I came across Helga’s post in an online chicken group, introducing herself as Inuit from Greenland and a first time chicken keeper. Of course I was intrigued and had a ton of questions about the practicality of trying to keep poultry alive in such a harsh climate. That area of the world has very short, relatively cool summers (12C/53F) with lots of daylight and long, dark, cold winters (-20C/-4F). I wondered if she was crazy or daring. I visualized her flock being struck down by frostbite, lunch for a whole host of predators or buried under feet of snow.
Enquiring minds wanted to know the answers so I set about finding them. For some reason Facebook is finicky and sometimes prevents me from direct messaging folks. Helga mentioned where she lived so I set about tracking her down. In the quest for her contact info I came across photos of her weightlifting and found she was involved in arctic sports. As a bit of a couch potato I was pretty impressed with her workouts.
If you’re not familiar with Greenland it’s an island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, north of Iceland and Scandinavia and parallel with the arctic regions of Canada. It’s less than 1/3 the size of my country (Canada), but three times the size of Texas. It’s a vast area with a tiny population of just 60,000, making it the least densely populated country in the world. 90% of the residents are Indigenous, descendants of Inuit that migrated from Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Norway colonized it for several hundred years until the late 15th century, followed by Denmark who made it part of their kingdom.
One of my concerns in contacting Helga was there would be a language barrier because her first language is Greenlandic. It turns out that it was a bit of an issue; although her English is pretty good I sometimes had to repeat a question, and even then I’m not sure I always got the correct answer. Somehow, over two months and a few emails, we managed to muddle through and I’m happy to present the story of probably some of the most northerly chickens in the world: a flock that gets to witness the spectacular northern lights and dine on seal meat.
Thanks for the interest in hearing from me. I’m 45, the mother of grown kids. I’ve worked a lot in Greenland, Europe, Canada and Alaska. In my country I was head coach and president of the Inuit games.
Currently I’m a volunteer coach and work as a Manager of Health Prevention in North Greenland. We have 16 prevention coordinators whose areas of focus are: alcohol and drug use, violence, rape and sexual abuse, suicide, diet and exercise, sexual health, smoking, children and adolescents, the elderly, dental care and harassment.
Our settlement committees include social services, police, prison service, chief physician, dentist, headmaster and prevention advisor. This year I’m working in Uummannaq with an old people’s home and disability housing.
When I was little I dreamt that if I had a chicken I could get eggs. I would put an egg inside a pillow hoping to hatch a little chick. Having chickens has been my childhood dream, so when I stopped working as manager of prevention programs I got my first chickens on June 1st this year: one rooster and three hens.
Travel here is faster and easier by plane but very expensive. I didn’t think about the money, I wanted chickens so the cost to get them wasn’t important. We didn’t choose the chickens ourselves, farmers brought them to us when I lived 700 kilometers south of here. Greenlanders have to import eating eggs from Denmark.
I usually order chicken food from Denmark which has been difficult. In future, I’m going to try to order chicken feed and accessories from the USA. I’ve found a local shop where I’m able to recover unsold produce and bread so the chickens always get those things for free.
I’m excited for winter and how it will affect my birds.
My family built a chicken coop and my father, who is a plumber, installed a ship’s heater so the flock will be warm in winter and their water doesn’t freeze. The temperature in January will drop to -24C/11F. We have three months of darkness over the winter so we’ll use lights inside the coop.
We don’t have many predators in Greenland, only foxes and lazy dogs. I’ve never seen a polar bear where I come from, so I’m most worried about sled dogs which are sometimes feral and could kill my birds.
I lost my rooster two months ago and his mate has stopped laying eggs. I got a new cockerel who hatched in August and we now have 18 chickens. They’ve learned very quickly and fit in well with each other. I’m so impressed.
I have learned many things about chickens by watching Youtube videos. We are happy with them and the community love our chickens. The school and kindergarten kids come to visit my flock and ask about them. The chickens love them too. Welcome to the town of Uummannaq (pop. 1400).
I have to say this has been one of the most interesting profiles of a chicken keeper that I’ve done and appreciate the opportunity to learn a bit more about Greenland and life there. Many thanks to Helga Nielsen for sharing her story, photos and video, used with permission.