Imagine walking through the winter landscape on the outskirts of a small farming village in Sweden, your breath forming clouds and your footfalls muffled by the hard-falling snow. Ahead is a small farmstead with smoke rising from the chimney of a modest house. Expecting to see no living thing in this harsh weather, unbelievably there appears before you a flock of brightly colored chickens walking in the snow, contentedly pausing here and there to scratch and peck at the brown grass lying underneath. Welcome to the town of Hedemora, Sweden. Welcome to the world of the snow chicken.
Hedemora is a small town in a frigid region of Sweden that lies roughly on the same northern latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. Despite its modest size, the town’s history is rich and stretches back centuries in time; a time even before the official chartering of the town in 1446. The town’s emergence is intertwined with the beginnings of a rare breed of chicken that is uniquely adapted to the long and harsh winters of this remote area, and both town and chicken share the same name.
Hedemora are possibly the most cold hardy chickens in the world. Hedemora evolved over half a millennium in this ancient ice-bound pocket of Sweden, and during that time developed traits that make them perfectly suited to endure long bouts of cold weather. Their combs and wattles have been greatly reduced in size to limit the ravages of frostbite to their extremities, and the skin that is visible is often black to absorb the weak rays of the northern sun. But, their most striking adaptation is the layer of soft down that is extraordinarily effective as insulation. Experts in Sweden have told us that if these chickens are well fed they can routinely free-range in the snow at temperatures of -5°F and the hens will continue laying eggs so long as temperatures exceed 5°F. Conversely, hedemora do not adapt well to hot climates, and they have been known to die of heat stroke during particularly hot days in southern Sweden. If you live in a hot climate be prepared to artificially cool the birds during the summer if you feel you must have this breed of chicken.
Hedemora are a landrace that over time split into three distinct varieties: a version that has fine, puffy feathering that covers its body and gives it the slightly unsettling appearance of a furry chicken; a feather legged variety with an under layer of down hidden beneath more conventional smooth feathers; and a clean legged variety with smooth outer feathers and the hidden under layer of down. While the insulation value of these feathers is amazing, equally as amazing are the colors of these feathers. Hedemora exhibit feather colors that are so exotic and unique that they are hard to classify. Shades of champagne, salmon, violet, and yellow are often encountered, and the patterns of these colors can be solid, shaded, or laced. A flock of hedemora are stunning in their variety and beauty, and there is perhaps no more arresting image in the world of poultry than to see these colors splashed against the pure white backdrop of new snow.
Swedish hobbyists believe it is important to the genetic viability of the breed to keep all versions of the breed in a single flock, and so Greenfire Farms imported the three varieties and will randomly select from the varieties when we ship birds to customers. We will not intentionally select a single variety to sell to a customer.
Because of the extraordinary volume of their down, the birds appear larger than their weight would suggest. An average hen weighs about 4 lbs. and a rooster about 5 lbs. The hens are prolific layers and will lay all year round. Colors of the birds vary considerably and include grays, blacks, browns, and whites. About 30% to 40% of the hens will become broody if given the chance to sit on eggs, and they are known to be superior at all aspects of incubation and rearing. Their pillow of soft down gives them the ability to incubate a very large clutch of eggs, and they are known as fierce protectors of their chicks.
The most recent population estimates indicate about a thousand hedemora hens remain in the world and, until Greenfire Farms imported this breed into the United States, all members of the breed lived in Sweden. Greenfire Farms has twice imported hedemora from unrelated flocks in order to promote genetic diversity in our breeding program. We maintain a flock of hedemora in North Florida during the winter and move them to Montana in the summer where they are kept at an elevation of 3,600 feet to mimic their native climate. Hedemora may be shipped from either address depending upon timing and availability.
This is the pen for our hedemora colony that Greenfire Farms is building in Montana so that we can continue to breed birds that are well-adapted to extreme cold.
Hedemora: Unsexed Day-Old Chick