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Icelandic Chickens: Everything You Need to Know

Icelandic Chickens

Thinking about raising some chickens either for meat, eggs, or even as a pet? Icelandic chickens might be the right fit for you. 

This breed also called pile chickens, has a rich history with vital Viking blood.

Despite their “threatened” population status, they are a strong breed.

Being self-sufficient, Icelandic chickens can hold their own against the weather and predators. 

If you are a first-time chicken owner or require a low-maintenance chicken, Icelandic chickens are perfect for you.

Icelandic Chickens
Beginner Friendly?Yes
Lifespan?15 years
Egg Color?Ivory
Egg Production?180 eggs/yr
Feather Color?Colors Vary
Weight?Rooster: 4.5-5.25lbs; Hen: 3-3.5lbs
Good with Children?Can be (should be socialized first)
Cost of Chicken$10-$50
Cold Hardy?Yes
Dual Purpose?Yes
Egg Laying Age?4.5 months
Country of OriginIceland

Icelandic Chickens Background and History

gray chicken on perch

In Iceland, these chickens, are called íslenska landnámshænan which means Icelandic settlement hen.

This chicken originated in Icelandic settlements by Norse Vikings around the 9th century AD.

They were able to adapt to the cold climates and provide sufficient meat to the settlers. Both cocks and hens were healthy and provided a reliable food source. 

Specifically, the hens offer excellent mothering capabilities to raise healthy chicks. In addition, Hens raised these birds to be independent.

This means that they required little maintenance when it came to feeding themselves and such.  

Because of the small Nordic islands, farmers selected the best chickens for breeding to create hearty, healthy chickens.

To this day, homesteaders take great care in selecting Icelandic chickens for breeding to produce the best eggs and meat. 

Four Different Lines of Icelandic Chickens

In total there are four family trees: Sigrid line, Behl line, Hlesey line, and Husatoftir line. All of them are similar in temperament and size but can differ in color, combs, and feathers.

These birds are known as Icelandic landrace chickens. Landrace essentially means that these chickens have adapted and evolved naturally.

A biodiversity study conducted in 2001 found that Icelandic chickens may have originated in the Middle East. 

This is due to the Icelandic breed being closely related to an uncultivated breed of chicken from the Middle East.

However, we still do not know for sure if they have originated from the Middle East. We can, however, track the primary origins of the chicken to learn how to keep this breed healthy and uncultivated. 

For many, many years, Icelandic chickens were the only chickens in Iceland. That is until importations of commercial chickens altered the breed of the original chickens.

Like we mentioned earlier, the Icelandic chicken is considered a “threatened” species because of crossbreeding in the early 1900s.

The crossbreeding jeopardized the unique genetics of these chickens. 

Fortunately, in the 1970s we created awareness to prevent them from becoming extinct.

The solution is simple, keep them from breeding with other breeds.

But this creates inbreeding problems which also risks tainting the unique genetics of landraces.

This means farmers and breeders have a responsibility to keep them healthy and colorful. They are still considered to be endangered, so it is essential to take excellent care of them.

chicken on roost

Icelandic Chickens Appearance

Because of the various breeding between Icelandic chickens and commercial chickens, there are multiple appearances for this hearty breed.

This is especially true for their combs. However, let’s take a look at the most common physical traits.

Featherless Legs

Unlike most other chickens, Icelandic chickens have no feathers on their legs. If there are chickens within your flock with feathered or fuzzy legs, they will need to be culled. 

Colored Legs

Most of these chickens have yellow-colored legs. Although this is the most common color, they can also have grey, green, blue, or white legs.

Colored Ears

Most all Icelandic chickens have white or off-white ears, sometimes with streaks of red. 

Medium Chickens

These chickens are medium-sized. They typically weigh in at about 2 or 2 and a half pounds. Mature roosters tend to weigh anywhere from 3-3 ½ pounds. 


Roosters tend to have long wattles, while hens have wattles varying in size. 


Their tails typically sit high.


Each chicken typically has four toes on each foot, with a back toe slightly on the inside of the foot. 

Are Icelandic Chickens Friendly?

Much like a lot of other animals, if Icelandic chickens are well socialized, they are friendly. If you mix them once they have hatched, they can grow to be extremely friendly and good animals for kids to be around.

Here’s a list of behaviors to note about these chickens. 

Icelandic Roosters

Roosters do tend to fight. The personalities of roosters differ, but there is bound to be a more dominant personality among the flock.

If roosters are raised together, they tend to get along with each other better. However, if the roosters become aggressive, they will need to be culled. 


Because of how we’ve raised them, these chickens are deficient in maintenance. They forage themselves and are overall self-sufficient. Icelandics can even protect themselves if they need to. 

They are Big Talkers

Be ready for these chickens to talk a lot. They are noisy and chatty, especially if they are socialized. 

The temperament of Icelandic Chickens

The personalities of chickens differ, but most of them adopt a calmer temperament. Again, if they are well-socialized, they are okay with people and other animals being around. 


Hens tend to go broody. Therefore, hens typically make incredibly good mothers. 

basket of eggs

What Age Do Icelandic Chickens Lay Eggs?

Icelandic chickens can lay eggs as early as four and a half months. This, however, depends on the season and the date the eggs hatch. Typically, they can lay eggs year-round.

Here is a list of what you need to know about Icelandic chicken eggs. 


The eggs can be ivory-colored, cream color, or tan.


These chickens can lay size medium or large eggs. Like any other chicken, it is essential to keep an eye out for misshapen or deformed eggs. 

Number of Eggs

On average, Icelandic chickens can lay about 180 eggs per year. Depending on the season and hatching time, they typically lay eggs year-round.

Unlike some other chickens, Icelandic chickens produce lovely eggs even during the winter months. 

Are Icelandic Chickens Good for Meat?

Icelandic chickens are multi-purpose. Although they are not typically used for meat, they are extraordinarily healthy birds. 

That being said, their meat is flavorful. In addition, their cull makes a fantastic chicken broth. Because they are medium-sized birds, their meat is plentiful. 

The flavor of their meat is best brought out through long, low, and moist heat. 

Benefits of Owning Icelandic Chickens 

As stated previously, these chickens are multi-purpose. It’s hard to find any deal breakers with this breed.

They are great birds all around, especially since they are self-sufficient. Here are a few benefits of Icelandic chickens.


These chickens love to roam free. They tend to snack on small bugs (especially ticks) while they are wandering outside. This is great for keeping certain

bugs away from the house or garden area. They also prefer to eat compost or any other organic residue.

They Remain Alert

Icelandic chickens have a great sixth sense when it comes to danger. They are quick and agile when it comes to escaping predators. This does not mean

that they are immune to common predators such as hawks or dogs, but they can hold their own.


No matter if you live in Arizona or Minnesota, these chickens will adapt to their environment. They do prefer colder temperatures, but they can still live almost anywhere.

If you live in colder harsh conditions, a warm, covered shelter is a must. On the other hand, if you live in a warmer climate, they need a shelter that will help them cool off.

They Can Fly!

These chickens have excellent flying skills. They tend to perch on roofs of their coop or barn. Flying well is a great way for Icelandic chickens to escape if they sense danger.

Great Starter Chickens

Because these chickens are self-sufficient, they are great for those looking to raise chickens for the first time or have slightly busy lifestyles.

They still require some care, but they will forage for food, get themselves out of sticky situations, and take care of their young.

They Live Long Lives

Icelandic chickens are among the healthiest, most durable chickens you can get. As a result, the average Icelandic chicken lives for about 15 years.

Their consumption of organic residue and their Nordic roots make for a rather healthy breed.

Genetically Unique

Because of the importation of commercial chickens to Nordic islands in the 1920s and 1930s, we have some of the most genetically unique chickens.

Their Nordic roots result in their durability and their commercial breeding provides us with a unique blend of colors and combs.

Icelandic Chickens Challenges

These are fantastic chickens to have, but they are not without their challenges. With any chicken you will run into breeding or behavioral problems to keep in mind before you buy. 

No Cross Breeding

Icelandic chickens are few and far between. They are a threatened population, so crossbreeding is frowned upon.

That being said, it is hard to avoid inbreeding in some cases. If you are planning to breed these birds, it might be a little difficult. 


The typical rate for purchasing an Icelandic chicken is anywhere between $25-$50. This is a little pricey for chickens. If you are planning on buying one, you might have to make some room in your budget. 

Foragers and Roamers

If you do not have the yard space to allow these chickens to roam and forage, then these might not be the chickens for you.

They need a lot of space to wander and become agitated when they are in close quarters.

While them being foragers is a great thing for those with the space to let them roam, this is not good news for those with little space for the chickens. 

Behavior Problems

Much like any other chicken breed, make sure you socialize them early on.

Otherwise, you might run into aggressive roosters and hens that don’t get along with other birds or humans.

If your roosters or hens are aggressive, they will need to be culled. 

flock of icelandic chickens

How to Raise Icelandic Chickens

If you have a large space to let these chickens roam, you are well on your way to raising these chickens in the ideal environment.

They can free-range across your entire property, so enough space is essential. They forage all kinds of organic material ranging from bugs to compost.

You can feed them supplemental feed, especially in the winter, but they typically prefer to eat the organic residue across your property. 

Much like other chickens, Icelandic chickens need a cozy coop. As stated previously, whether you live in colder or warmer climates, the chickens need a place to rest and escape the weather if needed.

Heat lamps for coops aren’t necessary, but you can install them if you live somewhere with harsh conditions during winter. 

Building a fence is necessary to keep predators out. Even though these chickens are alert, quick, and agile, they are not immune from predatory attacks.

Providing a secure acreage for them in addition to a secure coop will help prevent predators from getting to your flock. 

Besides the basic care, these chickens do great on their own. Overall, make sure they have enough room to roam and that they are well-socialized with people and other chickens in the flock. 

Are Icelandic Chickens Right for Me?

If you have a good amount of acres and are willing to make a more expensive purchase, then these chickens may be right for you. 

They are a genetic treasure and are incredibly fun to watch in the field. Their array of different colors, combs, and feathers offer a unique flock for your homestead.

If you want to raise chickens for their eggs, Icelandic chickens are reliable for producing eggs year-round even in the winter months. 

READ NEXT: All You Need To Know About The Bresse Chicken

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