Every prepper’s need for their chickens is different, of course, but many of the very best qualities a prepper might cherish in a chicken breed can be found in the Icelandic chicken, a dual-purpose, robust, independent bird that can keep laying even in the dead of winter.
If you’re wondering what’s so special about this breed, it’s almost everything. They are significantly genetically different from all other breeds of domesticated chicken. They were raised in Iceland where they adapted to a cold climate and maintained the ability to forage for their own food.
In fact, they were called Haughænsni, which means “pile chickens.” If you leave them near manure piles, they’ll pick through them happily to find insects. Thus, if you let them run where they can forage, they can significantly supplement their feed, even to the point where they need nothing from you.
The benefit of this is fairly obvious, but for preppers in particular, when calories are hard to find for everyone, turning the birds out on new ground is enough to feed them and keep food for yourself.
These birds are low maintenance in other ways. They go broody easily and will raise their own chicks without the least bit of interference from you. While this isn’t everyone’s ideal characteristic, for preppers, not having to raise the chicks themselves could free up valuable time.
If you want to keep them from going broody, you simply collect the eggs once or twice a day, enough that they are never sitting on them for too long, which propels the brooding instinct.
As far as protection from the weather goes, the birds are no more able to handle the cold than other winter-hardy breeds. They need shelter, sometimes heating, and access to unfrozen water. On the other hand, they can keep laying during the winter, depending on how much food they are getting, how much light is available, and individual variance.
More light is always going to increase egg production in any breed, but Icelandic chickens can achieve two eggs per three hens each day in the winter. That’s well above average and better than some breeds in the summer. Keeping them foraging seems to play a role in this.
Of course, Icelandic chickens can also be raised for meat. They’re smaller birds, with the hens hitting three pounds and the roosters hitting four or five pounds.
If your sole goal in raising chickens is producing meat, there may be better breeds for you unless you really value hardly having to feed them or raise the large number of chicks that go into producing meat. If you do want both eggs and meat, then Icelandic chickens will provide sufficient meat for many preppers.
They also have a large amount of genetic diversity. They come in all kinds of colors and with all kinds of combs. On the negative side, large genetic diversity means that poor breeding choices can easily corrupt them, so be sure to get yours from reputable breeders.