect them well from the cold.

As with any other breed, attention must be given to lice, mites, and worms, which will require a routine treatment regime to keep them at bay.

Dominique Eggs

Dominique hens have good egg production and will lay an average of 230 to 275 small to medium-sized eggs per year. The Dominique chicken egg is a light brown egg. Hens will usually start laying around 21 to 24 weeks.

The size of a Dominique egg has diminished due to inbreeding, and there is an effort to make them larger. To do this, Dominique hens that produce small eggs should not be used for breeding.

Overview

TypeDual-purpose, primarily for eggs
SizeMedium
Heritage BreedYes
Average WeightAverage Hen 5 lbs, Rooster 7 lbs
Weeks To Maturity 21 to 24 weeks
Average Life Span6 to 8 years
Color variationsCuckoo (black and white barred feathers)
Egg SizeSmall to medium
Egg ColorLight Brown 
Egg Production230 to 275 per year 
Dual Purpose Yes, but mostly used for eggs
TemperamentDocile, calm and friendly
Beginner FriendlyYes
Kid FriendlyYes
Heat TolerantYes if given shelter
Cold TolerantYes
Comb TypeRose
BroodinessCan be either broody or not broody
FlightinessCan fly, but poorly
Noise LevelMedium
Unique TraitsA combination of rose come and barred feathers

Buying Dominique Chicks and Hatching Eggs

It is possible to find Dominique chicks and hatching eggs or pullets (young mature hens that haven’t started laying eggs yet.) You can try looking on eBay, Amazon, a local breeder on Craigslist, or in local feed stores if they have an ads board.

One sure way to find yourself some is by going direct to a hatchery. Here are a few examples with prices.

Cackle Hatchery offers Dominique chicks starting at $2.60 each, with a minimum order of 3 chicks. They also sell Dominique bantam chicks for $3.55 each.

Cackle Hatchery is our preferred and recommended hatchery. While most hatcheries require orders of at least 25 chicks, you can buy as few as 3 chicks from Cackle. They are also highly rated on Google and have been in business since 1936. 

It’s always best to try and find a supplier that is close to you and collect your chicks, pullets, or fertile eggs in person. This will help to avoid losses during transportation.

Summary

The Dominique Chicken is America’s oldest breed. Its black and white barred plumage is referred to as cuckoo and makes the fowl less conspicuous to some aerial predators.

The only comb-type accepted for a Dominique is a rose comb. This is good for cold climates where frostbite can be a problem for birds with a large single comb.

They are calm, pleasant birds that can be used for egg and meat production, laying around 230 to 275 pale brown eggs per year and making an excellent backyard chicken.

FAQ

What is the difference between Barred Rock and Dominique chickens?

Dominiques exhibit off-black and white markings that are transverse and irregular, unlike those seen on the Barred Rock chicken, which has straight, uniformed barring

Are Dominique chickens good egg layers?

Dominique hens have good egg production and will lay an average of 230 to 275 small to medium-sized eggs per year. The Dominique chicken egg is a light brown egg.

What age do Dominique chickens lay eggs?

Dominique hens usually start laying around 21 to 24 weeks, or roughly 6 months old.

Are Dominique chickens good for meat?

Historically not only were Dominiques used as a dual purpose breed to provide eggs and meat for their owners, but also giving feathers for pillows and mattresses. Due to their medium size, they tend not to be used as much as a dual-purpose bird today but are kept more for their friendly demeanor and egg-laying ability.

Do Dominique hens go broody?

Many keepers find their Dominiques to be broody hens and good mothers. There are, however, mixed reviews about this, with some saying they very rarely go broody.

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