So what do you know about the Vikings? Not the TV series, the people. They traveled in big wooden boats? The names of our weekdays are words derived from names of their gods? They wore big horned helmets? (actually, that last one is a myth). And what do you know about Iceland? It’s a small island nation: home to Bjork, volcanos and a Penis Museum? And we all know about chickens! Now let’s combine the three.
The Vikings settled Iceland in the ninth century and brought their farmstead chickens with them. In Iceland these birds are known as Íslenska landnámshænan, “Icelandic chicken of the settlers.” Over the centuries, farmers selected birds capable of being self-reliant and good mothers. The result is a landrace of active, naturally healthy birds adapted to harsh conditions. (Landrace are regionally domesticated ecotypes: livestock adapted to local conditions, isolated from other populations of its species and selected for useful traits rather than for conformation to specific breed standards, such as color, pattern or comb style.)
They are one of the oldest recognized breeds of chickens in the world and are 78% genetically different from any other breed of chicken. For more than a thousand years, Icelandics were the only chickens in Iceland. In the 1930s, Leghorns were imported to boost commercial egg and meat production. Those two breeds were crossed and the pure Icies were in danger of being lost forever.
Conservation efforts began in the 1970s and their success was followed by the export of these unique birds to other countries, including Canada. Estimates put the global Icelandic chicken population at @5000 and Icies are on the watch list of the Livestock Conservancy.
I hatched 9 Icelandics and held on to three pullets. I love their appearance (and little crests) but I found they were a bit ‘wild’ for my liking. They learned to climb the fence, vertically, to get into the larger pen, they’d roost on top of the coop and were pretty independent. I also felt that it is important that they go to someone who wants to breed them and increase the population of this threatened breed.
Six of them went to a first time chicken keeper on Gabriola and these three are now living outside Port Alberni.