Imported to America by Columbus on his second voyage of 1493, the Dominique may be the first chicken bred in America. Chickens with rose combs and barred plumage were officially recognised under the name Dominique in 1849 but originally the breed was a much smaller one. However, successive breeding has produced a larger bird which became extremely popular as a dual purpose farm breed in the late 1800s. The breed was first seen in the UK in 1870 but went into decline and was re-imported in 1984. In America, breed numbers diminished so much around 1970 that only 3 breeders remained until conservation efforts established a few flocks throughout the USA. There is still only a population of around 500 hens so the breed is listed as critical and in real danger of extinction. Dominiques are recognised by their rose combs and barred feather pattern. This comes from feathers which are crossed all along their length by irregular slate and light bars. They have distinctive yellow legs, 4 toes and bright red wattles. Males have a long sweeping tail while the hens are darker, smaller and are rounded with plump full breasts and high tails. The Dominique was a popular breed to cross with other hens and the Barred Plymouth Rock is a result of such a cross. The presence of the rose comb differentiates the Dominique from the Barred Plymouth Rock. The heavy plumage was used for making feather beds and pillows. There is a bantam version available.
The Dominique is a dual purpose breed, producing both eggs in good quantity and meat for the table. They are very hardy birds and are able to withstand very bad weather. The hens do go broody and are instinctively good mothers. Chicks hatch well, feather up quickly and are early maturing. Dominiques are excellent foragers and are therefore cheap to feed as they find their own food whilst free ranging. They are calm birds, happiest outside in the wild but they will adapt to being kept in large coops. Their barred plumage not only keeps them warm in winter but is good camouflage against predators. Cocks weigh 7lbs while the hens are 5lbs.
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