Iowa Blues

A small flock of Iowa Blues
Photo courtesy of J. Gettle
These birds are more like the original Iowa Blues

I know almost nothing about this breed. They were developed around the turn of the century near Decorah, Iowa. The only place I've ever seen reference to them is in the catalog of Sandhill Preservation Center, where they are working on keeping them in existence.

As I understand it, they should have the darker, pencilled breast of the cockerel at the top, not a whitish breast like the bird in the last photo.

Iowa Blue Breed History


Curt Burroughs

Few people today are aware of Iowa's only chicken breed, but travel back with me to the 1920s and let's rediscover this unique experience that impacted the lives of generations gone by.

We'll start our journey in the early 1920s with a man named John Logston, on a small farm on the outskirts of Decorah, IA. John was a typical Iowan of that day; strong-willed, proud, and innovative. He recognized when change was needed, and relied upon himself to implement that change. Among his impressive list of accomplishments, one in particular was to change the lives of his community, and communities throughout Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. This creation was the Iowa Blue.

Iowa's climate of hot, humid summers, followed by cold, dry winters made for a difficult environment to raise chickens. Breeds bred for the heat of our southern states struggled through our winters with frostbitten combs and breeds bred for the cold of our northern states often met an untimely death to heat stroke in our summer heat. What was needed was a breed of chicken capable of not only surviving our great weather extremes, but thriving in that environment. So, in the early part of 1920, John set out to develop the perfect "Iowa Chicken." What resulted was a breed that far surpassed his expectations. Not only did his creation thrive in Iowa's climate diversity, but they embodied his same indepenendance and preferred to forage for their own keep, raise a brood of chicks without human intervention, and fight off invading hawks seeking to make a meal out of them. The Iowa Blue came to possess traits only seen in this breed, but despite this desire to self-defend and self-provide, they came to enjoy the tending of a flock master and in doing so they perfectly balanced the American spirit of freedom with the peace of a pastoral living.

Word soon spread of John's creation and small local hatcheries in Iowa began to populate the Iowan countryside with these lovely birds. Families quickly became devoted to the breed as the needs of the family were supplied with minimal input by the family, and it seemed the Iowa Blue was here to stay. That is, until the industrialization of our food supply in the 1940s-1950s.

Industrialization saw the need for chickens to produce either eggs or meat, not both like the older style dual-purpose heritage breeds. With this culture shift many of our sturdy breeds were met with extinction. Without a breed club or standard in place, the Iowa Blue quickly declined in popularity and by 1989 there was but one fertile flock of Iowa Blues left in the country. This flock was owned by a gentleman by the name of Ransome Bolson who lived just outside of Decorah, Iowa. Every Iowa Blue in the Nation traces its history to Bolson's flock. Kent Whealy (co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA) caught wind about this last remaining flock and orchestrated what has been coined by present breeders as the 80s rescue. He obtained hatching eggs from Ransome and maintained a flock of Iowa Blues at Seed Savers for a couple of years and distributed stock to interested parties. At this time, no club was formed, and the breed slowly began to decline once again as breeders passed away or moved on from owning chickens. By the late 1990s the breed was once again on the brink of extinction and hovered in that state as one man (Glenn Drowns from Sandhill Preservation Center in Calamus, IA) maintained the last flock of the original type of Iowa Blue.

In the early part of 2012 individuals interested in preserving and promoting this breed, banded together and formed the Iowa Blue Chicken Club and quickly set in motion the necessary requirements to prevent this breed from experiencing the extinction it had spent the last two decades courting. Many things have fallen favorably for the Iowa Blue in the last two years. The club was formed, a Standard set in place, breed numbers have been expanding, and demand for this breed has greatly exceeded supply.

As people begin to place a priority on food awareness and seek out local producers, now is the perfect time for the Iowa Blue to once again reign on family farms, and to supply the needs of the homesteader's palette. For more information about the Iowa Blue, check out our website at

Here's a downloadable book on The History and Characteristics of the Iowa Blue, by Curt Burroughs.

Breed clubs:

Iowa Blue Chicken Club

Iowa Blue Links:

The SPPA brochure on Iowa Blues

Ellson's Acre's Iowa Blues

Iowa Blues at The Nester's

Kari McKay's IB hens and a pullet
Photos courtesy of Kari McKay

A 5-month-old Iowa Blue cockerel
No, he doesn't have a tumor! When he was penned for his "photo op," he went hog wild in the feeder.

Another shot of the above cockerel

"Maria," a six-month-old pullet

Another pair of Iowa Blues
Photo courtesy of Phil Roe

This cockerel has too much white on his breast

An Iowa Blue chick

Iowa Blue chicks
Photo courtesy of Curt Burroughs

Kari McKay's Iowa Blue chicks
Photo courtesy of Kari McKay

[Chickens D-O]


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