Icelandic Chickens are just chickens, I know. So a lot of how we care for them is just good chicken care practice. But they also have some unique characteristics.
One of the things we discovered when we first got the birds is that they are very particular about where they want to lay their eggs. When we built their coop, we tried all sorts of nesting box designs. Milk crates, boxes, half doors, placed on the back wall in the dark corners of the coop. They hated them. What these hens want are apple baskets set waist high, filled with hay. Luckily, I can get them at my local feed store for about $7 each, and they last a really long time because they are up off the ground. We just screw them to the wall and keep them filled with fresh hay.
These chickens fly. They fly really well. It is not uncommon to see them on the roof of the coop or the top of fences. It’s almost impossible to keep them out of places we don’t want them, though we’ve had pretty good luck teaching them to stay out of the veg garden by squirting them with a hose when we find them there. They are also pretty small, so fit through things like cattle panels. Thus, we pretty much let them go wherever they want, because trying to keep them somewhere is almost impossible.
They like to roost as high up as they can. We’ve placed roosts up underneath the roof ridge beams, and even when the babies aren’t even a month old yet and still getting under mama for warmth, they are up on those roosts. We try to keep as much space for them up there as we can get, because they’ll all try to fit on the highest ones, and roosts even just six inches lower are ignored and they’ll all crowd together and fuss for the best spots on the highest ones.
We’ve had really good luck with having good roosters. We tend to keep ones that can establish their own harems and take their girls into the coops at night. Ones that don’t dance for the ladies and treat them right are dispatched to freezer camp as quickly as we can do it. We keep about a 10-1 ratio of boys to girls, and find that works out pretty well. We had some who were roosting in trees and refused to move to the coop, but we won’t keep those, because it’s just not safe enough here in the land of fisher cats and really cold weather.
Speaking of cold weather, these chickens just don’t care what the weather is like. They’d much prefer to be out in it than kept inside the chicken coop. (I mean, who wouldn’t?) But neither rain nor snow nor sleet will convince them that inside is better than outside. We tend to keep them some paths shoveled in the snow to many of their favorite places, but even if we don’t, the roosters just forge new trails and out they all go.
We have found the hens to be quite reliably broody. There doesn’t seem to be a particular time of year for it, even. We’ve had broodies pop up in all seasons. They are quite good at setting until the babes hatch, and I’ve found that placing a round plastic laundry basket on top of the apple basket we use for nest boxes to be a good way to keep the rest of the hens from continuing to lay eggs under the broody so that we get a decent hatch, all at the same time.
One of the things that amazed me is that it really doesn’t matter what the weather is like when the babies hatch. With all the trouble we go to when we hatch some in the incubator and need to brood them under a heat lamp, when the hens hatch some and there is snow outside? Too bad, babies. Out we go! We’ve seen the mamas take them out in freezing rain, heavy wind, snow storms, whatever. These mighty Viking chickens aren’t bothered by weather, no matter what the conditions are.
We leave out grain, all you can eat, and we use an Agway product called Egg Producer. It’s 21% protein, and we have very good luck with it. Regular layer feed is 16% for the same price. When there are bugs and grass, however, they basically ignore it, so for at least five months of the year, they don’t cost us anything to feed. In tropical places like Keene, they will find even more free food, for longer.
In the winter, we have a light on in the coop from September to April from 4:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. These birds are used to low light winters being from Iceland and all, but we find them quite reliable layers with that amount of light. We also keep the water heater going so they have liquid water available. We don’t otherwise heat the coop.
Please note. This is a 2010 blog post. The husbandry information remains good. For current purchasing information, please go check the webstore. (Click ‘shop’ on the banner, as of 2014.)
If you would like some Icelandic Chickens of your very own, we are selling hatching eggs for $1 each and day old chicks for $4 each. We take a $25 deposit for the hatching eggs, then run a batch through the incubator and you take all that hatch. Drop us a line if you would like some!