Thanks to Curt Burroughs for his work on Iowa Blues and this blog post:
Iowa Blues combine the hardy characteristics of their state with unusual plumage colors. Although much historical documentation has been lost, they have survived as a breed and their cause is now being championed by a breed club. Although the breed was never recognized by the American Poultry Association, contemporary breeders are determined to change that and bring two varieties into the Standard.
John Logston of Decorah, Iowa, developed Iowa Blues as his own breed of chicken in the 1920s. An ambitious livestock breeder, he also developed the White Collie and raised the largest herd of Dexter cattle in the country. Local oral histories credit a Black Minorca hen, for larger eggs, and a Rhode Island Red hen, chosen because the breed is the leader among its type, with mating with a pheasant to create the breed. Another tale attributed to Dolly, John Logston’s wife, says the original Iowa Blues were chicks that one of her White Rock hens led out from under the shed where she’d hatched them. These pheasant-colored chicks joined the myth of being sired by a pheasant.
The result was a farm breed that flourished in extremes of temperature and humidity, able to defend itself and forage for food, reproduced well naturally, laid plenty of eggs and was big enough to make a good table bird. They were popular from the 1920s through the 1950s, when they lost ground to the industrial farms that began to dominate poultry production.
That unlikely start produced chicks that are active and intrepid, ‘popping’ to evade handling within hours of hatching. They crouch and hop, straight up or sideways, to avoid being caught. At a few weeks of age, they lose the ‘popping’ to crouching and active fleeing, much like the pheasant chicks to which they are, if not genetically, related in appearance.
Iowa Blues are active foragers who will fend for themselves, given adequate pasture. They are defiant survivors, innately aware of their surroundings, especially aerially, and willing to fight off predators. They have confidence that they can handle any threat that comes their way. Owners often observe Iowa Blue roosters engaged in battle with a hawk or chasing a raccoon off the property. They stand out in the open when other chickens flee for cover and proudly strut as if to dare the predator to take them on, even engage the threat with fierce combat. They also eliminate pests such as mice, rats and snakes. They wound them by jabbing them with their beaks, then grasp it and shake it vigorously.
Hens retain a strong broody instinct, and sister hens may follow the leader in taking to the broody nest together. Although this reduces egg production, current breeders are divided among those who are breeding to increase egg production and those who wish to retain broodiness.
Iowa Blues are not recognized by the American Poultry Association, but dedicated breeders could change that. The Silver Penciled variety could be proposed under the current APA standard description, with its less defined markings, which give it a bluish rather than greenish sheen, noted as a variation. Birchen Iowa Blues have more white than the APA standard description, so some accommodation in that description would be appropriate.
Glenn Drowns of Sandhill Preservation Center in Calamus, Iowa, has a documented Silver Penciled flock from which he sells stock. Based on Silver Penciled Rock birds he bred to Campine-Fayoumi crosses, then bred back to a Black Leghorn, Ideal Hatchery in Texas developed a birchen variety. Ideal began selling these birds as Iowa Blues in the 1990s. That crossing also introduced red and gold markings, marring the preferred silver coloring.
Chick down color varies depending on the color variety. On the Silver Penciled chicks, a soft chocolate brown down color combined with light mottling on the face, is the most common. The down has a very unique look to it, almost like a silvery under color to the chocolate down, and gives the chick a very dimensional appearance. On the Birchen colored chicks, one will find a mostly black chick with various amounts of white on the belly, chin, and sometimes the face.
The Iowa Blue Chicken Club was founded in 2012 to resolve these questions and pursue APA recognition. The Silver Penciled variety is the group’s first priority, to be followed by the Birchen variety after breed recognition. Their Standard Committee has developed a breed description, including size: Rooster – 7lbs; Cockerel – 6lbs; Hen – 6lbs; Pullet – 5lbs. Iowa Blue type is unique. When viewed from the side, the overall body shape should be rectangular, similar to the Rhode Island Red. A full and deep breast is ideal and the breed is set well on the legs. The back should be wide and level. The head is upright and the tail is set at a jaunty 80 degrees. An Iowa Blue tail is quite distinct, putting a “stamp” on all crossbred offspring. Tail set is neither overly full nor elegantly flowing.
The Silver Penciled birds are subject to laryngotracheitis, possibly due to inbreeding. Immunization is effective and recommended for all flocks, until this weakness can be overcome with selective breeding. Breeders hope all flocks will be naturally immune in the future.
With the rise in popularity of homesteading families, and individuals interested in local homegrown foods, the time is ripe for the Iowa Blue to propel itself into the future. What are needed, are dedicated breeders, willing to put forth the necessary labor of producing outstanding examples of the breed and one day producing the desired effects needed to place the Iowa Blue into the Standard of Perfection.
|Photo by Kari McKay Widdel|
Anyone interested in becoming involved with the rescue, breeding, and promotion of the Iowa Blue, should contact the Iowa Blue Chicken Club, http://www.iowabluechickenclub.com/, for more details and to connect to breeders in their location.