Swedish Flower Hen
At 2:35 in the afternoon of June 17, 2010, a jumbo jet from Stockholm landed at JFK airport in New York carrying in its vast metal belly a most unusual cargo: 15 Swedish flower hens. This breed, for more than half a millenium isolated in small villages in Sweden, had made the leap across the Atlantic for the first time as part of Greenfire Farms’ ongoing program of introducing rare chickens to America. Until now, very few people in the world (including most Swedes) have ever had the opportunity to see living examples of this breed, let alone the ability to own and raise them.
Swedish flower hens emerged as a landrace several hundred years ago, the product of a now forgotten mix of primitive breeds that were brought to Sweden by settlers and conquerors. As a landrace, this breed was not intentionally created by a breeder carefully selecting birds as part of a structured breeding program. Rather, this breed was created through natural selection and random pairings as the breed adapted to the climate and conditions of the Sydskånska Plain in southern Sweden.
Swedish flower hens are the largest breed of chickens native to Sweden. Roosters can weigh as much as 8 lbs. With the commercialization of Sweden’s poultry flocks in the last half of the 20th Century, this breed almost became extinct. A couple of decades ago remnant flocks were identified in three small, rural Swedish villages and a focused effort was made to save the breed. By the late 1980s fewer than 500 birds existed in the world. Today, about a thousand Swedish flower hens live in about fifty scattered flocks, and until Greenfire Farms began working with this breed, few if any could be found outside remote villages in Sweden.
Swedish flower hens are called blommehöns in Swedish; literally ‘bloom hens.’ The complex and brilliant color feather patterns of the birds do, indeed, evoke the image of a tangle of wildflowers. Their full visual appeal can’t be adequately appreciated unless you witness firsthand the rich and striking colors of the birds.
Even more impressive is the personality and hardiness of this breed. We have worked with dozens of exotic chicken breeds at Greenfire Farms, and no breed has been as endearing or enjoyable as Swedish flower hens. They are poised and confident around people, but the roosters are never aggressive toward their caretakers. They are independent enough to make excellent free-range birds, but they seek and seem to enjoy human interaction. Swedish flower hens are relatively calm but never to the point of being inert or inattentive. They seem to possess all the positive aspects of chicken personalities and none of the negatives. Our experience is that they are also unusually hardy, rarely falling ill or acting dumpy. Swedish flower hens display a level of vigor and mastery of their environment that other breeds –and quite a few people– would do well to emulate.
Few breeds are as practical as Swedish flower hens. The roosters have a powerful upright bearing and a broad chest. The hens are prolific layers for most of the year, and they far out-produce other breeds like Orpingtons. The first ‘pullet eggs’ produced by a young Swedish flower hen can be rather small. Be patient: Within a few months the hens will be generating extra-large eggs that are perfect for the table. In fact, in 2012 we identified hens in our flocks that laid exceptionally large eggs, and we kept their offspring as breeders in 2013. Our 2013 flocks of Swedish flower hens lay, on the average, the largest eggs on our farm.
The breed is also well-adapted to colder temperatures. Occasionally, flower hens have a feathered head crest, although the woman from whom we received our first shipment of birds selected against this trait in her flock. We later were able to locate and import four crested birds from an unrelated flock, so we have the ability to produce genetically diverse chicks in both the crested and uncrested varieties and in all the colors associated with this breed: black, gray, white, and red.
Swedish Flower Hen: Unsexed Day-Old Chick