Iowa Blue Chickens

Iowa Blue Chickens

While we are planning our pole barn house we are also deciding what animals we want to raise and what animals that are best suited for our land. We have decided we want to raise heritage breeds. Animals that were raised by my great grandfather and in Europe and the United States before 1960. Heritage breeds are better foragers and hardy souls that will do well on their own. We knew we wanted to raise Scottish Highland Cattle, but we didn’t know what chickens we wanted to raise until I was reading my March issue of Hobby Farm and came upon an article about raising chicken breeds best suited for your region.  For the Midwest one of the breeds mentioned was the Iowa Blue Chickens. Until that article I had never heard of the Iowa Blue chicken, so I did some research and found the Iowa Blue Chicken Club and their website and found they had a lot of information about the Iowa Blue.  I found it to be a fascinating breed with an interesting story that I wanted to share  with my readers. In this post I plan to tell you the story about how this breed was developed and how they came back from the brink of extinction and why you might want to add this bird to your flock.

Iowa Blue Hen

Iowa Blue Hen

The Iowa Blue is the only breed of chicken that was developed in Iowa and was first developed in the early 1900′s around Decorah Iowa by a man named John Logsdon. This dual purpose breed was developed to be something more than just a meat and egg chicken. The small farms of its day needed chickens that could forage for most of their own food for most of the year and had to be able to reproduce and raise their young on their own without much help and be able to defend against and out smart predators.  This breed could do those things and was sold by several hatcheries in the Northeast part of the state through the 1960′s until the hatcheries went out of business. The hatcheries went out of business because small family farms were going out of business as the industrialized farming industry was taking hold. The average size farm went from 200 acres to over 400 acres and for the industry to be profitable they had to specialize in one or two crops or animals and not be as diversified as the smaller farms were. From 1950 to 1970 this country lost half it farms with 10 million people leaving the farm to move to the city. Back in 1900 98% of the farms in this country had chickens, by 1992 only 4% had them. This slower growing and self-sufficient breed and others like them did not appeal to the factory farms that specialized in chickens and were pushed aside for the faster growing and better laying hybrids and the Iowa Blue was nearly lost.

When this breed was first developed in the early 1900′s most towns had their own small hatcheries and back then they didn’t ship birds much. Most people came to the hatchery to pick up their chicks. So the Iowa Blue hadn’t expanded much beyond the southeast part of the state. By the 1980′s there were only two known flocks left in existence and if not for the efforts of one man and a small group of dedicated breeders this breed might have gone the way of 200 other heritage breeds of livestock that have gone extinct in the last two decades around the world.

Iowa Blue Chicken

Iowa Blue Chicken

Ken Whealy of Decorah based Seed Saver Exchange heard about the Iowa Blue on a campout with other fellow group members and went to look for the breed at the family farm of Micheal Moore the grandson of John Logsdon the developer of the Iowa Blue. The grandson had taken over the family farm and had contuinued raising his grandfathers Dexter cattle and had many other chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants and hogs. He said he only had 6 Iowa Blues left, he had about 50 the year before but they had gotten in some bad oats and most had died and some hogs had killed a few. All that was left was one old rooster named Herman and 5 hens that hadn’t had any eggs hatch in a few years. Michael was concerned for the breed and gave Ken the Rooster and the five hens to try and save the last of the Iowa Blues. The Rooster was too old and wasn’t fertile anymore so he asked Mr. Moore if he knew of any one else who might still have a flock of Iowa Blues and he only knew of one other person. His grandmother Mae Logsdon had sold a few to a man named Ransome Bolson by Northeast Decorah in the 1960′s.  Ransome did have a flock of about 50 birds and with these two known flocks of Iowa Blues they were able to save this bird from extinction.

How The Breed Was Developed

The folklore about the development of the breed is where this story gets interesting and was told by Mr. Logsdon’s widow, Mae. The development of this breed came about by accident. She said that a white Plymouth Rock hen went broody and went under a farm building to nest and came out with a clutch of chicks that were solid chestnut to stripes that no one had ever seen before, they looked like pheasants. They thought the chicks were sired by a pheasant.

You can see how the baby chicks look like young pheasants.

You can see how the baby chicks look similar to young pheasants.

This  would  explain the color of the chicks and why the breed does so well foraging for itself and is said to be very hardy and well suited for the weather in Iowa with the very hot and humid summers and the very cold winters. The breed is an insect control champ and the roosters and hens are also great at self-defense according to Kari McKay-Waddel, Vice President of the Iowa Blue Chicken Club who raises Iowa Blues on her farm. She has said to have seen on several occasions the Iowa Blue defending itself successfully against several hawk attacks and other predators such as cats and opossums.  The roosters get to about 7 pounds and the hens about 5 and they lay medium sized eggs that are brown to light cream in color.

Iowa Blue eggs

Iowa Blue eggs

With people once again moving back to the country and starting small family farms the need for this kind of chicken is growing. The Iowa Blue is now making a come back thanks in part by the promotion of the Iowa Blue Chicken Club. If you would like to be part of the rescure effort of this bird and would like more information, please go to their website at http://www.iowabluechickenclub.com/

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About Gordon Milligan

I am a conductor for a commuter railroad in Chicago IL, I have bought a 40 acre farm in South Central Iowa that I plan to retire to in 3 yrs. I want to raise and grow most of my own food using sustainible and organic methods. I have a blog that journals my journey to becoming a farmer.
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35 Responses to Iowa Blue Chickens

  1. That’s an interesting story of how they were saved from extinction. It sounds like they’ll do well for you!

  2. Walt Wickham says:

    Sound’s like a great bird to have. I”ll have to look into possibly getting some for our flock.

  3. grasspunk says:

    Handsome looking chickens, there. I like chickens that are tough enough to take care of themselves. Out here the locals like chickens because they are supposed to keep snakes away from the yard.

  4. langela says:

    I’ve never heard of this breed. I may have to look into them the next time we get some chicks. Pretty birds. I wonder if they’re good egg producers. Our Rhode Island Reds are the most dependable layers. I was just wondering how the Blues compared. Our Reds are out foraging even in this messy weather. They aren’t fond of snow though. I think they just like us to plow a path for them. Spoiled girls!

  5. I hear that they lay eggs even when other breeds have stopped or slowed down during the start of winter. You should check them out Langela.

  6. John says:

    I just happen to love all kinds of chickens because I had a pet chicken when I was a kid. He always followed me around and if I didn’t pick him up and talk baby talk to him and hold him in my arms when he thought I should, he would peck me on the ankles to let me know he was there. I loved that chicken and I loved my pet pig too. His name was “Piggy Hoink” and I had him until he got too big for me to play with. He pinned me down one day and I couldn’t get loose so my dad sent him off to Brewster’s Slaughter house and I refused to touch pork until I was at least 16.

    • Thanks for commenting John. I love hearing about your life when you grew up on the farm. You should write a book, You tell a story so well and take your readers back to those days. I would buy your first copy.

      • John says:

        Actually we lived next door to the Gould Farm in a small shack on the edge of a small midwestern village but Dad kept hogs and some chickens and a couple of ducks, a one-horned goat, several cats and my dog, “tag.” We didn’t farm but he kept all these animals. He sold the hogs to a local butcher when they were ready – - but I had one as a pet for a couple of years – - until he got too big – -it was almost like living on a farm because I could run wild in Mr. Gould’s fields unless he had let the bull out and then I couldn’t – - for sure. But it was still way out in the country and Mom made her own butter and souse meat and all the rest of that old-timey stuff that you hear about sometimes.

  7. That sounds like a small farm to me John, a lot like what I will be doing, with more of that old-timey stuff. That’s what a lot of people are wanting to do again.

  8. Lorna says:

    Beautiful birds

  9. Karen says:

    We started a small farm in Roberts, WI and currently have chickens for eggs and meat. We also have some steers and hogs. Raising our own food and veggies is a god send! The kids enjoy knowing where their food comes from and they don’t care for store purchased meats any longer. I think we have spoiled them! We are looking to add Iowa Blues to our flock but am having a hard time finding some chicks. Do you know any good resources?

  10. Hi Karen, thanks for commenting. The only place I know to get Iowa Blues is at the Iowa Blue Chicken Club. I have a link to the club from this post. They have some members that have some for sale at different times. When you are on their site go to the Breeder Directory at the top of the home page and some of those folks say what they have for sale. That is the only place I know to get them.

    Good luck,I hope you get some.

  11. Wow – those are some beautiful chickens…

    For some reason, I’ve been dragging my feet about getting chickens and/or turkey. But, I think it’s time. I’ll have to look into these.

  12. Curt Burroughs says:

    Gordon,
    It’s fun to see interest growing for this breed. Our club officers have been very busy this year and we on the Standard Commitee are pleased that our proposed standard for the breed was accepted with flying colors by our membership and now for the first time, the Iowa Blue has an official standard to breed towards. Keep checking our club site as we proceed with the steps necessary to get the Iowa Blue admitted into the Standard of Perfection!
    On a personal note, I had the privilage of conducting most of the interviews posted on the Historical Archive section as well as locating the photos of the original Iowa Blue. It is rewarding to see others using that information that was gathered. It makes finding and posting that information all the more fun!
    Right now demand far exceeds supply, but our breeders are in good shape to develop some productive flocks by the fall and we should see the Iowa Blue become more readily available come next spring. Also, breeders are heavily at work setting up some Silver Penciled breeding groups to better “spread the wealth” so to speak.
    Keep up the good work and don’t give up if it takes a little longer to locate stock. They are WELL worth the wait. They have been my favorite breed for over 10 years now! I loved raising them then, and I love raising them now.

    Best,
    Curt Burroughs

    • Hi Curt, I just want to commend the work and effort you guys have done to promote and keep this breed going over at the Iowa Blue Chicken Club. I think it is a noble thing you are doing to help bring this bird back from the brink of extinction and I really enjoyed reading all the information you helped to gather there on the site. I bet it was fun doing the research and tracking down people and doing those interviews. In this post, I just wanted to help out in promoting the Iowa Blue Chicken club and this great small farm chicken from Iowa.

      Keep up the good job you guys are doing and I hope I can find some Iowa Blues when I get ready to farm in a little over two years from now.

      • Curt Burroughs says:

        Gordon-
        You are absolutely right, it was so much fun! I was able to locate two of John Logston’s grandsons and talk to them about what they remembered about their grandfather and the breed he created. Both are quite old now, so it was great timing to get that information gathered and written down before it was lost!!! I was also able to contact and interview some of the individuals who were responsible for rescuing the breed in the late 80′s-early 90′s. I still have a few leads to follow through on, but it’s been an enjoyable journey none the less. I think one of the most exciting things besides talking to these individuals was all the information that was gathered about the breed’s history. Up till this point the only thing we new about the breed’s history was a single paragraph that was cirulated over and over and over. Many prospective breeders were quite dismayed and sometimes turned away from the breed because so little was known about it. But the fall of 2012-spring 2013 has ushered in a new wave of information, and at the perfect time! The club was just getting off the ground (ealry 2012) and we were working on getting a standard put forth. Without the interviews and the contacts, it’s very likely we could have put forth a standard that would not have preserved the breed in its original form. These vital interviews and pictures of the original birds were the key (at the perfect time) to make sure that the work we did as a Standard Committee would do the breed justice and preserve the breed in its original form for generations to come.
        We also have a very dedicated core group of breeders that have been diligent in their unified efforts to propel this breed into the future. Without them, all the work by the club and the commitee would have been in vain. As you can see, everything needed to fall into place at the right time, and fortuantely for the breed’s sake, we can say that things have certainly fallen favorably for the Iowa Blue!
        Thank YOU Gordon for your excitement about the Iowa Blue and for helping us in our effort to promote this valuable and unique breed. The Iowa Blue has much to offer the “homesteader” who is seeking livestock capable of surviving (and most importantly -thriving) in the homesteading environment. Many of the Iowa Blue’s characteristics are unique to the breed and can be found in no other breed of chicken. Thanks again!

        Curt

  13. Melissa Thomas says:

    What a fascinating story! I found this page because I saw this http://secuservices.com/ideal/newideal/selectproduct.aspx?qty=1&ID=IBLP&Product=789 and had never heard of the breed. May have to get a few :)

  14. Kari McKay-Widdel says:

    Greetings! I found this page on a random search for Iowa Blues just to see what is out there. It is quite gratifying to see my birds plastered all over it :) It has been a great project so far and I think 2014 is going to be a great year for the Iowa Blue. Check out the breeder listing on the IBCC website in the next few weeks as we update the current membership. I currently have 35 eggs incubating, so we are off to a running start!

    • Hi Kari, I am glad you found this blog. I didn’t know the pictures I got off the Iowa blue Chicken Club website were your chickens, they are very beautiful birds. I think its great what you and others have done promoting this breed of chicken. I know there is a lot of interest in them and am sure the breeders won’t have trouble finding people who want to get started with their own flock. I hope to get some in about two years. Also, Congratulations on getting re-elected as Vice President of the Iowa Blue Chicken Club, I know you got my vote. I hope to get more involved once I start to farm.

  15. Sylvester017 says:

    So absolutely thrilled that yet another endangered breed is making a comeback. So many breeds in the world need saving &/or are gone. Kudos! Just think – if everyone who can breed in this country (I’m sadly not zoned for roos) takes just ONE endangered breed to concentrate on instead of piling up too many breeds on one property, all the critically listed birds could be saved. Another breed, the Russian Orloff, looks like it’s losing interested breeders because of health issues & low productivity. Some birds are worth saving not because they lay a bizzillion eggs but just because they ARE rare! As long as they are recovered, only THEN use them as table meat if they’re low producers. Sadly in this economy exhaustive hybrid production is prioritized over saving a self-sufficient homestead breed. America’s colonial Dominiques almost were lost & that is hard to understand as they are excellent feed-to-egg ratio, hardy & camouflaged foragers, brood their young, & not aggressive like heavier heritage breeds. Chickening right now is going nuts w/ all the new birds introduced in the USA – the way Asiatic fowl pushed out domestic homestead breeds & took over the chicken craze at turn-of-the-century 1900′s.

  16. Candy Pilarski says:

    We have a small flock of Iowa Blues that were adopted from a man who was not able to keep them. We have a Silver Pencil cockerel, Silver Pencil pullet and two Birchen Iowa Blue pullets. As I write this, we have 9 eggs in the incubator hopefully to hatch March 21. The girls laid all winter and usually every other day. They did well with no extra light or heat out in this harsh winter for mid Michigan standards. Definitely pleased with the Iowa Blue. We will be able to get on the breeders listing at the Iowa Blue Club site as well. Thank you for posting this information Gordon!

    • Hi Candy, thank you so much for your stopping by and your comment. That is great you are part of this movement to help rescue this great little chicken. May your flock of Iowa Blues grow so you can sell me some when I start to farm:)

  17. Sylvester017 says:

    Read a blogger elsewhere who said their Iowa Blues tended to featherpick. Common for confined quarters but my personal experience is that chickens not be overcrowded in confined areas and given free-range as much as possible. The Iowa Blue is probably a breed bored easily to have a featherpicking problem at all so would suggest not putting too many in small quarters. I allow 6 sq ft of unobstructed area per bird in a coop if allowed some free-range during the day and more sq ft area per bird if 24/7 confined. I don’t care for confined birds ever and even in our small city backyard I allow free-range all day.

    We are just fortunate enough not to have the stalking predators of rural communities but we still have to secure from stray dogs and the occasional visiting Cooper’s Hawk. Not having baby chicks on the ground keeps the hawks from frequenting the yard as our adult flock of hens are not easy prey and bigger than he is! A lot of low shelters around the yard is a must for the hens to duck under – it’s a great overhead predator deterrent. I have 3 of these low-to-the-ground shelters for the hens to hide or snooze underneath. Occasionally a stray cat jumps over the fence to stalk the yard but we have an Ameraucana that LOVES chasing them out again!

  18. Jennifer Coghlan says:

    I love the detailed story of the history! My husband brought to our attention an article on the Iowa Blue in the Des Moines Register last fall and became immediately intrigued. My 10 year old daughter is now doing a project for 4H on the Iowa Blue and we would really like to get some to show in 4H as well. Is there anywhere I can get just a few instead of ordering 25 from hatcheries? We live northwest of Des Moines and would be willing to travel. What a neat breed! Proud to be an Iowan!

    • Hi Jennifer, to get some Iowa blue chickens go to the post I wrote of the Iowa Blue Chicken and in that post you will find a link to the Iowa Blue Chicken Club. There you will find members that have Iowa blues for sale. You can get eggs to incubate or chicks and I think they will sell you just a few.

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