Breed Profile: Ameraucana Chicken
Ameraucana Chickens Lay Beautiful Blue Eggs
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Breed: The Ameraucana chicken is a bearded, muffed, and tailed blue-egg layer developed to a standard in the U.S. from Easter Egger chickens.
Origin: The gene for blue-shelled eggs evolved among landrace chickens in Chile belonging to the indigenous Mapuche people. These chickens may have preceded the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 1500s, although DNA evidence so far is not clear. Other characteristics have been perfected from various other breeds, standardized in the United States in the 1970s.
How the Ameraucana Chicken Was Developed in The United States
History: In 1927, a young New Yorker Ward Brower, Jr. was intrigued by a painting of Chilean chickens published in The National Geographic Magazine. He noticed they laid blue eggs. With his love of the diversity of nature and a plan for a unique brand, he determined to import some birds from Chile. However, the original Mapuche chickens were fiendishly hard to track down. Local farmers had interbred them with a wide variety of breeds. As the blue shell coloring results from a dominant gene, crossbreeds were able to lay colored eggs. Brower’s contact in Santiago, Juan Sierra, eventually found a rooster and two hens carrying the desired traits to ship to him. Sierra warned that, “The three birds are all different in color, as it is impossible to secure birds alike, as no one in the country breeds them pure.”
The birds arrived in poor condition in the fall of 1930. They bore ear tufts and one was rumpless, like those in the painting. However, there were obvious traits from other known breeds, such as Dominique, Rhode Island Red, and Barred Plymouth Rock. In spring, one hen laid pale brown eggs before she and the rooster died. Only one of these hatched under another broody. This male chick went on to breed with the other hen, who started laying cream eggs. These formed the basis of Brower’s breeding stock.
The First Easter Eggers
For the first year, the flocks’ eggs were white or brown. However, eventually Brower noticed a faint blue tint to one of the shells. He bred selectively over many years to intensify the blue of his lines’ eggshells. He hoped to retain the ear tufts and rumpless traits as well, but most offspring did not bear them. One of his lines was purely descended from the imported birds. Another had one eighth influence from a mixture of other breeds, including Red Cuban Game, Silver Duckwing Game, Brahma, Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, Cornish, Silver Spangled Hamburg, Ancona, and White and Brown Leghorn. He found more colored-egg layers in the latter line. So they became the basis of what he called Easter egg chickens.
Easter Eggers were often referred to as Araucanas, as the first exports from Chile had been called. Many breeders raised these birds with a wide range of characteristics. When presenting the Araucana chicken to the American Poultry Association (APA), various breeders proposed several different standards. In 1976, the APA chose characteristics that John Robinson had described in the U.S. publication, the Reliable Poultry Journal, in 1923, which were tufted and rumpless. This decision dismayed those breeders who had worked hard on developing other strains.
The First Ameraucana Chickens
Meanwhile, Mike Gilbert in Iowa had bought bantam Easter Eggers from a Missouri hatchery. From them, he developed a line of Wheaten bearded, muffed, and tailed blue-egg-laying bantams he called the American Araucana. He carefully blended Easter Eggers with other breeds to bring in the genes for color and other desired traits. Poultry Press published a photograph of one of his birds in 1977. This photo inspired Don Cable in California who was also aiming to stabilize such traits. The two got together with other breeders to form a new club. They focused on developing several varieties to a democratically agreed standard. In 1979, the club agreed on the name Ameraucana. In this way, the Ameraucana Bantam Club (ABC) was born (which later became the Ameraucana Breeders Club and the Ameraucana Alliance).
The ABC perfected the Wheaten and White varieties and proposed standards to the American Bantam Association (ABA), who accepted them in 1980. Meanwhile, ABC committee members were working to perfect other varieties and present their proposal to the APA. In 1984, the APA accepted all eight varieties into both bantam and large fowl classes. Then breeders began to work seriously on developing the large fowl. They skillfully blend genetics from various breeds to achieve birds that attain the standard. Then lines are stabilized so that offspring breed at least 50% true.
These days, Easter Egger chickens are usually crossbreeds or Ameraucanas that fail to achieve standard. They are still popular for laying eggs of different colors, such as pink, blue, green, or olive. Unfortunately, some hatcheries market these incorrectly as Ameraucanas. Often these have been crossed with commercial laying strains to increase their laying habit.
Conservation Status: A popular breed in the U.S. with no current extinction risk.
Biodiversity: The Ameraucana chicken is a composite breed created to a standard from diverse genetic resources. The gene for blue eggshells derives from Chilean landrace chickens. Genetics from many breeds of diverse origins have been combined to standardize physical characteristics.
Description: The Ameraucana chicken is a light bird a full breast, a curved beak, beard, a small triple-ridged pea comb, and a medium-length tail. The eyes are reddish bay. Wattles are small or absent. Ear lobes are small, red, and covered with feathered muffs. Legs are slate blue. Ideally, they lay blue-shelled eggs, but some shades shift toward green.
Varieties: The APA standard recognizes Wheaten, White, Black, Blue, Blue Wheaten, Brown Red, Buff, and Silver in large fowl and bantam. In addition, a Lavender variety is becoming popular.
Skin Color: White.
Popular Use: Dual-purpose.
Egg Color: The shells are a pale pastel greenish blue—this coloring permeates the shell.
Egg Size: Medium.
Productivity: About 150 eggs per year.
Weight: Large fowl—rooster 6.5 lb., hen 5.5 lb., cockerel 5.5. lb., pullet 4.5 lb.; Bantam—rooster 1.875 lb., hen 1.625 lb., cockerel 1.625 lb., pullet 1.5 lb.
Temperament: Varies according to strain. Generally, active and lively.
Adaptability: Good foragers and highly fertile. They fare well in free-range environments. The pea comb resists frostbite.
Sources: Ameraucana Alliance
Ameraucana Breeders Club
The Great Ameraucana vs Easter Egger Debate ft Neumann Farms, Heritage Acres Market LLC
Orr, R.A. 1998. A History of the Ameraucana Breed and the Ameraucana Breeders Club.
Vosburgh, F.G. 1948. Easter Egg Chickens. The National Geographic Magazine, 94(3).