Icelandic Chicken Breed: History, Origin, and Characteristics

The Icelandic chicken is one of the oldest and most recognized “breeds” of poultry in the world. Regarded as the treasure of the Old World, the Vikings brought Icelandic chickens to Iceland in the 9th century. (In Iceland they are also known as Íslenska landnámshænan or “the settlers’ Icelandic chicken.”)

Icelandic Chicken Characteristics

Due to its long history of survival and adaptations to various climatic conditions, the breed boasts a wide selection of traits. Some Icelanders have feathered crests, they are often spotted, some have feathered feet, and there are variations in plumage type, crest types, colors, patterns, and skin color.

Icelandic chicken

Varieties of Icelandic Chicken breed

Birds of this breed do not have a standardized appearance, they have a wide range of colors and plumage patterns.

Appearance and characteristics of the Icelandic chicken

Temperament of the Breed

The temperament of this breed varies greatly from bird to bird. In general, they are considered good flyers. However, each Icelander is different from the other in personality. Some are in fact naturally sweet. All birds of this breed are capable of enjoying human company if you spend a lot of time with them and raise them from chicks.

The roosters will fight each other for dominance. However, once the pecking order is established, one will be second to the other. In other words, you can keep multiple hens in the same flock if they grow up together. However, the introduction of roosters as adults can end badly. Always watch closely and use common sense.

Icelandic Chicken Egg production

Egg production is not outstanding like that of egg-laying champions such as Leghorns, Menorcas, and Rhode Island Reds, but she is a regular layer. The eggs are white to cream-colored and small (although surprisingly large for such small hens).

Icelandic Chicken History

These chickens were brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th century and were kept on most settler farms for centuries. In fact, one of its Icelandic names, Íslenska landnámshænan, means “Icelandic settler chicken”. With the advent of commercial chickens, by the 1950s the breed was almost extinct. All of the birds in existence today (fewer than 3,000) are descended from a very small group of birds saved in the 1970s.

Unique Genetics

The Icelandic chicken is significantly different genetically from modern chicken breeds. According to an interview with the former president of the Icelandic conservation association (Júlíus Baldursson), a study carried out in 2004 on blood samples from Icelandic chicken, carried out in Great Britain, revealed that 78% of the DNA of the chicken this breed was unique to unlike any other breed of chicken in the world. It is for this reason that crossbreeding with other breeds is strongly discouraged, once crossed, the offspring will never again be considered Icelandic.

On the Brink of Extinction

For more than a thousand years, the only chickens in Iceland were of this robust breed. But in the 1930s, Leghorns chickens were imported to boost commercial egg and meat production. Inevitably, those chickens interbred with some of the natives, and the Icelandic purebred was in danger of being lost. Efforts to conserve the native population began in the 1970s. The success of these efforts was followed by the importation of these genetically unique birds to other countries, including the United States.

Additional Data

Icelandics are still relatively unknown in the United States and you won’t find the breed on commercial farms. An American Facebook group dedicated to purebred conservation may be the best place to find reliable sources of hatching eggs, chicks, or adult birds: Icelandic Chicken Group

Questions about Icelandic Chicken

What color eggs do Icelandic chickens lay?

Eggs are white to cream and small – though surprisingly large for such small hens – averaging just below 1.75 ounces. The carcass size of cull birds is small, not surprising in a type developed as Icelandics were to forage most of their own feed.

Are Icelandic chickens good layers?

They are one of the only breeds to generally lay consistently in the winter, we choose to not have them lay in the winter so they can be more productive in the Spring. Eggs are white to cream in color, medium size. Generally, a leaner chicken, which helps them be more stealth-like! These are really tough/strong birds.

How many eggs a year do Icelandic chickens lay?

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.

Is chicken common in Iceland?

Icelandic food today is noted for being almost shockingly free of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Chicken and livestock often roam free and eat steady diets of grass, and this healthy, natural lifestyle comes through prominently in the quality and taste of the meat you’ll get here.

Are Icelandic chickens a heritage breed?

Icelandic Chickens are a heritage chicken breed for modern homesteads. Norse settlers brought their home flocks to Iceland in the ninth century. For more than a thousand years, the only chickens in the country were of this robust Icelandic or sometimes called Landrace.

How much are Icelandic chickens worth?

The typical rate for purchasing an Icelandic chicken is anywhere between $25 and $50. This is a little pricey for chickens. If you are planning on buying one, you might have to make some room in your budget.

How long do Icelandic chickens live?

These chickens do not have anyone’s particular look and vary in color, size, comb style, and pattern. 2 However, one feature that identifies them is their featherless legs. They are well-known as good layers and foragers and can live for up to 15 years in a secure and sheltered coop.

Can Icelandic chickens fly?

Icelandic chickens love to forage, dig in manure and compost piles and can fly quite well, which helps them to roost as high as they are able to at night. Icelandic chickens are not standardized in appearance and possess a wide range of plumage colors and patterns and comb types. Some have feather crests.

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