Updated: Jan 17, 2021
The Icelandic Chicken or Viking Chicken, is one of the oldest recognized landraces of poultry in the world. These farmstead chickens originated in the tenth century when the Norse settled in Iceland. For a thousand years they were the only chicken to be found in Iceland. Conservation efforts for this landrace began in the 1970's to preserve the purity of this treasure and stewards of the Viking Chicken worked diligently to import them into other countries and expand conservation efforts with dedicated breeders. Genetically, their DNA has been found to be over 78% different from any other breed of domestic chicken making them unique in poultry the world over. For this reason, breeders of this treasure seek to promote purity by discouraging cross breeding.
Icelandic chickens are considered to be a landrace, not a breed. A landrace is a domesticated species of animal that has developed over time, through adaptation, to it's natural and cultural environment and due to isolation from other populations of the species. Landraces are generally distinguished from breeds in the standard sense.
This is a thrifty homestead bird when looking at feed consumption in comparison with egg production. The hens lay an egg that is white or tinted beige in color. When mature they weigh between 3 and 5 lbs and grow into active foragers that are very cold hardy. Favored for their mothering skills and good egg production even in winter the Icelandic chicken is the ultimate homestead bird. They are best suited in free range situations due to their habit of foraging on manure piles and other places rich with insects and seeds giving
them the Icelandic name - Haughænsni - meaning "pile chickens". Most of their feed comes from foraging and they much prefer to turn your compost pile in search of tasty treats than to live in a confinement system solely fed on grain. They are highly skilled foragers and evaders of predators, both of which are very much needed attributes for a free range bird on the homestead. Icelandics are a visual kaleidoscope showing incredible variety in feather color and pattern, comb size and shape, and shank colors. Some will even be found sporting flashy crests.
Another desirable homestead trait is the tendency towards broodiness. The instinct to incubate eggs and nurture growing chicks is strong with Icelandic hens and will often furnish all the replacement chicks needed for the flock each year.
Rough estimates suggest there are about 4,000 of these birds in Iceland and an informal survey done in the U.S. suggested about 1,000 birds in North America; making the Icelandic chicken quite rare. The Livestock Conservancy categorizes the Icelandic Chicken as "Threatened". They are still relatively unknown in the United States and not offered by any commercial hatcheries.
Our homestead is proud to offer an oasis for these incredible birds to flourish and serve as an educational flock for the public to interact with and enjoy!
Ready to raise your own Icies? Grab hatching eggs or chicks from my homestead!