Swedish Hedemora Chickens
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Hedemora chickens are a little-known, hardy, landrace fowl from Dalarna County, Sweden.
If you were to divide the map of Sweden into three similarly sized sections, each separated by a horizontal line, you might readily notice the landmass of Dalarna County in the lower part of the central section. Heavily forested and breathtakingly beautiful, Dalarna County also has a large amount of arable farmland that has been cultivated for well over half a millennium.
Within the county lies both the smaller city as well as the larger municipal region of Hedemora. By municipal population standards, both are rather small. The city of Hedemora has just under 7,300 residents, while the larger municipality surrounding the city boasts a little over 15,000. The region has a geographic and social history going back over 700 years. A famous church that still stands today, simply known as the Hedemora Church, was mentioned in written records as early as 1362.
Today, the region is known for diversified mining, auto and engine parts
manufacturing, forestry, and widely diversified agricultural production.
With a lengthy history of agriculture and farming, several well-established
landrace breeds of livestock have been developed within the region, including the unique Hedemora chickens.
While winters are not extremely cold by Scandinavian standards, winter temperatures are still often below freezing, and the warmest summer
temperatures tend to not exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Landrace breeds
that developed in the region are known to be cold hardy and able foragers.
Just How Hardy are Hedemora Chickens?
Hedemora fowl are known to be hardy? Living in far Northwest Minnesota, hardiness often takes on a different meaning than it might in other areas. When I found a breeder in Rosenort, Manitoba, Canada, just a three-hour drive from my house, I took an interest. The open prairies of Manitoba have some of the most inclement winter weather any chicken keeper would ever want to endure.
Poultry breeder Candace Lylyk, owner of Breezy Bird Farms, was very willing to share her first-hand knowledge about this landrace breed with me. With biosecurity as a foremost concern, Candace was kind enough to have several of her Hedemora chickens already separated for me to look at and hold.
According to Candace, not only do the poultry she raises have to be hardy enough to endure the winters, but they also need to be able to adjust to the sudden warmth and humidity of the short summers. As a breeder of over 40 breeds and varieties of chickens and quail, any breed she raises needs to be able to meet climatic extremes. Customers she sells to in Canada also need birds that can meet these challenges. Hedemora chickens have proved capable of meeting these demands.
Unique Little Birds
Most Hedemora landrace fowl tend to be rather small in size. While not as small as true bantams, most birds tend to be in the 3- to 4-pound range, with a few strains reaching 5 pounds. The fowl are not a true “breed” in the
sense of breeding standards but are a closely related group of landrace fowl that have developed over the centuries, in the farmland of the Hedemora and Dalarna districts. As such, the birds exhibit a fair amount of outward, or phenotypic differences, in both plumage and skin colors. Yet, as an inter-related group, all have developed some similar characteristics for survival in the geographic regions where they evolved.
Hedemoras are divided into three distinct varieties based on feather patterns: One is the “wooly” or “wooly-silky” feathered type of plumage. This plumage looks very much, at first glance, like a silky feathering, often blended with standard feathering on the body. However, instead of a silky feel, it is coarser in texture, with coarse, insulatory, downy feathering on the lower half of each contour feather. The second variety is a smooth or “hard-feathered” variety, which also has thick, downy under-feathering.
The third consists of feather-legged fowl, which can be found in both wooly and smooth feather patterns. This breakdown into three groups is very broad-based. As a landrace group, there is much external variation between individual birds, such as visible feather colors and patterns and even skin color.
A broad range and mix of feather colors can be found within this landrace and are prevalent throughout all three basic varieties and feather patterns. Birds may range from pure white to reds, buffs, browns, greys, and black, with many birds having mixes of several colors throughout their feathering.
One very interesting feature of this landrace group is the broad range of skin pigmentations that can be found. While some birds have white skin or white skin with a pink tint, many others are carriers of a genetic trait known as fibromelanosis. In these fowl, the skin is either black or a shade of purplish-black or purplish-blue, depending on the genetic makeup of the bird. Other well-known breeds that carry this color pattern include Silkies, Ayam Cemanis, and another Swedish landrace breed, the Svart Hona. In
fibromelanistic poultry, muscles, bones, and internal organs tend to range from an extremely dark purple to an actual black.
The shank color of light skinned birds is usually white, but fibromelanistic birds will have black, blue-grey, purplish-gray, or white shanks with dark undertones. Yellow shanks are also reported but tend to be somewhat rare in North American flocks. Breeders in Sweden, however, have reported that yellow shanks are common.
Straight combs seem to predominate within the group. Combs and wattles are small to medium in size, as part of the adaption to the colder climate in
which they evolved.
Hedemora hens lay, on average, about 150 small to medium, cream-colored or light brown eggs each year. Hens are often known to produce steadily for five years or more. Candace showed me one of her little breeder hens that was five years old and still laying regularly. She told me that both the hatch rate and viability of the offspring from these eggs were still very acceptable.
Both hens and roosters tend to be gentle and docile, but there can always be the occasional aberration, especially with the males. Maternal instincts of females tend to vary, depending on individual birds and family lines. Because of the warm downy under-feathering, females with broody instincts are reportedly able to incubate larger numbers of eggs than females of other breeds without the heavy down feathering.
Candace reported that the birds are excellent foragers in the summer but adjust very well to confinement as well as roaming free.
If you are looking for a medium sized, hardy, highly adaptable landrace fowl that is docile and will produce eggs for longer than many other breeds, Hedemora chickens just might be worth considering.
DOUG OTTINGER lives, works, and writes from his small hobby farm in
Northwest Minnesota. Doug’s educational background is in agriculture with an emphasis Candace Lylyk holding one of her hens. in poultry and avian science.