Shetland Hen

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Some believe the Shetland Hen to be a small black fowl around the size of a pigeon pointing to a fowl of bantam proportions. Others believe it was a heavier type of fowl. These were remembered by many of the older generations of crofters approached when initial research was done. It was thought that the first type to be brought to the Islands was the smaller type that most resembles the wild ‘jungle fowl,’ the ancestor of all modern chicken. These were brought from the continent to the islands centuries ago. The second type was thought to have arrived on Shetland from Spain. There is a theory that they could have been brought to the islands by a Spanish galleon. There were 2 Spanish galleons actually wrecked on Shetland shores.
The actual location of fowl was done when a retired teacher George Peterson of Brae formally of Papa Stour described birds he had once owned and that had been maintained in a pure true breeding state on the island of Papa Stour and that were now resided in Muckle Roe. These original fowl were viewed and as they matched the type that has been descried by many independent sources they were purchased to start a breeding programme.
The smaller black Shetland Hens and black-red cockerels have a glossy black plumage throughout with some of the breast feathers having a narrow red/brown strip down the vein. The legs and beak are black and a very small comb is a dark red. The hens lay a good number of bantam sized white eggs. The incubation period is 21 days that consolidate the theory that it is a true hen not a bantam that incubates for 19 days. The larger type is likened to the Araucana Hen from Chile but with the exception of the beards and ear tufts is relatively heavy and has the characteristic tuft ‘Tapp’ (as known in Shetland) of feathers on its head. The breed comes in a variety of colours. Shetland Hens are aesthetically pleasing, productive and hardy.

The few people who are interested in saving this genepool are helping to keep this breed in existence, none of which would have been possible without a couple of producers of the Isle of Trondra who saved this breed single-handedly. Rare breeds of poultry seem often to be unfairly undervalued. They are so easily cross-bred and lost forever – these were saved just in time before extinction.

Because these first have a long and happy life they tend to be mature before they end their life so a moist slow cooking method is both advisable and delicious.

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StateUnited Kingdom

Scotland - Shetland

Other info


Breeds and animal husbandry

Nominated by:Wendy Barrie, Bosse Dahlgren