America's Oldest Breed of Livestock

Foraging Traits

First, a sweeping generality: The Dominiques being produced by the hatcheries are not the same birds we are maintaining in our flocks. The economic pressures of producing saleable chicks has resulted in culling birds which exhibit behavior contrary to what is needed in fertile egg production.

Sadly, several individuals have contacted me complaining that the Dominiques they purchased from hatcheries won’t set and don’t forage. In contast, as of this writing (May 8, 2001) 37% of my large fowl and 80% (yes, 80%) of the bantams are broody. However, I digress.

The foraging nature of the Dominique can be seen at an early age. In our brooder house we have nothing except the feed trough, a waterer and roosts. The Brahmas rarely wonder from the house, however when the trap door is opened the procession is usually in this order: Golden Spangled Hamburgs, then Anconas and last are the Dominiques of both sizes.

Within a few minutes the Dominiques are scattered around the pen searching for bugs and interesting tid-bits that have fallen from the trees. The Hamburgs are busy sparing and the Anconas are under the gooseberries at the corner of the building scratching. After raising several breeds together one has an appreciation for the variation in the nature of the birds.

While still on the big farm, the growing Dominiques had a very large brooding pen. About the time the males started crowing, they began venturing over the fence and into the yard, pasture and barn lot. During the summer and fall we have fed as many as 100 birds on less then 5 pounds of feed a day. How? Simply put, the Dominiques prefer weed seeds, fallen fruit, bugs and other “forage” to commercial feed. While the birds would gladly gather round for whole grains, full troughs of grower remained virtually untouched.

At this point I should interject a comment on “foraging” versus “going wild”. At my various residences I could always count on the Dominiques going to the roost for the night. Such cannot be said for all breeds. In 2000 we hatched over 150 Hamburgs. Shortly after being turned into the brooder pens, they escaped, taking to the woods surrounding my house. (Reminds me of the movie Chicken Run) They only returned to the pens occasionally and by the time of the first killing there were fewer than 25 remaining.

A foraging flock of Dominiques will usually follow a pattern. They will come off the roost, visit the water container then begin working towards brush. Males may briefly spar or threaten each other but soon they will have lead their respective harems out and away from the hen-house. By 8 am they vigorously working the litter and weeds. About 9:00 the hens will begin seeking out their nests.

If they were well trained pullets, that will be in the henhouse, otherwise they seek a secluded and safe spot away from their forage territory. After laying her egg, the hen will return to the group to be congratulated by one and all for a job well done.

Foraging continues until about noon. Around mid-day the Dominiques will slow down their pace and may even be caught lounging in a dust bath. At this time of day, if you were to take a head-count your flock would appear to have been robbed as many will be resting under weeds or brush.

By mid-to-late afternoon the birds will be active again. At this time of day the Dominiques start to work their way back to the hen-house. In the early evening they’ll all be hovering around the door, taking advantage of the last hours of daylight.

I cannot recall the last time I had to remove Dominiques from trees or herd them into the house. Dominiques like to range, but they enjoy the comfort and safety of the henhouse.