by Doug Ottinger
If you were to divide the map of Sweden into three sections of similar size, each separated by a horizontal line, you could easily notice the landmass of Dalarna County in the lower part of the middle section. Heavily forested and breathtakingly beautiful, Dalarna County also has a large amount of arable farmland that has been cultivated for over half a millennium.
Within the county is both the small town as well as the larger municipal area of Hedemora. By municipal population standards, both are rather small. The town of Hedemora has a population of just under 7,300, while the larger municipality surrounding the town has a population of just over 15,000. The region has a geographical and social history dating back over 700 years. A famous church that still exists today, simply known as Hedemora Church, was mentioned in written records as early as 1362.
Today, the area is known for its diverse mining, auto and engine parts.
manufacturing industry, forestry and a very diversified agricultural production.
With a long history of agriculture and ranching, several well-established settlements
local breeds of livestock have been developed in 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 hottest summer
temperatures tend not to exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Local breeds
that have developed in the area are known to be cold hardy and capable foragers.
How hardy is Hedemora Fowl?
Hedemora poultry are known to be hardy? Living in the far northwest of Minnesota, hardiness often takes on a different meaning than it might have in other areas. When I found a breeder in Rosenort, Manitoba, Canada, just a three hour drive from my home, I became interested. Manitoba’s open prairies experience some of the harshest winters a chicken farmer wants to endure.
Poultry farmer Candace Lylyk, owner of Breezy Bird Farms, was very willing to share her first-hand knowledge of this local breed with me. With biosecurity being a major concern, Candace was kind enough to have several of her Hedemora chickens already separated for me to watch and hold.
According to Candace, not only do the poultry she raises need to be hardy enough to endure winters, but they also need to be able to adapt to the sudden heat and humidity of short summers. As a breeder of over 40 breeds and varieties of chickens and quails, any breed she raises must be able to withstand extreme weather conditions. The customers she sells in Canada also need birds that can meet these challenges. Hedemora chickens have proven capable of meeting these requirements.
Unique little birds
Most Hedemora landrace birds tend to be rather small in size. Although not as small as true bantams, most birds tend to weigh between 3 and 4 pounds, with a few strains reaching 5 pounds. Poultry are not a true “breed” in the
sense of breeding standards, but are a closely related group of local poultry that have developed over centuries in the farmlands of Hedemora and Dalarna districts. As such, birds exhibit a good amount of outward or phenotypic differences, both in plumage and skin colors. Yet, as an interdependent group, all evolved similar characteristics to survive in the geographic regions where they evolved.
Varieties of feathers
Hedemoras are divided into three distinct varieties based on feather patterns: One is the “woolly” or “woolly-silky” type of feathered plumage. This plumage looks very similar, at first sight, to silky plumage, often mixed with standard plumage on the body. However, instead of a silky feel, it has a coarser texture, with coarse, insulating, fluffy feathers on the lower half of each contour feather. The second variety is a smooth or “hard-feathered” variety, which also has a thick, downy underplumage.
The third is feathery-legged fowls, which are found in both the woolly and smooth feather patterns. This distribution into three groups is very broad. As a group of landraces, there are many external variations between individual birds, such as visible feather colors and patterns and even skin color.
A wide range and mixture of feather colors can be found in this landrace and are prevalent in all three basic varieties and feather patterns. Birds can range from pure white to reds, buffs, browns, grays and blacks, with many birds having mixtures of several colors throughout their plumage.
A very interesting feature of this group of landraces is the wide range of skin pigmentations that can be found. While some birds have white skin or white skin with a pink tint, many others carry a genetic trait known as fibromelanosis. In these poultry, 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 landbred Swedish breed, the Svart Hona. In
poultry, muscles, bones, and fibromelanic internal organs tend to vary from extremely dark purple to true black.
The stalk color of light-skinned birds is usually white, but fibromelanic birds will have black, blue-gray, purplish-gray, or white stalks with dark undertones. Yellow hocks are also reported, but tend to be quite rare in North American herds. However, Swedish breeders have reported that yellow hocks are common.
Straight combs seem to predominate within the group. The combs and wattles are small to medium in size, as part of adaptation to the colder climate of
which they evolved.
Hedemora hens lay, on average, about 150 small to medium-sized, cream-colored
or light brown eggs each year. Hens are often known to produce consistently for five years or more. Candace showed me one of her little breeding hens that was five years old and still laying eggs regularly. She told me that the hatchability and offspring viability of these eggs were still very acceptable.
Hens and roosters tend to be gentle and docile, but there can still be occasional aberrations, especially with males. The maternal instincts of females tend to vary between birds and family lines. Due to the warm fluffy under-plumage, females with brooding instincts would be able to incubate a greater number of eggs than females of other breeds without the thick feathers.
Candace reported that the birds are excellent foragers in the summer, but adapt very well to confinement as well as free roaming.
If you are looking for a medium sized, hardy and highly adaptable landrace
poultry that is docile and will produce eggs longer than many other breeds, Hedemoras may be worth considering.
DOUG OTTINGER lives, works and writes from his small hobby farm in
Northwest Minnesota. Doug’s background is in agriculture with an emphasis on Candace Lylyk holding one of her chickens. in poultry and avian sciences.