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 patterns of the birds do, indeed, evoke the image of a tangle of wildflowers. The roosters have a powerful upright bearing and a broad chest. The hens lay 150-200 light brown eggs each year. The breed is active in its foraging and makes for a good free-range bird. They are also well-adapted to colder temperatures. Occasionally, flower hens have a feathered head crest, although the woman from whom we received our birds selected against this trait in her flock. The red and gray rooster shown below is the father to some of Greenfire Farms’ breeding stock. Greenfire Farms has four roosters representing the spectrum of colors for the breed: black, gray, white, and red.