"Viking Mom, did the Vikings raise and eat chickens?"
Originally, no the Vikings didn't eat chickens. Chickens were introduced to Britain by the Romans. Apparently, chickens originated in the Mediterranean and Asia and as the Roman Empire grew so did the spread of chickens. The Roman author, Columella wrote advice on how to breed and raise chickens. His writings identify: Tanagrian, Rhodic, Chalkidic and Median (commonly misidentified as Melian) breeds. It is most likely it was one of these breeds that the Vikings, like Ragnar, would have discovered in Britain. Check out the following links for traditional Viking meals.
What did the Vikings Eat?
Viking Pets and Livestocks
On the Viking Homestead we do have a flock of chickens and two turkeys. Before deciding to purchase the original five chickens we did our homework. Before deciding to purchase your own cute fluffy chicks please do some homework.
1. Check and Double check your Homeowner Associations, Rental Agreement, County, and City regulations for owning chickens- We have lucked out that in the county we can have as many hens we want but only 1 rooster. In the city of San Diego they have only recently changed the rules where a homeowner can have up to 4 hens and 1 goat but no roosters. Of all the pets in the world chickens are the hardest to find new homes, especially if its a rooster!
2. Do your research on what kind of variety or breed you want- You will need to decide what the purpose of your chickens are going to be for you and your homestead. A discovery we made is the kind of environment you live in helps decide what breed is suitable for you. We live in the desert so a bird that has been bred for the snow most likely will not do well in the desert or visa versa. Check out BackYardChicken.com for an awesome resource. The library, feed stores, and book stores will have a plethora of books to chose from to aid you in your research.
Certain breeds are also good layers, but bad brooders. Some are people friendly and some are a step down from a T-Rex.
Roosters- this will depend on your local regulation. We are allowed roosters, or we call them "organic alarm clocks." We have had good luck with our roosters and we have had gentle and people friendly ones. This will also depend on the breed you get.
3. Your Coop- Yes, you will need to build a coop. A coop design varies on the personality of each individual. Coop designs will depend on your climate and location. Depending on your budget you can build a coop from $0-$1,000+. BackYardchicken.com has a link to "inspirations." Check out the local stores in the area for pre-made coops. Now, keep in mind that you will have predators. Find out what kind of predators are in your location and you will want to build your coop with that in mind. We have coyotes, raccoon, eagles and hawks so our coop and nursery coop have been designed for that purpose. We just recently had a dog attack so we have had to also protect the chickens from dogs. This dog was also a family pet not a feral one.
4. Purchasing your chicks. This will depend entirely on your and your comfort level. I have always had the "hee-bee-gee-bees" about purchasing chicks through the mail. It can be done and there are certified breeders that can be found. I prefer to go to the feed store and purchase them directly. That way you can examine them for health, color, and specific breeds.
5. Food- This will be personal preference and will depend on the purpose of having chickens. Like the coops, you can spend from a $0-$100+ for chicken food. Our chickens are free ranged during the day. This means they have the run of the homestead during the day in which they can find all the grubs, seeds, bugs, small mice, snakes and critters they can catch and eat them. They will also eat and destroy about any living plant they can get a hold of in your yard. Perfect, for weed control- sucks if you are trying to maintain a garden. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. They will eat snakes, gophers, mice and small critters. Chickens are natural omnivore. They also eat kitchen scraps. As far as I know the only food item they are not allowed to eat is cat food, chocolate and salt. There is something in cat food that is toxic to chickens.
6. Pet versus Food- This will be a personal choice. We do eat ours and we do eat the eggs. We do have two wonderful brooding mamas that sit on eggs for the 25 day incubation process. You will need a rooster to complete this process. This has allowed us to have several generation of chicks to be born on our homestead. We have not had the need to eat our hens but we do eat the excess roosters that have been born to us. One clutch yielded 5 roosters!
We have done our homework and Viking Dad actually learned to "dispatch" our "Chosen Ones" in a spiritual and kosher manner. No, the Viking Children have not been allowed to witness the process. ( I know! Not very Viking-esque. It's more of a modern 21st century decision and anxiety. This will be a personal and individual decision if you have children). The Viking Kiddos are aware of it being done and they accept that the food on the table came from the Homestead. The Viking Kiddos take great delight having their "daily Easter Egg hunt" and its part of their chores.
7. Something to keep in mind. Chickens are pretty easy to keep. They tend to be creatures of habit and self managing. However, they are also one of the hardest creatures to find a new home for if it doesn't work out.
My most valuable resource has been BackYardChickens.com, the local feed store and one of my favorite garden shops. Back Yard Chickens have also started their own "Support Groups" so check out if one is local near you. Support groups help. Our flock has grown from 5 to 23 and two turkeys.