Dominiques are considered the first American breed. Their French-sounding name hasn’t always caught on with those who are otherwise devoted to them. Your grandmother may have called them her Dominikers. Historically, the name may be traceable to chickens, probably old French Cuckoos imported from Dominica. They may have provided the name but only a small part of the Dominique’s genetic background.
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. They lay brown eggs.
Their slate-barred feathers are the color pattern known in other breeds as cuckoo. 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.
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 (1880), credit the Rose-comb Cuckoo Dorking and the Scotch Grey, with the comb of a Hamburg. 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.
SPPA president Craig Russell credits Cuckoo Dorkings and Hamburgs with giving rise to the Dominiques, with the yellow skin and legs coming from Javas in the 19th century.
Their barred feathers are similar in color to Barred Rocks. The black/slate varies in shade, and the barring is irregular. The males have longer 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. This flock of Dominiques belongs to Bryan Oliver, SPPA member who is also secretary of the Dominique Club of America, http://www.dominiquechickens.org/, who took the photo.
Kansas breeder and SPPA vice president Monte Bowen says, “The Dominicker is a bird that lays very well. I can depend upon eggs from those girls when nothing else on the place is laying. They lay well all through the winter, and will go broody sooner than the other breeds. I encourage broodiness in the birds and let them set when and where they want. I find I can move a broody hen to a quieter spot with no trouble. They will stay on a nest and do a marvelous job of raising their young. They are calm, gentle setters and are not hazardous to the health of the keeper. They squawk and ruffle up when I check the nest, but never peck. Once the chicks arrive, they become a bit more territorial, but I also encourage that in the birds. A hen that won’t protect her clutch is not worth too much.”