Chickens are an integral part of life on Vernal Vibe Rise. Over the years, I have raised a variety of heritage chickens in the free-range style on VVR’s beyond-organic Field and Forest™ landscape. I support the natural process of breeding, brooding, and hatching here on the farm, although I do add new stock on occasion in order to keep the gene pool clear, or to try a breed that may be better suited for the VVR system. The chickens eat as they wish: greens, bugs, scraps, and supplementary certified organic grains and beans; I collect their eggs at least once daily for sale to local consumers and eateries. In addition to eggs, the chickens offer powerful manure and perennial willingness to scratch at the earth. Thus, they help to nourish and prepare the soil for a variety of purposes.
Over the years, I have raised many breeds of heritage chickens (as well as other types of poultry) including Light Brahmas, Jersey Giants, Araucanas, and Delawares. I now raise Dominiques for their pleasant temperament, hardy nature, and–mainly– their ability to thrive on forage with minimal supplemental feed.
The Vernal Vibe Rise chickens received First Prize for their eggs at the 2012 West Virginia State Fair. Although I was grateful for the recognition, I was disappointed that the Fair would not return the eggs, and thus cannot enter eggs again. Since I have to choose, I believe that it is more important to us to maintain respectful utilization of all of VVR’s farm products than to garner awards.
Mother Earth News is publicizing something that pasture-focused farmers already know, “New test results show that pastured egg producers are kicking the commercial industry’s derriere when it comes to vitamin D. Eggs from hens raised on pasture show 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs.” For more information, read the full article.
From The Livestock Conservancy website: “The Dominique chicken is recognized as America’s first chicken breed. The exact origin of the breed is unknown, although their initial creation may have involved European chicken breeds and later in its refinement, some Asian varieties. The name of “Dominique” may have come from birds that were imported from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today known as Haiti) and which are thought to have been used as part of the development of the Dominique breed.
Barred chickens with both rose combs and single combs were somewhat common in the eastern United States as early as 1750. As interest in poultry breeding increased, attention was given to develop uniformity in chicken breeds. Early names of these fowl include Blue Spotted Hen, Old Grey Hen, Dominico, Dominic, and Dominicker. The breed was widely known on the eastern coast of the U.S. as the Dominique.
The Dominique was plentifully bred on American farms as early as the 1820’s, where these birds were a popular dual-purpose fowl. In 1871 the New York Poultry Society decided that only the rose combed Dominique would become the standard for the breed and the single combed Dominiques were relegated to and folded into the Plymouth Rock breed – popular in New England, created by crossing large, single comb Dominiques with Java chickens. Dominiques were never used commercially, and the breed was eventually eclipsed on the farm by the gradual shift to the larger “Plymouth Rocks.” In 1874 the Dominique breed was officially admitted to the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.
The Dominique enjoyed popularity until the 1920’s at which time interest in the breed waned due to the passing of aged, long-time Dominique enthusiasts and breeders. The breed managed to survive during the Great Depression of the 1930’s due to its hardiness and ease of up-keep. By the end of World War II as industrial poultry operations began to take a foothold in the U.S., the Dominique once again experienced decline. By 1970 only 4 known flocks remained, held by: Henry Miller, Edward Uber, Robert Henderson, and Carl Gallaher. Through the effort of dedicated individuals the remaining owners were contacted and convinced to participate in a breed rescue. From 1983, following published reports on the breed by The Livestock Conservancy, until 2006, Dominiques steadily rose in numbers. As of 2007, it has been observed by the breed’s enthusiasts that numbers are once again beginning to decline, as old time breeders of Dominique age and are no longer involved with keeping and promoting the breed.
The Dominique is a medium-sized black and white barred (otherwise known as “cuckoo” patterned) bird. The barred plumage coloration is also referred to as hawk-colored and serves the Dominique in making the bird less conspicuous to predators. The Dominique sports a rose comb with a short upward curving spike that is characteristic to this breed. The males average seven pounds and the females five pounds. The Dominique’s tightly arranged plumage, combined with the low profile of the rose comb, make this breed more resistant to frostbite than many other breeds of fowl. Dominiques are also known to adapt well to hot and humid climates. Historically the close feathering of this breed not only protected the birds in cold weather, but provided ample material for the pillows and featherbeds of their owners.
Dominiques carry their heads high up on well-arched necks. The males of the breed have an almost “u” shaped back outline. Their body is broad and full with long and full tail feathers that are held the highest of the American breeds. Females have back outlines that slope from head to tail. Although categorized as a dual-purpose breed, these birds are first and foremost egg producers with hens historically averaging 230-275 small- to medium-sized brown eggs.”