Breed Profile: Swedish Flower Hen
A Colorful and Practical Example of Scandinavian Chicken Breeds
Reading Time: 5 minutes
BREED: The Swedish Flower Hen is a landrace of southern Sweden. Its local name is Skånsk Blommehöna, meaning Scanian flower-chicken. The name reflects its origin and the colorful millefleur plumage, resembling meadow flowers.
ORIGIN: Noted at least as early as the nineteenth century in Scania (Skåne), at the southern-most tip of Sweden. To the east and south lies the Baltic Sea and to the west, Øresund, the narrow strait separating Sweden from Denmark. The Baltic Sea has a long history of settlers, invaders, and traders, some of whom would have introduced chickens of different origins. The earliest chickens possibly arrived around 2000 years ago. Furthermore, we know that the Vikings kept chickens, as noted in ancient sagas. Over hundreds of years of adaptation to local conditions and husbandry systems, these chickens evolved into landraces, mainly shaped by the need to survive and reproduce in their given environment. Farmers also had a hand in choosing those birds with the most pleasing and useful traits. Consequently, distinctive flocks evolved in different regions, resulting in eleven separate landrace breeds in Sweden today.
Saving an Endangered Heritage Landrace
HISTORY: As selectively-bred production hens arrived from abroad at the end of the nineteenth century, common landrace chickens were replaced and almost forgotten, due to lack of interest. By the 1970s, they were thought to be extinct. However, enthusiasts tracked down the few remaining flocks in the 1980s. Traditional Flower Hens were located in three inland villages in Scania, and from these unrelated flocks, the landrace was recovered.
In 1986, the Svenska Lanthönsklubben (SLK) formed to conserve native poultry landraces. It organizes the preservation of their gene pools through their Gene Bank, which manages breeding plans in collaboration with the Swedish Board of Agriculture. Rather than standardization, the aim is to preserve the breed’s variety and diversity and enlarge its population.
Greenfire Farms imported a small flock of Swedish Flower Hens into the United States in 2010. Later, the farm imported unrelated bloodlines, including four crested birds, to optimize genetic and visual variety. There are also a small number the UK.
CONSERVATION STATUS: All Swedish landrace breeds are considered endangered. From almost extinction, the FAO recorded 530 Swedish Flower Hens in 1993. By 1999, 1,320 breeding birds were registered for the Gene Bank. SLK monitored 106 flocks in 2013, totaling 248 roosters and 1269 hens. These birds are distributed among many small flocks (averaging 15 head) to allow a relatively high number of roosters to participate in breeding. This scheme avoids the inbreeding issue that occurs when few males sire the majority of offspring. Peaking at 1625 head in 2012, the recorded population dwindled to 1123 by 2019 within 85 flocks. Male to female ratio remains around 2:9.
The Value of the Swedish Flower Hen
BIODIVERSITY: Like any breed that has been so close to extinction, the gene pool is diminished and many birds descend from common ancestors. It will take generations of careful breeding of unrelated lines to recover enough genetic diversity to escape the risk of extinction. However, the Flower Hen enjoys a greater diversity and lower inbreeding coefficient than other Swedish landraces, since it was recovered from several unrelated lines, rather than just one flock, as was the case for the others.
Work is still required to make full use of their naturally built-in diversity. Therefore, birds should not be excluded from breeding, unless they possess traits that lead to poor health. Breeding plans emphasize diversity, health traits, mothering ability, and cohesive social behavior, while maintaining reasonable production. To this end, breeders are encouraged to keep birds free ranging all year round and to allow hens to brood and raise chicks naturally. Additionally, it is dangerous to select for a narrow range of traits, such as high yield or larger crests, as this can disfavor genetic diversity and animal robustness. Equally, there will not be a breed standard, as this would be too limiting for the genetic security and beautiful variety in these hardy and versatile chickens.
ADAPTABILITY: The landrace is well adjusted to all-year-round foraging in the plains of their homeland, where winters alternate between mild and damp weather and snow. They are not only cold tolerant, but adapt well to hotter climes and new environments. Furthermore, they excel in hardy traits, as self-sufficient foragers, resistant to disease, with good flocking and parenting skills.
Characteristics of the Swedish Flower Hen
DESCRIPTION: Sweden’s largest landrace is medium-sized with a round, sturdy body. Bodies are built for agility, health, and practicality, with dense, protective feathers. Some bear moderate-sized crests, and it is important that these are not over-selected to become too large, resulting in vaulted skulls and obstructed vision.
VARIETIES: There are various shades of black, blue, red, brown, and buff. Feathers are tipped with white, creating speckles, evocative of a millefleur pattern. As a result, plumage is eye-catching with vibrant colors. White spots increase with age. So, youngsters with minimal speckling will gain more with each molt.
SKIN COLOR: Yellow or flesh-colored legs, sometimes with black mottling.
COMB: Single, medium-sized, and serrated.
POPULAR USE: Originally dual purpose, but now kept mainly for eggs and breed conservation.
EGG COLOR: Tinted.
EGG SIZE: Large, averaging 2 oz. (55–60 g). Pullets may start laying small, but size increases within a few months. Moreover, Greenfire Farms found that some hens lay extra-large eggs, exceeding 2.5 oz. (71 g).
PRODUCTIVITY: Average 175 eggs per year, and continue to lay reasonably well for 4–5 years.
WEIGHT: Hen 4.4–5.5 lb. (2–2.5 kg); rooster 5.5–7.7 lb. (2.5–3.5 kg).
TEMPERAMENT: Active, inquisitive, agile, and enjoy ranging. Although self-sufficient and independent in nature, they are calm with people and can become very friendly.
QUOTE: “They have confident and independent personalities and are also quite curious and friendly. I’m absolutely thrilled with my two hens, and they are among the best new lap ladies in the flock.” Stacy Benjamin, 5R Farm, Oregon.
- Svenska Lanthönsklubben (SLK)
- Greenfire Farms
- Abebe, A.S., Mikko, S., and Johansson, A.M., 2015. Genetic diversity of five local Swedish chicken breeds detected by microsatellite markers. PLoS One, 10(4), 0120580.
- Swedish Flowerhens UK and Ireland
Originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.