The Icelandic hen arrived on the shores of Iceland in the 10th Century, when settlers from Ireland and Norway crossed the Atlantic Ocean and settled on the island. The Icelandic name for this animal, Landnámshæna, literally means „Icelandic chicken of the settlers“.
Landnámshæna soon became a resource of fresh eggs and meat to the newcomers, spreading throughout the country and being the only chicken breed on the island for centuries. And so it was when, from the mid-1970-s, it started being gradually replaced by more productive and imported breeds. Today, Landnámshæna survives in small farms, where it grazes in small flocks.
Farms are located in different parts of the island: in the fjords, in large alluvial plains in the south and west of the country, and in valleys in the northern and eastern part of Iceland.
Being a landrace, the Icelandic hen breed has been able to adapt to a similar environment and develop its characteristics without much human intervention. This is why, unlike what happens with selected species, Icelandic hens are variable both in appearance and genetic heritage. They are colourful, medium-sized birds, whose feathers come in an extraordinary range of colours and shades. However, specimens with feather-covered feet or beard are not allowed in the breed as the latter are the result of cross-breeding. Often speckled, with collars or fringes, the Icelandic native hen is curious and independent, and has a strong maternal instinct. It is also an excellent forager when outdoors.
Landnámshæna is indeed mostly raised as free range: as far as the climate allows, the poultry graze on Icelandic vegetation and hunt for bugs and worms in the surroundings; from October to May, heavy rain, snow and frost can sometimes be a real hindrance for the animals to find their feed by themselves. In periods of bad weather conditions, animals are also fed fresh legumes and some grains such as barley, wheat, corn. When crops are sparse, Icelandic farmers are forced to add to the daily diet supplementary compound feeds, which are always organic.
The Icelandic Settlers Hen is mainly used for eggs, produced with lower yields than in imported industrial hybrids, but of good quality and boasting a high nutritional value due to the high protein content, while meat is considered a secondary product. Historically, feathers would also be used on a small scale for duvets and pillows on beds, replacing eiderdown if not available or shaped into ink pens for writing.
In order to preserve the remaining native population, the Agricultural Research Institute before, and, since 2003, the Icelandic Chicken Owners and Breeders Association or ERL (Eigenda – og ræktendafélag landnámshænsna) have made special efforts in collecting the specimens, studying their genetic characteristics, and then pushing farmers to keep on rearing them. Moreover, the ERL is also promoting education for the owners and breeders of the Icelandic hen, organizing chicken shows and publishing once a year a journal with news and articles. The Presidium unites a group of farmers, members of the ERL association, who are committed to complying with a production protocol which is even stricter than that of the association itself, as, for example, it forbids the use of GMOs in the animal feed, while promoting sustainable farming and the full respect of animal welfare.
The Icelandic Genetic Resource Council (Erfðanefnd Landbúnaðarins)
Tel. +354 6186047
Tel. +354 8571444
Tel. +354 8921609
Tel. +374 8200134
Tel. +374 486 6162
Ingi Vignir Gunnlaugsson
Tel. +374 8476919
Tel. +374 6951968
firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com
Tel. +374 8491445,
Tel. +374 6943153
Tel. +374 4855530 - 8965736
Þór Fannberg Gunnarsson
Tel. +374 8958987
Dr. Ólafur Dýrmundsson
Tel. +354 8411346 - +354 5573248
Presidium Producers’ Coordinator
Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir
Tel.+354 6993250 - +354 5667326