America's Oldest Breed of Livestock

Status of the Dominique

Javas and Dominiques are good breeds, but it seems they are destine to sink into oblivion, a fact deeply regretted by men now grown gray in the work of building up the money-making breeds of American fowls.”    

1910 – Wickstrum’s Book of Poultry 

There are several significant events in poultry history that have had an effect on the Dominique’s popularity. Prior to the 1840s, the Dominique had no equal in the farmyards and doorways of our developing country. However, the 1840s saw the beginning of “Hen Fever” with the introduction of the Asiatic breeds. The popularity of the Asiatics spread quickly and stock from these imports were used to create many new breeds, combining the ruggedness and fertility of our older breeds with the heavier carcasses of the new arrivals. The older breeds, including the Dominique, began to decline in popularity as Hen Fever spread throughout the poultry world.

While the Dominique had already declined in popularity, it was January 15,1871, that will be forever etched in the minds of Dominique enthusiasts. On that date, politics all but wiped out the Dominique when the individuals who met to formalize the Standard of Excellence, voted that Dominiques could only exist in the rose-comb variety. They did this despite the fact that the most popular fowl of the times were the Dominiques with single combs, which some believed to be the originals.

On this day, the vast majority of the Dominique stock was merged into the Plymouth Rock breed, based purely on feather pattern and the single comb. To illustrate the outright disdain some held for our breed, the full report contains a quote from Colonel Weld, who, speaking of the Standard then being prepared, stated “. . . we must not multiply breeds too much. It is bad enough to put Dominiques in.”

From the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century the Dominique declined so quickly that some began to fear its extinction. Rallying to a call by Drevenstedt, an official of the A.P.A., a new club was formed to promote America’s oldest breed. Three gentlemen of high repute were instrumental in the success of the National American Dominique Club. They were Davenport, Harwood and Carter.

Using Dominique stocks that traced back to the early 1800s, they began to breed and exhibit the “old-style” Dominiques, devoid of any Asiatic influence. These strains became the pillars of the Dominique resurgence, which occurred between 1900 and 1920. During this time many new flocks of high quality Dominiques were established. Sadly, when these three gentlemen passed away, the National American Dominique Club became inactive and ultimately folded. With no driving force to sustain it, the Dominique’s popularity plummeted.

The free-fall in popularity was somewhat stayed during the Great Depression as farmers required stock that could survive with minimal up-keep. The hardiness of the Dominique made it an ideal candidate for this situation. However, by the end of World War II, the poultry industry as a whole began to witness extreme changes. Farm flocks, which had produced “egg money” for housewives, were being replaced by commercial operations. Those farmers who wanted to compete began replacing older breeds with the newly improved Leghorns.

Fewer and fewer individuals maintained the Dominiques, until 1970, when there were only four flocks of Dominiques remaining. Henry Miller, Edward Uber, Robert Henderson and Carl Gallaher held these flocks. They believed that with their deaths the Dominique would cease to exist.

The early 1970s saw a resurgence of national patriotism and an interest in things uniquely American. Through the efforts of a few dedicated individuals contact was made with each of these older breeders and the Dominique was again rescued. From 1973 to about 2002, the interest in Dominiques rose steadily with a noticeable increase during the early 1990s. This spike coincided with the publication of several articles and an effort by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy to raise awareness of the Dominique’s critically low population.

From 2002 to present the Dominique’s popularity has waned. Among the factors are; changes of the Dominique Club secretary, reduced promotion, fewer breeders with high quality stock, fewer fanciers exhibiting Dominiques, disease outbreaks in several regions of the U.S. and higher feed costs. I had long predicted that a slowing economy would be bad for large fowl in general and sadly this has been proven true.

I hope that the publication of these web pages will help rekindle interest in the American Dominique. While we cannot realistically expect to return the Dominique to the level of popularity it enjoyed prior to the 1840s, we can, with dedication and good breeding practices, return them to the level of the 1915-1920 era.