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A Hot New “Old” Breed
Breeders interested in preserving the 1,100-year-old Icelandic chicken breed have been surprised by the recent surge of interest in the birds since they were featured in a Mother Earth News magazine article. Problem is, with just a little over 1,000 birds in the U.S. and only a handful of breeders, it’s difficult to keep up with demand.
  “We have a waiting list for hatching eggs and chicks,” says David Grote, owner of Whippoorwill Farm in Iron River, Wis.
  He cautions that despite the demand, getting into the business of breeding the birds isn’t a get-rich-quick business venture. And breeders are concerned that the breed’s popularity could be its demise if people aren’t conscientious of keeping the breed pure.
  Grote, a shepherd and artist, has raised Icelandic sheep for 11 years. He got his first Icelandic chickens from Lyle Behl, a fellow Icelandic sheep breeder.
  “Lyle has been a great mentor for me. He was very generous with his birds and shared them first with our sheep community. It made sense that if you have Icelandic sheep you should have Icelandic chickens to go with them, ” Grote says.
  Over the past 9 years, he acquired birds from 4 different lines and does not raise any other chicken breeds in order to maintain the purity of the breed that developed in isolation for more than 1,100 years in Iceland.
  “The value lies in their genetics. They are around 78 percent genetically different (than modern chicken breeds),” Grote says.
  They have a small head compared to body size and a short back and dome-shaped breast. Coloring varies greatly from black and white to browns, reds, blues and buffs. Legs can be willow green to yellow to blue to slate grey and combs vary in style.
  “Their main traits are their natural instincts for broodiness and mothering skills for their chicks. They have good camouflage and natural instincts to ward off predators,” he adds. “They really shine when allowed to free-range and are capable of foraging much of their own food ‑ a great asset considering the cost of feed these days.”
  They are good flyers and love to roost in trees. To avoid that, he feeds them their main ration in the evening inside the coop and shuts the door to keep them safe for the night.
  The chickens lay about 180 medium size, ivory-colored eggs per year.
  “They make a wonderful homestead flock,” Grote says, and his customers include people with small backyard flocks to people who want a self-sustaining flock that will hatch and raise their own young without the need to purchase chicks each year. The birds are not considered meat birds, though he has processed young roosters that made good fryers.
  Grote sells a dozen hatching eggs for $50 (plus postage) and chicks for $8/each (plus postage). When available, started pullets run $25/each. He ships from April until about the end of June and again in the fall when the weather cools.
  With proper housing, fresh water and feed, Icelandic chickens thrive in all regions, from the Deep South to the far north.
  Grote and other breeders of these “Viking chickens” are pleased about the recent interest in them. He cautions that because they can look like any barnyard mix, it’s best to not purchase them from chicken swap or other similar venues, but to seek out reputable breeders to make sure that what you are purchasing is pure Icelandic and not a crossbred.
  “To quote Lyle Behl, ‘Keeping them pure is the only way they can be preserved. They have been around for over a thousand years; we must be responsible keepers of this treasure’,” Grote says.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Whippoorwill Farm, 6885 Bartlett Rd., Iron River, Wis. 54847 (ph 715 372-5255; tomanddavid@cheqnet.net; www.davidgrote.com).

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2015 - Volume #39, Issue #2