Monday, February 27, 2012

Norwegian Jaerhons and Chicken Math

Norwegian chicks? Ya, you betcha.
As I write this, there are two little Norwegian Jaerhon chicks peeping and hopping around in my downstairs bathtub. We weren't planning to get more chickens, but between L's persistence and my own hen-hoarding tendencies, it just happened.

My husband's family is Norwegian, and L has always loved all things Norwegian. She's read Norse Mythology, loved the stories of her Norwegian ancestors, and (when she was very little with white-blond hair) told people she had "Viking Princess hair."

So it wasn't surprising that she kept asking when we could get Norwegian Jaerhon chickens. Never having heard of this particular breed (and pretty sure we weren't going to find Jaerhon chicks in the big galvanized tubs at the local feed store) I did a little reading about them.

Pronounced "yarehahn," the word Jaerhon means "yard hen," or "yard bird." They are the only true Norwegian breed of chicken (don'tcha know), having originated there around 1920 or a little earlier. They aren't an American Poultry Association recognized breed, and have only been in the US since about 1998. They are small hens--a little bigger than Bantams--but are said to lay regular sized, white eggs. According to Wikipedia's scant info about the breed, they "can wear themselves out by laying lots of large white eggs." They are cold-hardy and good foragers, but can be flighty.

There are so many interesting, beautiful breeds of chicken. I've been wanting a Lavender Orpington, and would love a true Ameraucana (layers of blue-green eggs). But Jaerhons were intriguing, and they looked like pretty little hens.

They are small, I reasoned. 

Knowing that we already have seven hens, I began to use what's called "Chicken Math." This is my kind of math--one based on flexibility and subjective criteria rather than cold, unyielding numbers.

Here's how Chicken Math works: We have Violet, Mable, and Thelma and Louise. Those are the four big girls. But Pearl, Oreo, and Clover are small Bantam-sized girls. You count each of them as a half-chicken. Then again, Oreo and Clover are getting older and may not be laying much, as far as egg production. They're more in the pet category, right? So they are actually one-quarter chicken. So really, we have five chickens, if you add up our fractional chickens. And since Jaerhons are small, they are like Bantams, and would just count as half-chickens.

You can't just introduce one new chicken, because it would get picked on, but a pair of newcomers tend to blend into the flock better. Since two Jaerhons = one big hen, that works out beautifully, doesn't it? So we'd really just have the equivalent of six big hens. That's pretty manageable.

I did a little search on Craigslist. It just so happened that someone who keeps Jaerhons up in the mountains, on the Western Slope of Colorado (six or more hours away) was living in Denver with her mother for the winter, and she'd brought her chickens with her. And she had chicks available. How lucky is that!?

Oddly, K did not really understand the luck part of it, or the chicken math, for that matter. In fact, he seemed to imply that this was not really a good thing, and that I might have some sort of addiction. I knew his sister, who has a flock of her own, would be interested in hearing about Jaerhons. "Did you tell her you found a dealer?" K asked. Again, an addict reference. I sensed that he was less than enthusiastic.

In the end, he made the girls (and me) promise that this would be it. The flock would grow to a population of no more than nine. Or, well, six, if you do the math correctly. And that is how, at 8:00 last night, K found himself inventing a contraption for the tub that would hold the chick waterer, and rigging up a more secure cover for the little fliers. I don't know where his hesitation comes in.

Postscript: As I blogged in a later post, the Jaerhons ended up being GREAT fliers, and went to live in the country with my sister-in-law, where their aeronautical feats wouldn't land them in the neighbor's yards. She reports that they are, as promised, great egg layers, and that in spite of being small hens, their eggs are the same size as (sometimes larger than) the eggs produced by her large fowl.


  1. They are so adorable!! Chickens are addictive!

  2. They are addictive! I promised this will be it for awhile, but it's so hard not to want more. We really need to move out of town.... so I can add to my flock :-)

  3. hay hay , I like your Math! I'm hoping to get my first chickens this weekend, well except for a couple when i was just a kid. I've been building my hen house for a couple months now and studying breeds. Love the net for learning about the chicks. I needed a new hobby. Horses,cats and dogs in the past. Now down to one dog, two cats and plenty wild critters around. Tried a turtle rescue but he didn't make it, so CHICKENS it is.

  4. Have fun with your chickens! I had no idea how much I'd enjoy them (and really didn't expect to have 10 --- er, 6). Drop back and tell me how they are doing. What kind did you get?

  5. For one week now, I have had 5 Black Sex Link pullets, so fun to watch and wow the growth already going into the second week. Watching them learn to use the roost and go in and out using a ramp was hilarious. I do have someone checking out some of the Norwegians several hours away from where I live. He lives in the area and home on weekends, so in a few weeks if they still have some, I may add a couple more to the mix. More Studying to do for sure!!!

  6. I know that this is an older post, but I was hoping to find out if the chicks in your pic are the actual hens that you got. I got a pair, however I have one person telling me that the one that looks like your 2 is the roo and the other is the hen and then I have people telling me that the one that looks like your 2 is the hen...I have looked EVERYWHERE for information and can not find anything more clear..

    1. I think that both chicks (who both did end up being pullets) had a pale spot on top of their head -- you can barely see it in the image above. I think (if I'm remembering right) that the spot on top of the head is a pullet indicator vs. no spot being a cockerel? But both of these babies ended up being hens. They were very productive little hens, but we ended up having to give them to my sister-in-law because they were such good fliers (even with clipped wings!) and kept getting out of our urban yard. So they had to go live in the country! Hope this helps!