Iowa Blue Chickens - Understanding The Traditional Type

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7 Years
Jan 21, 2013
2013 Has been a very big year for the Iowa Blue. Not only has the breed experienced a surge of interest and support, but 2013 marked a turning point for the breed's legitimacy via the expansive uncovering of the breed's history.

For the first time since the breed's creation in the early 1920's, the average poultry enthusiast has access to first hand accounts of the breed's early beginings as well a pictures depicting what the original birds looked like. This thread is designed to explore the type, form, function, and color of the traditional Iowa Blue. (For further information about the breed's history, visit the Iowa Blue Chicken Club and check out the historical archives. Also, you can download and print a book called The History and Characteristics of the Iowa Blue. This download is free, so enjoy!)

Our historical accounts document that the Iowa Blue originally came in a stippled form of the silver penciled pattern. This stippling of the pattern produced an effect that would give the hens a blue-grey color when viewed from a distance. The breast would start out with some defined lacing and the more disorganized the pattern became as the pattern progressed toward the tail, the more blue the hen would look overall. This pattern in the hen is quite unique to the chicken kindom and no other breed exhibits such coloration. (One thing to take note, is that black chicks or black adult birds never existed in the original breed population).
The second unique coloration pertaining to the breed was the blue sheen which replaced the typical green sheen found in most breeds. The blue sheen definately enhances the overall "blueness" of the breed.
The third unique coloration trait, was found in the chick down coloration. Roughly half the chicks were born a solid chestnut color and the other half were born in a brown mottled sort of coloration. Interestingly, the brown mottled chicks were quite varied in their coloration. Some appeared a little more red, others more blue, and still others exhibited more or less of the brown mottling. But one thing was certain, regardless of which color the chicks hatched out (solid chestnut or brown mottled), all would grow up to look the same in coloration. Some a little lighter or darker, but every bird would exhibit the same pattern.
And lastly, the fourth unique characteristic was their personality. They were superb hawk fighers and always ready to take on a predator, yet always backing down and never attacking their human handlers.

Other facts of the traditional type are as follows;

Size - Rooster 10-11 lbs Hens 8+ lbs
Leg color - Slate or Willow (It would seem logical that an Iowa "Blue" would have blue legs, so many of the traditional breeders do tend to favor the blue legs even though the current Standard calls for Willow legs).
Egg Shape and Color - Medium-large sized, colored in a warm medium brown.
Shape - Rectangular with a well developed breast. Tail set is higher than normal, around a 70 degree angle. The sickles were not overly long, but rather short, just covering the tail feathers.
Back - Level, some birds showing a very slight sloping toward the tail end. But level was the overall prefered look.

So, with this in mind, this thread is geared toward exploring and expanding our understanding of the traditional characteristics of the Iowa Blue. We will be diving into sources of the traditional types, exploring the genetic expressions, and of course, sharing and learning as much of the history and characteristics of the traditional Iowa Blue as we can find. I hope you find this thread helpful and supportive as we learn together about this amazing breed.

Please interject your thoughts and experiences with the breed as well as adding any imput you may have about the traditional type. I will kick of this thread by sharing some of the historical pictures that we currently have.

These two pics are pictures taken in 1989 from the last known (fertile) flock of Iowa Blues. Half the chicks hatched solid chestnut, the other half hatched out brown mottled (similar in coloration to Silver Penciled Rocks). These would be the oldest pictures that we currently have of the breed.The two chicks to the left in the above picture where hatched out a solid chestnut color.

This picture if of birds that Phil Roe use to own in Illinois. These birds were hatched from the birds in the above pictures. This rooster has a pretty heavy white "mane". Most of the old timers who were interviewed for thier historical breed knowledge would comment the the traditional type exhibited a thick white "mane", and it would seem logical that breeders desire to regain one of the Iowa Blue's distinctive "stamps", namely the male's beautiful mane.

Hopefully on Monday I can post some pictures of the traditional type chicks for everyone to view as well as a young pullet and cockerel that hatched out solid chestnut as chicks. While the brown mottled chicks have been making a great comeback this year, unfortunately the solid chestnut chicks are very few indeed, with just a handful known to exist at the present. If you or anyone you know has purebred Iowa Blues that have hatched out as solid chestnut, do reach out to me!
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Nice to see you back on BYC Curt! I am planning on going down to see Denny sometime in the future to get a cockerel. He sent me a picture of one he thinks is going to be big! My pullets are putting on some serious size... much bigger than anything I have seen so far at that age. I can post some recent pics if you'd like
That would be great Ottjumper06 if you'd post some pics on here of your pullets. If you happen to have the ages and weights, that would be great too!
This is a great thread, Thanks Curt! I find it helpful that the details and historical data will be offered here in a specific thread with not a lot of other topics breaking it up. I also am interested in breeding more size into my small flock. I like the idea of 10-12 lb. cock birds and 7-8 lb. hens because, as I understand it, historically these were dual purpose birds. I'm looking forward to delving into the background of this mysterious chicken. SOMEBODY CALL ME WITH SOME BIG BIRDS TO SELL!
Here are some pics of the traditional type chicks. Our historical accounts state that the chicks would hatch solid chestnut and brown mottled, with the brown mottled chicks coming in an array of color combinations. There are some references to "pheasant" colored chicks, however, recently when individuals were asked to describe what the pheasant chicks looked liked, they described a brown mottled chick. This has been a recent development in our understanding of the original type; namely that the pheasant chicks were the brown mottled chicks.

You can see from these pics that the chicks have quite a varied down pattern, however, each of these chicks end up looking exactly the same one they reach adulthood. It's exciting to see that this trait is still available in our traditional type birds.

Below are two pictures of a solid chestnut chick. They are of the same bird taken a week or so apart. The top picture looks dark because of the lighting. The bottom picture depicts his color perfectly. Historically, these chestnut chicks are suppose to develop into adults that look like the Silver coloration of the adult brown mottled chicks. In my experience, this is what is appearing to happen.

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Here are some pictures of a 2 month old that was born solid chestnut. You can see in these pictures that she's developing a lot of lacing and it's exciting to see her develop with each molt as she develops more lacing and and overall "whitening" with each molting. You can also see that she has blue/slate legs and toes. Historically the shanks and toes were either slate or willow, but most traditional breeders are breeding the slate legs and they feel that blue legs fit the name Iowa "Blue" better than willow.

And here are some pictures of a cockerel that is the same bird as the solid chestnut chick posted in the previous post. He's currently 3.5 months old and weighs 3.9 lbs. You can see his blue sheen in the pictures and his sheen is really brilliant in the sun. It ranges from teal to cobalt blue depending on the angle of the sunlight as is shines upon his body. You can see that he's marked quite different from a typical Birchen pattern as he possesses a lot of white patterning.

It's exciting to see the solid chestnut chicks beginning to develop into birds that look very similar to the Silver pattern that the brown mottled chicks develop into. Historically this is what happened. With each new molt, both of these birds continue to look more and more like the Silver pattern of the brown mottled chicks.

Presently this coloration of the traditional type is very rare and limited in numbers, however, they continue to pop up and hopefully as more breeders are educated about the two chick down types, we can see the traditional breeders keeping these solid chestnut chicks and perpetuating their numbers.
Brief History of Today's Traditional Iowa Blue

Our recent history of the traditional Iowa Blue starts in 1989 with a flock owned by Ransome Bolson, and in his possession was found the last known fertile flock of Iowa Blues in the Nation. Mr. Bolson had obtained his start with a cockerel and nine pullets from Dolly Logston (the wife of the breed's creator, John Logston) sometime between 1950-1960. Ransome then offered the Iowa Blue via a hatchery he owned alongside his brother, called Bolson Hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. The Iowa Blue ceased to be offered via this hatchery when the Bolson brothers sold the hatchery to Steve Matter who re-named the hatchery The Decorah Hatchery. By 1989, not only was Ransome's flock the only fertile flock left, but it was the only breed Ransome had continued to breed. (In 2013 Ransome's children were contacted in regards to this flock, but the flock was no longer in existence, and none of the children or his widow knew what became of them or what year the flock was dispersed).
It was in 1989 that Kent Whealy located this remnant flock and obtained hatching eggs from Ransome. He had a successful hatch, and from this hatch received a group of chicks that were half solid chestnut, and half brown mottled (or pheasant colored as Kent referred to them, even though his description of them clearly described the brown mottled chicks). Kent went on to hatch chicks and distribute them to interested parties for the next couple of years. But, by 1991, fertility in Kent's flock had dropped so drastically that he handed over his flock (made up of 5-6 roosters and around 20 hens) to Glenn Drowns of Sandhill Preservation Center. Glenn's first hatching season with the Iowa Blue was quite discouraging. Of every 100 eggs set, roughly 10 were fertile and of those 10 eggs, roughly 4 would hatch. It was realized that if this trend were to continue, this flock would be infertile within a generation or two. Glenn speculated that the extreme loss of fertility was due to Kent's selection of the calmest and most docile roosters for breeding. Glenn realized that if this flock were to regain its ability to procreate, that outside blood was needed to revive the line.
Glenn began his program to introduce outside blood by making a starting cross of a Silver Penciled Rock rooster over Silver Campine and Egyptian Fayoumi hens. Cockerels of this F1 cross were put over Iowa Blue hens and this same pattern of taking the next generation's cockerels and putting them back over the Iowa Blue hens continued until the matriarchal line was considered pure by genetic standards. Likewise, Glenn also took F1 pullets (from the above listed SP Rock x S.Campine/Fayoumi cross) and bred them to an Iowa Blue rooster, then taking each generation of pullets and putting them back on Iowa Blue roosters until these too had met the genetic requirements to be considered purebred based on a patriarchal line. Once this breeding plan was complete, both “lines” were housed within the same pen and from that time on were allowed to intermix as nature would see fit. By breeding the F1 crosses to both female and male purebred Iowa Blues, Glenn was able to preserve the mitochondrial DNA and the male specific DNA of the purebred population.
Although the flock was considered purebred by genetic standards, the outside blood did introduce genetic material that was not part of the original population. Namely, two color patterns surfaced; Birchen and Silver Grey. Although these off type colors were now present in Glenn's flock, he felt that the breed needed more breeders and so he began to sell chicks out of his flock making note in his catalog that off types were somewhat common and needed to be selected against. Glenn later regretted this decision as he soon learned that prospective breeders didn't know which colors to select for (as next to no information was available to the average poultry breeder) and as such, many began to breed Birchen colored Iowa Blues in large numbers (probably due to the fact that the Birchen coloration is dominant to the other colorations).
In the late 1990's Glenn's flock was decimated by a predator attack. All that was left was two roosters of his flock of over 30 birds. But as luck would have it, a friend of Glenn's, named Phil Roe had only 3 older purebred hens that he had obtained from Kent Whealy. Phil decided to give these hens to Glenn in an attempt to save the breed. Glenn took these two roosters and bred them to the three hens, taking the cockerels of this cross and breeding them back to the hens, and continuing this pattern until the hens had expired their reproductive capabilities. While a new wave of purebred blood had been introduced to Glenn's purebred flock, there still remained some of the Birchen and Silver Grey individuals.
Around 2004 a modern type Iowa Blue was introduced to the public by Ideal Hatchery (containing black leghorn blood). This type produced by Ideal Hatchery was, and still is, a Birchen type of bird containing both Autosomal Red and Gold Leakage. (Recently, breeders have been able to obtain Silver and Silver Grey birds out of the Ideal line). As Ideal began to sell their modern type in mass numbers to the public, the public's perception was that the Iowa Blue was originally Birchen. This new advent led to people rejecting the traditional type as not “purebred”. By 2012 Glenn came to the resolve that the traditional Iowa Blue would go extinct once he passed away.
In 2013 with the help of the Iowa Blue Chicken Club, breeders interested in raising the traditional Iowa Blue were able to connect and work together in their attempts to preserve the traditional Iowa Blue. As a whole (including both the modern and traditional) the Iowa Blue is rare at best. However, of this combined population, it is estimated that a 1/4¼ or less of the overall population consists of the traditional type. However, although their numbers are currently a smaller portion of the overall population, some of the country's largest flocks are made up of the traditional type. And so, there is strong optimism among these breeders that the traditional Iowa Blue will one day surpass its historical popularity of gracing the farmyards of Iowa, to reach the farmyards of the nation.

***** This history just covers the history of the traditional Iowa Blue and mostly leaves out the history of the modern type. While some of this information we already knew, much of this information has been added to our historical understanding of the traditional type within the last two months and is shared in the above passage.
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Here we have two pictures of the traditional type Iowa Blue. On the left is a pullet that hatched brown mottled. The pullet on the left was hatched solid chestnut. Both are around two months old at the time of the picture.

Our historical accounts document that the brown mottled and solid chestnut colored chicks would grow up looking like the same bird. While the differences are still noticeable, with the bird on the right looking darker overall, it has been interesting to watch these two grow up side by side. With each new molt, the solid chestnut chick has added more lacing and an overall lightening of coloration. It has been shared that once the chestnut pullets reach adulthood they will look nearly identical to the brown mottled type, only a shade or two darker.


Pictured above is Silver Grey type of Iowa Blue out of the traditional type. While this hen is beautiful to look at, she is missing some of the genetic material needed to exhibit the correct traditional coloration. As a chick she was very yellow in coloration with a black stripe through her eye and black stripes on her back. It has been shared by Glenn that the Silver Grey patterned Iowa Blues first appeared alongside the Birchen colored birds after he added in outside blood. As such, breeders interested in maintaining the traditional characteristics within their Iowa Blue flock should discriminate against the Silver Grey and the Birchen colored birds as they appear within one's flock.

If you look at her shanks and toes you will notice they are a very light, bright blue color. In person they look just like they appear in the photo and are quite unique. This pullet is currently 3.5 months old and you can already see her fullness and depth of body.

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