Icelandic Landrace Chickens
Íslenska landnámshænan – “Icelandic hen of the settlers.”
Considered an Old World treasure, Icelandic chickens were brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th century AD and were found on most farms for centuries. Indeed, one of their Icelandic names — Íslenska landnámshænan — means Icelandic hen of the settlers. With the advent of the commercial type chickens, the Icelandic breed was nearly extinct by the 1950s. All the birds now existing ( estimated to be around 5000 ) are descended from a very small group of fowl saved in the 1970s. The Icelandic chicken is significantly different genetically than modern chicken breeds. According to an interview with the former president of the Icelandic preservation association (Júlíus Baldursson), a 2004 study of blood samples from the Icelandic chicken, done in Britain, revealed that 78% of the DNA of the Icelandic chicken was unique and could not be found in any other chicken breeds in the world. It is for this reason that crossing with other breeds is strongly discouraged, once crossed, the offspring and descendants from these crosses can never be considered Icelandics.
“Keeping them pure is the only way they can be preserved. They have been around for over a thousand years. We must be responsible keepers of this treasure.” – Lyle Behl
A landrace, with no set standard, Icelandic chickens come in a variety of plumage colours, comb types and skin colours. They’re excellent layers of richly flavored, ivory or tinted coloured eggs. The perfect farmstead chicken for those that like to have the diversity of a colourful flock, but want to keep just one breed. Known for their hardiness, prolific egg laying and docile nature, Icelandic chickens are adapatable to many climates and thrive in almost any type of management program. They really shine when allowed to free-range and are capable of foraging for much of their own food.
Icelandic Chicken FAQ
Welcome to the world of Icelandic Chickens. This question guide should help answer some of the basic questions we as breeders and preservation farms of the landrace get most often when discussing the unique heritage and characteristics of these birds.
What is an Icelandic Chicken?
The Icelandic Chicken, is one of the oldest recognized “breeds” of poultry in the world. Genetically they have been found to be over 78% different from any other breed of Gallus Gallus (the domestic chicken). They are considered a landrace. They do well in most management styles, hen house with adjoining run, or chicken tractors, however, they are at their best in free range situations, another of their Icelandic names — Haughænsni — meaning “pile chickens,” due to their habit of foraging on manure piles and other places rich with insects and seeds. They are also referred to as: Viking Chickens, native Icelanders call them Íslenskar Hænur, Íslenska landnámshænan or Haughænsni
What is a Landrace?
A landrace is a domesticated, regional ecotype; a locally adapted, traditional variety of a domesticated species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to it’s natural and cultural environment of agricultural and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species. Landraces are generally distinguished from cultivars, and from breeds in the standard sense, although the term landrace breed is sometimes used synonymously instead, as distinguished from the term standardized breed in contexts in which the word breed is used expansively. (taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landrace)
How rare is the Icelandic Chicken?
Currently rough estimates suggest about 4,000 birds in Iceland and an informal survey done in the U.S. suggested about 1,000 birds in North America. Total population being estimated around 5,000 birds. This breed of poultry is on the watch list for the Livestock Conservancy.
History of the Icelandic Chicken?
These chickens were brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th century AD and were found on many farms for centuries. One of their Icelandic names — Íslenska landnámshænan — means “Icelandic hen of the settlers.” With the advent of the commercial type chickens, by the 1950s the Icelandic chicken was nearly extinct. All the birds now existing are descended from a very small group of fowl saved in the 1970s.
How do they handle heat?
Icelandics are very hardy and can handle a wide range of temperatures. They require general care for the environment they are in. They originated in a maritime climate where temperatures can range from -22 F to 86.9 F.
How do they handle cold?
Icelandics handle the cold weather as well as any winter hardy breed. However, they do not have antifreeze in their blood, they come from a cool, wet climate, not frigid. In North America, flocks are located in places that have seen temperatures below -50 and with correct winter care and housing can still thrive.
Do the combs freeze?
Yes, combs and wattles will freeze. There are various ways to keep this from happening. People need to find a method that works well for their individual needs and circumstances.
Do they need extra light?
During the winter possibly, depending on your location. Individual preferences and circumstances will dictate what you need for your flock. Extra light is not necessarily required unless you want to increase winter egg production.
What weight do they dress out at?
Icelandics are considered a “medium sized chicken”. Carcass dress weight for roosters is about two to two and a half pounds, hens will be less. They are not typically a dual purpose fowl, their meat however has an excellent flavor.
How well do they fly?
Icelandics are excellent fliers. They can be routine escape artists and love to roost as high as they can get, especially in trees if given the opportunity. If you are concerned about them flying out of enclosures consider netting the top of outside runs, clipping wingtip feathers, or flight feathers but it’s not necessary.
Are they friendly?
Chicks that are handled from hatching can become extremely friendly and bond very well to their caretakers. They are calm, with calm people.
Are they good with children?
Being a medium size chicken, they are easier for children to handle. If they have been well socialized and raised with children they can make excellent birds for children and 4-H projects.
What are the different lines?
There are 4 recognized lines of Icelandic Chickens in North America. Each of the lines came from a different farm or preservation flock in Iceland.
In 1997/1998 by Sigrid Thordarson, from Steinar II and Syðstu Fossum Farm, this line is known as the “Sigrid Line.” Sometimes refered to as the as the Steiner II line or import.
In 2003 by Lyle Behl, from Kolsstaðir Farm, this line is known as the “Behl Line.” At times, also refered to as the “Kolsholt Line” or import.
From 2010 – 2011 Withrow, Lallemand and Bentely, from Hlesey Farm, this line is known as the “Hlesey Line.” or import. The Lallemand import is managed by Whippoorwill Farm.
Finally, in 2012 by Vala Withrow, from Husatoftir Farm, this line is known as both Vala’s line or the “Husatoftir Line.” or import.
Are different colored legs ok?
Yes, yellow shanks are most common, but their legs can also be green, blue, slate grey or white.
Are feathered legs ok?
No, legs should be completely clean of all feathers or fuzz. Birds that exhibit any feathers on shanks should be immediately culled.
What color ears?
Lobes should be white or off white though lobes with some red streaking is common.
What type of combs do they have?
Icelandic’s can have all comb types.
Anything special I need to know about these birds?
They are considered a genetic treasure; therefore crossing with other breeds of birds is strongly discouraged. Icelandic Chickens can be very addictive.
What should be culled for?
Aggressive roosters, leg feathering, fray feathering, barred feathering, overly sexually aggressive cocks/roosters, misshapen eggs, lack of broodiness in hens or poor mothering skills. Any traits that are noticeable that could be perceived as a genetic or physical deformity are all traits that could be culled for.
Weight of hens is approximately three to three and a half pounds.
What size and color egg?
Hens lay medium size to large eggs, egg color can be ivory to tinted.
How many eggs per year?
Icelandics average 180 eggs per year.
At what age do they start laying?
They have been known to start laying at four and half months, but it can take much longer depending on the hatching date and season.
Do they go broody?
Hens readily go broody, have strong mothering instincts and make excellent, attentive mothers.
Do the roosters fight?
Yes, individual birds personalities differ, but typically there is a dominant rooster. Roosters that are raised together tend to get along better.
Are Roosters mean?
Generally no, again individual personalities differ between birds. Aggressive roosters should be culled.
Where can breeders be found for eggs, chicks, or adult birds?
Breeders can be found, on the Icelandic Chicken Facebook page. Pinned to the top of the page. They can also be found on https://icelandicchickens.wordpress.com/breeders/ and the Mother Earth News article http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/icelandic-chickens-zm0z14onzkin.aspx
Where to go for more Info?
We have a very active Facebook page and The Official Group for the Icelandic Landrace Chicken (also known as Landnámshænan). It can be found here:
Read their mission statment here:
We seek to preserve the unique traits and genetic characteristics of the Icelandic Landrace Chicken (also known as Landnámshænan) in its purest form, and to educate and mentor those wishing to breed and/or maintain preservation flocks. As such, this is the go-to location of the most trusted breeders for those wishing to acquire pure, uncontaminated stock.