Icelandic Chickens: Egg Production, Breed Personality and Care

Icelandic Chickens Featured Image
Icelandic Chickens are good for both egg and meat production in colder climates. They can also live for up to 15 years, lay 100 to 180 eggs per year and will lay throughout the winter months.

When you decide to first buy chickens, one of the major questions that come to mind is whether to build an enclosed chicken run or to free-range your birds. Both options are totally viable for most homesteads, but the question is usually centered on the type of chicken you want to raise.

In this article, we will focus on a heritage breed of chicken that is known to be one of the best chickens for the free-range approach: Icelandic chickens.

What is an Icelandic Chicken?

As their name suggests, Icelandic chickens are native to Iceland. They are an ancient heritage breed, having first been brought to Iceland by Norse or Viking settlers in the 9th century. They are a landrace breed, which means that they were bred for the purposes of survival and being able to continue producing eggs during harsh weather and in colder climates. 

In Iceland, Icelandic chickens are known as Íslenska landnámshænan, which means “chicken of the settlers.” Throughout Iceland’s history, Icelandic chickens have been vital to the rural communities and their economy. However, due to an increase in commercial farming, the Icelandic chicken population has steeply declined.

An icelandic chicken in snow
Icelandic’s thrive in the snow

Because of the breed’s endangerment, the Icelandic government has made efforts to conserve the breed. In the 1970s, there was a large resurgence of the breed and they were also imported to North America by several farmers.

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Icelandic Chickens are rare. It is estimated that there are currently about 4,000 Icelandic chickens in Iceland, and 1,000 in North America where they are known as “icies.” Having a total worldwide population of 5,000, the Icelandic chicken is considered an endangered and protected breed by the Livestock Conservancy.

What do Icelandic Chickens look like?

As is common with most landrace breeds, Icelandic chickens come in a wide variety of colors. Landrace breeds aren’t standardized in appearance because they aren’t selectively bred by combining specific breeds, but rather are bred for their utilitarian traits from a wide variety of other breeds. 

A single white icelandic chicken

Despite not having a recognized breed standard, Icelandic chickens are considered to have specific lineages that have been tracked by Icelandic farmers in isolated regions.

The four primary lines are:

  1. The Behl line
  2. The Hlesey line
  3. The Husatoftir line
  4. The Sigrid line

Again, there aren’t any specific appearances that distinguish each of these lines, just a general tracing of each lineage dependent on the region they were raised.

A single brown icelandic chicken

While there are many colors of Icelandic chickens, generally they have some defining physical traits. One of the biggest telltale traits of an Icelandic is that they don’t show feathering in their legs, and don’t usually have large muffs and ear tufts.

Rose and single comb styles are most common, but other combs have been seen. Both combs and wattles are usually red in color.

Crests are fairly common, and roosters have large, pronounced tail feathers. Overall, Icelandic chickens have similar physical characteristics of most other chickens, making them blend into the crowd.

How Long for an Icelandic Chicken to Reach Full Size?

Icelandic chickens reach their full size in about 18 weeks, with roosters reaching between 4.5-5.5 lbs. and hens reaching between 3-3.5 lbs. This makes them about average size when compared to other heritage breeds but can live for up to 15 years.

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Once full size, Icelandics are usually seen as lean and stocky due to them being avid foragers as free rangers. Because of this, they don’t usually yield a large carcass for cooking, but they are considered very flavorful due to their varied diets. 

Combined with their ability to consistently lay eggs throughout the year, Icelandic chickens are considered a great dual-purpose breed.

Group of icelandic chickens
These chickens are excellent for meat and egg production

Their tendency to forage is due to their history of being free ranged. Icelandic chickens like to explore the fields and woodlands native to Iceland, and will eat a wide variety of wild vegetation. They also will not shy away from compost piles in search of insects and other bugs. This has given them the label of Haughænsni or “pile chickens” in their native language.

Since they spend most of their time free range, they are naturally susceptible to predators. Fortunately, Icelandic chickens are excellent flyers. This is an essential trait for the free-range approach, as your flock will be vulnerable to ground predators such as raccoons and foxes.

Icelandics are usually very perspective of their surroundings and will escape from predators by flying up onto nearby buildings and trees.

Icelandic Chicken Egg Laying

Icelandic hens will usually start laying eggs when they’ve reached about 4 or 5 months in age. The eggs are usually white or cream in color, and are of medium size. Because of their history of being raised as a landrace breed, Icelandic chickens will comfortably lay eggs year-round, even during the winter months.

Egg Production100 to 180 eggs per year
First Laying4 to 5 months
Laying Span5+ Years
Egg ColorWhite or Cream
Egg SizeMedium
Lays in Winter?Yes

As noted above, an Icelandic hen will on average lay between 100-180 eggs per year, which is about average for a heritage breed. While this isn’t considered a remarkable sum of eggs, the fact that Icelandics will consistently produce eggs throughout the year due to their adaptability to cold weather is a huge benefit.

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While they may not lay as many eggs as other chickens, Icelandic hens make excellent mothers. Hens are known to go broody often when laying, and take on a natural motherly instinct which makes them highly attentive and nurturing for their young.

Is This Breed Right For Me?

If you’re looking for a breed of chicken that will naturally take to free-ranging, then look no further than the Icelandic chicken. Their rich history of being a landrace breed has led them to be natural foragers used to roaming about fields and farmlands. 

While it is always important to have a coop or shelter set up for your flock to take cover in during the night, Icelandics make excellent backyard chickens that will happily wander about your homestead during the day. There is usually very little risk of them being negatively affected by the weather, and they are usually safe from predators due to their keen senses and ability to fly.

Icelandic chickens are an excellent option for beginners who are just starting to raise chickens due to their low levels of maintenance, ability to survive in cold conditions, and for their ability to consistently lay eggs throughout the year. However, they are rare and endangered birds so finding breeders willing to sell you hens can be a challenge.


A longtime resident of Southern California, Christina recently moved across the globe to Austria, where she bought land specifically to build a small house with room for a backyard chicken coop. Christina spent her childhood summers on a farm, raising and caring for a flock of hens owned by her grandparents, which prompted a lifelong love of chickens, and other farm animals. Christina is passionate about writing, having written hundreds of articles for well-known websites, and uses her English degree in service of her love for animal welfare, most recently taking on a writing position at Chicken Care Taker in 2022.

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