America's Oldest Breed of Livestock

Dominique Color Feather Discussion

This discussion was started by Heaven Roberts in February of 2011. I share it here to preserve the many fine points these individuals made.

Genetics: Colors/Feathering
By Heaven Roberts

I’m not going into eggshell color here, as there are just way too many genes mixed into all of that. For now, let’s just know that the brown eggshell is actually a paint job. Look at a blue egg – it’s blue through and through.

Bird genetics 101:
Each bird carries two copies of each gene – one from each of their parents.
Capital letter denotes a dominant gene (so in Rr, the capital R is dominant)
Sex chromosomes Z & W (W = feminine) (Z = masculine)
Female birds have ZW (one of each), Male birds have ZZ (both male parts)
Chickens have two base color options: black and red.
Color enhancing/masking genes (such as blue, or white) are put on top of these base colors for the wide range of colors we see.

The Sex-Linked Barring Gene
Barring gene (B) only carried on the Z chromosome. Thus, males (ZZ) can have two copies, and females can have only one copy (ZW). That is why females of most barred breeds appear (or should appear) darker than males of the same breeding.
Several modifier genes can change how these bars appear – wider, narrower, smudge or smooth, etc.

The American Dominique
Primary Color: Black (ideally modified to slate grey)
Secondary Color: White – barred (ideally modified to light grey) on all feathers (may be lighter/darker on some feathers)
Black based, yellow covered shanks and feet – the barring gene masks this black coloring, and makes the legs appear yellow (which is why females, again, are darker on the shanks, as they only have one copy of the barring gene, so will have more black come through).
… To get cleaner coloring in cockerels, darker females must be used.
… To get cleaner coloring in pullets, lighter females must be used.
This is an argument for having a pullet line and a cockerel line in Doms and other sex-link-barred birds.

Why is this? Because if you see a light colored female keep this in mind: she only has one copy of the barring gene that applies white. So if she’s this light, she would be twice as light if she were a male with her same genetics. Think about that for a second. She would basically be a white bird! This means that her additional accessory (modifyer) genes are pulling a LOT of white into that barring.

If you cross this hen with a light colored male (so we know he also has two sex-link barring genes, and his modifier genes have put a lot of white on him) the cockerels from this cross will come out somewhere between their sire’s color and almost white (what their mother would be if we doubled her barring dosage). So that’s a pretty light bird! That means white in the tail and wings!

However, if you took this same cockerel and crossed him on medium colored or dark females, you could have some very nicely colored pullets out of him. But unless you’re doing a double mating system, you might be battling that light color in your cockerels for several generations – maybe not something you really want to do.
Just something to chew over.:D Let me know your experiences on any coloring test crosses, off colored feathers? etc. etc. etc.

Anyone have anything to add? Anything I messed up on or missed? How about the beetle green sheen – it’s on some birds more than others, but this isn’t a color – it’s actually about feather structure. Metallic (golden/yellow) sheen can be genetic (or it can be environmental). Anyone have any experience with this? I haven’t read too much on it as we’ve only got one male and I’m 99% positive it’s environmental from constant sunshine here in the central Oregon summer.

Tracey Rodenbach You did awesome!!! I have always found genetics fascinatiing. The other little tidbit I’ve found, is that the color seems to be better if you find pullets with the barring on their feathers all the way or as close as possible to the skin. The color seems richer and cleaner on birds with barring further down to the skin. That’s why I’m excited about the two I’ve got planned for Jed. They’re both barred to the skin and dark.

Tracey Rodenbach Heaven, you have touched on something here. I have people who see some of my girls and they say, ‘well, that one’s tail looks too long’, or that one’s color looks too dark- One’s my tail-maker and one’s my color maker. I had a discussion with a lady similar to our genetics discussion, and she had the cock-eyed idea that if “all of my birds are perfect specimens, then I should get offspring that are great.” I said, ‘well, if all of your birds are perfect specimens, what are you wasting your time playing around with this for?” She didn’t understand how just putting two nice birds together doesn’t hatch a bunch of Barbie/Ken biddies. I explained to her that ALL birds have flaws- some major, some minor. It is the way of nature to cull out traits that no longer serve the species and adapt. She had no concept that some of the recessive genes will join up and you’ll get some less than desirable looks. But, my theory is that it’s much healthier for your flock. Genes don’t operate in a vacuum. They combine to affect this or that in some other way. When you’re dealing with a flock, that underlying diversity is a good thing. I said even though that girl has a long tail, maybe too long to even be in a showroom, she’s got lots of other nice points, and you should see the caboose this girl can paste on a rooster. This is why I get strange looks when I’m hunting for a certain hen with certain characteristics…

We as the ones who have decided to preserve this breed have some cleaning to do- our breed’s genetic heritage has been tainted over the years with barred rocks to clean up barring, Wyandottes and Lord knows what else. Unfortunately, these breeds have made some changes in our Dominiques that we need to “undo”. Barred rocks were used because of a change in the standard years ago that called for cleaner barring. Some also did it to increase vigor. The introduction of some Wyandotte gave us little Miss Fluffbutts walking around, an incorrect slope to the back, and tails that are too short on our roosters. At the time, these breeders thought they were helping the breed’s vigor, but as we’ve seen before, when man tries to improve on Mother Nature, we often end up with more of a mess. I tell people that for those who really love this breed, we want to see it stay around- but in its proper God-given form. Having Dominiques for the sake of saying “yep, they’re still here” isn’t enough for me. I guess it’s my challenge to see how close I can get to the Dominiques of the old days.

Heaven Roberts I like your thinking Tracey 😀 So many people that I’ve seen on the web are also focusing on too much at once… and too much on the combs/coloring. Time and time again the master Dom breeders have tried telling us to work on TYPE first, then combs and coloring. It’s the type that’s so hard because of the introduced breeds you mentioned.

A wise man told me once that Dominiques don’t belong in the American class. He explained that if you look at every other bird in the American class, they all have fairly similar characteristics, and if you crossed one breed into another, within a generation or two you’d be back to birds that appeared purebred. Not so with Dominiques. If you cross a barred rock or even a (AHHH!!!!) Marans in with them, you’ll be fighting those bad genes for years and years to come. He said they need to be in a class all their own – I agree! Something like an American/Mediterranean/Gamebird 😀

Neither of our cockerels that we’ve got in with the birds right now have good combs, but they have good type. We are hoping they will make an improvement on the ladies. We’re doing one hatch now that is our best 9 pullets in with these two guys – then we’ll be seperating into quads or trios for our next hatches, to get a better idea of what each cockerel can improve on the hens. We’ve got some hens in there with terrible combs, others with perfect combs. I hope that by playing our cards right, we can keep those genes in there and bring them out when we have the time to deal with combs. Right now, it’s got to take a backseat to type, but at least it’s still in the car!

Tracey Rodenbach Amen, Heaven…the type is the hard thing to get right. Combs can be fixed rather quickly, by genetic standards, but type takes years of careful choices to make the right things shine through. To look at most of the hens I’ve got right now, none of them are really a perfect match up for my cockerel, but I figure I’ll keep working at it, little by little. I don’t want to get overwhelmed by too many breedings and too many offspring. Some people think I’m nuts with the amount of time I spend handling my birds- looking at their personalities, weighing their eggs, taking notes, looking at my birds in different light and photgraphing them from all angles. I guess all of it just helps me be more objective in my choices and culls. My cockerel Jed kind of had to take center stage, because he is the last of his line. We want to make sure he’s got some progeny, but I don’t want production for the sake of production. The old timers used to say just start at one end and fix one thing at a time. Once you get to the other end, start over again.

I have heard, Heaven, that if you’ve got cockerels with decent combs except the spikes are lackluster or pointing downward, you can put him with a hen with a comb that nearly sticks straight up- terrible by our standards, but she’ll put that nice sweep on the chicks’ combs. And hey, you never stop looking at type, but if you can fix some of the glaring problems along the way, go for it!

Heaven Roberts Does anyone have any photos of a non-barred Dominique, or even a half-barred (Bb) cockerel? I’d love to see them, I know they’re lurking in these genes somewhere 😀 Old time breeders of barred birds (I’ve heard mostly of it being used in barred rocks, but there wasn’t too many Dom breeders to hear about) kept black hens for their flocks to keep color good. I just wonder if any Dominiques have some strains that throw black here and there?

Tracey Rodenbach I don’t know about throwing black, but I have heard of white ones. I think I’ve got pics somewhere…if I run across them I’ll put them up.

Melody Hobbs “… To get cleaner coloring in cockerels, darker females must be used.
… To get cleaner coloring in pullets, lighter females must be used. ”

I think you might have meant:
… To get cleaner coloring in pullets, lighter males must be used.

Anyway, never had a black, but here are blue and white, circa 1999.

Heaven Roberts No I mean lighter females… You could just use lighter males, but your females will be a better guage of your accessory genes as far as lightness goes. Take your lightest male, and double his darkness. If that’s not light enough for the females you want, you’re going to need a lighter male. But how can you do that without having a nearly white bird, or one with multiple white feathers?

So instead you attack the problem from the female side, choosing your best colored hens and matching them with good clean males. You hope your pullets get their coloring from the dam, with the sire accenting that coloring. After you’ve done this enough generations, you’ll have females that consistently throw good colored pullets because you’ve cemented in those accessory genes on both chromosomes. Cockerels out of this line will be too light, but the females should be really nice.

The opposite for the male line: choose your darkest female and breed her to a nicely colored male. This will keep her cockerels in the right color range. Females from this line will be too dark, but will be good breeders for more cockerels.

As far as the black birds I’ve never seen a black Dominique, but I’ve seen some pretty dark hens, and two of our cockerels (one purchased, one hatched) are on the darker side and I think they look lovely, we look forward to seeing how their offspring look in the future. Both of them were also very fast feathering, so I wonder if that had anything to do with it? Both of them still have two barring genes, but it would be cool to see a single barred (Bb) male – a rooster with a hen’s coloring on those beautiful tail feathers! 😀 But I think you’d have to do a cross out to a black bird these days – in the old days Doms were crossed with a lot of breeds, including black Javas, so I’m sure it was more common back then to get half-barred (Bb) males.

The white Dominiques were from crossing in a different breed to increase egg size. I can’t remember what breed that is but somewhere there’s a website that says even who the breeder was… maybe Mr Field’s site? Too tired right now to look! 🙂 Because it’s recessive white it shows up many generations later.

Melody Hobbs You ask “But how can you do that without having a nearly white bird, or one with multiple white feathers”

Right now, I have my pullet pen set up; the girls are average to slightly dark colored but typey and great layers, and the males is so light that at first glance he appears powder blue. IOW, he is several shades lighter than the hens.
So I start with dark hens like these:

Pen them with a male like this with no white feathers, just very narrow dark bars:

And end up with pullets like this:  (Works for me anyway.)

Mark Fields believes the origin of white Dominiques can be traced back 50 years in the Voter line to the introduction of *one* white game hen in Robert Henderson’s flock in the 1960’s, and that very well could be. Then again, Henderson got his original birds from Dr. Harwood, and Harwood’s birds had produced white sports as far back as the 1920s. Harwood’s birds were a mix of old lines from New York, Darlington and Yerks; he advertised they were a mix of the oldest and purest Dominiques in the country, and he wasn’t kidding. As the other breed Harwood kept was black Javas, it’s not likely the white came from an outcross. Henderson was always looking to improve his birds and also got stock from Uber and Gallagher.

Recently, I’ was told that linebred Hyman stock have also produced white birds. Hmmmmm, trace those back: Hyman got his birds from Gallagher, who got his from Uber, who’s original birds came from someone in New York. Hyman later added birds from both Voter and Uber. IOW, there has always been some outcrossing -within the breed- between the very best purebred lines. I suppose it’s possible, but it just doesn’t seem likely that every white Dominique that has hatched over the last 50 years have all descended from that one hen, and it certainly doesn’t explain the existence of white sports 40 years before that.

Anyway, I once again have a few here to fool around with when they’re older. I can’t bring myself to refer to living, breathing animals as a “project”; to me, a “project” is fixing the screen door, or the leak in the greenhouse roof…So for now, they’re just my special pets. ;^)

Tracey Rodenbach Nana- I always felt sorry for the birds being sold on auction sites being referred to as “projects”. Poor things. I’m sure in every genetic form, they can occasionally throw out a white. I mean, it happens in deer, buffalo, horses, etc. Oh, to be able to have been around to get our hands on any of those people’s stock!!

Tracey Rodenbach Nana- Now you’ve got my interest flowing on this. I just love what everyone contributes to these discussions- awesome stuff!! It also makes me excited to see what will come of my “love connections” this year with Jed. I’m starting this program off very small so far- I never intended to have roosters, but then Jed came along and made me want to try and keep his line going, since he’s the last.

Heaven Roberts This discussion is getting awesome! 😀 Nana, it is the same technique that we’re talking about, just from different angles.
I will try to get some photos of what I mean by dark females… I know we have some somewhere. I culled the darkest out because we had some from one line that had black, real black, on the legs and combs, etc. The male from this line has the appropriate slate coloring in his light areas, but unfortunately has those light bars almost the same width as the dark bars. We are hoping to reproduce his coloring but with a wider light bar.

But if we look at these females closely, they appear so dark from a distance but when you look at their individual feathers, the coloring in them is a smokey black on a light slate color. If we could get that color with better patterning, we’d have really nicely colored birds. BUT we aren’t focused on color yet we aren’t focused on color yet 😀 I have to keep telling myself that when we’re culling birds and choosing breeders lol

You’re doing the same thing I’m suggesting, but we just have different definitions of dark and light