In the very South of Sweden lies Skåne county. Here, they speak with an accent so thick the rest of the country can’t understand what they’re saying. Think of it like the Alabama (if you’re in the US) or Scotland (if you’re in the UK) of Sweden. The rolling hills and mild climate (compared to the rest of Sweden, not the rest of the world—it was “only” -14 degrees Celsius the other week) means it’s perfect for farming.
In short, in Skåne you will find a ton of mud, farmers, and people with funny accents. You also find a bridge to Denmark, chocolate from Malmö Choklad Fabrik, charming cobblestone alleyways, and a lot of beautiful beaches.
This is also where you find skånepågen (the skåne lad) Björn Olsson. He started raising geese when he was only eight years old and while he would have laughed at you if you’d told him that was to become his profession (after all, most boys dream of raising lions, not geese…), that’s exactly what happened. As he says—one thing led to another and things just sort of evolved. His grandpa, stemming from a time when most farms, no matter how small, had geese and ducks running about, had a keen interest in birds and had some geese himself. This spurred on Björn’s interest and made him acquire his own birds. It was just a hobby to start, but it turned into a living.
Actually, it turned into more than a living—it turned into a passion. Today, Viking Fågel, the farm owned by Björn and his family, is renowned for its incredible care of birds and the tasty meat they produce. The meat is so good that once people buy it, they refuse to have chicken from any other farm.
That’s why we decided to ask Björn about what makes his farm so darn special, so you know why we’re exporting his very climate friendly meat across the globe in very climate friendly transportation.
It All Starts with the Food (Something We at Swedishness Can Appreciate!)
When it comes to Viking Fågel, all feed is homemade, and home grown. The feed blend is all natural—there are no additives used (including no antibiotics, of course!). Plus, it’s created to mimic the natural diet of a bird.
Because it’s home grown, no unnecessary pesticides are used. Pesticides are only used when strictly necessary (for example: to kill off mold in wet years as the mold would have killed the birds or made them very sick). We got into a long conversation about how Swedish farmers only use pesticides when strictly necessary, unlike some farmers in other places that do “routine sprays” but we can leave that topic for a rainy day. We just thought it was interesting to learn that a lot of Swedish fruit and vegetables contain no pesticides even if they’re conventionally grown!
What’s more, the feed is only transported from the farm to…the farm! No petrol wasted here!
Here’s a secret you might not know though: chefs get involved to create the perfect feed blend. Why? Because what the bird eats flavors the meat. And while the chickens won’t care if it’s five percent more corn than grass flour, the humans might.
In short, the feed is all natural, farm fresh, and tasty…making for tasty meat, too!
You Are What You Drink
Viking Fågel recently installed a new system that allows birds to drink water more naturally. Instead of drinking from “sipper spouts” or similar, they drink the way they would in the wild—from still water in a system on the ground. Kind of like drinking from a puddle.
Less Stress, Longer Lives
Stress kills, that’s what us humans are told. But it’s also unnecessary when it comes to raising birds who are killed at a young age.
At Viking Fågel, the birds are also slaughtered on the farm, removing the need for transport. Perhaps more importantly to Björn, it means the birds don’t have to get stressed out by the transport. Many birds are transported 400-800 km before being slaughtered, which leads to stress and discomfort. At Viking Fågel, all birds are handled manually (no machines) and the ride takes a mere five minutes.
The standard Swedish chicken is only five weeks old when slaughtered. The chickens on Viking Fågel farm are seven to eight weeks, or older. They also sell young roosters, “ungtupp,” which are about 13 weeks old when slaughtered. They use a race called Hubbard, which grows slower.
Speaking with Björn, he pointed out that meat becomes more flavorful the older the animal is. He compared it to calves—if you slaughter a young calf, the meat is whitish and tastes very little. A more mature calf has dark red meat that’s much more flavorful.
What’s more, letting the chickens develop at their own rate, so to speak, without trying to “fatten them up,” leads to happier chickens.
So, as you can see, a happy chicken is a tasty chicken.
Taking Climate Aware to the Next Level
We all know that Swedes are particularly climate aware. To Swedes, nature is about the most sacred thing there is and Björn doesn’t disappoint when it comes to keeping CO2 emissions down. We were, frankly, impressed.
Viking Fågel grows their feed on the farm. Most farms don’t, which means it needs to be transported. Björn even mentioned that currently there is no KRAV labeled grass flour available in Sweden, which means those who want that certificate have to buy imported grass flour. Björn, who used to be KRAV labeled but stepped away from it due to issues like these, prefers to grow his own. That means it doesn’t need to be transported from afar and certainly not imported.
What’s more, at Viking Fågel, they grow their own straw for the animals, as well as for fuel for their heating system for the barns. Furthermore, the bird manure is used to fertilize the fields.
As even the slaughter is done at the farm, most things are contained to one small area, reducing the need for petrol for transportation.
More Space Makes for a Happy Chicken
Sweden has very strict laws when it comes to raising chickens. While EU law say you can have 42kg/m2 (meaning 42kg of chicken per m2), the Swedish law says you can only have 36kg/m2. Viking Fågel, on the other hand, has only 18kg/m2. Björn says it allows the chickens more space to roam, making them happier and less stressed.
It’s not all about the space around the chickens, but also above them. High ceilings lead to happier birds and that’s exactly what they have at Viking Fågel. Björn said, “Consider how you feel when the ceiling is just above your head, and when it’s 10m high. Which makes you feel better?”
Chickens Hate the Snow…but Like to Snuggle!
All the birds on the Viking Fågel farm roam freely. However, while geese and ducks, who are native to Sweden, run about happily in the mud, rain and, sometimes, even the snow, the chickens and turkeys take another approach to bad weather. “Chickens and turkeys hate bad weather like the plague.”
Their hatred of bad weather is possibly because it spreads the plague—these birds haven’t adapted to Swedish weather and the bird flu and other diseases often affect birds who are left outside in rough weather. Plus, Björn remarked that the birds, even if you open the door for them, refuse to go outside when the weather is bad. They simply don’t like it.
So while the ducks and the geese tend to spend most of their time outside, more care is taken as to when the gates are opened for the chickens and turkeys. They do have outdoor space, but it’s mainly used in the warmer months.
Labels such as “free range” confuse these things. It’s one thing to have an outdoor space for chickens and turkeys, like Viking Fågel does. It’s another thing to know when the birds can safely go outside. Like humans, they prefer to snuggle up indoors when the weather is bad!
It’s Not the Corn That Turns Corn-Fed Meat Yellow
If you’ve ever bought corn fed chicken, chances are you’ve thought to yourself, “Ah, eating corn turns the meat yellow.”
We know we have.
But that’s not the case.
Björn told us that, “The corn is not what makes the meat yellow. While corn fed chickens on our farm eat at least 55% corn, the color comes from the grass flour. Grass flour contains chlorophyll and is part of a healthy diet for chickens—grass is something they’d normally eat when pecking at the ground.”
Why are people so obsessed with corn fed chicken?
Surely not because of the color?
No, as it turns out, the meat is both tender and firm. It’s therefore considered gourmet chicken meat.
Taste Is Like Your Bottom—Divided in Two Parts
This humorous saying in Sweden means that everyone has different tastes/preferences and that’s the saying Björn used when we asked him how to pick a good chicken to buy. “You have to taste it to know and everyone has different preferences.”
However, if you’re looking for a good farmer, look at the things we’ve mentioned above—how much space chickens have, what they eat, how they’re handled, and so forth. “A happy bird is a tasty bird,” according to Björn. “Many of our customers say they can’t eat chicken from other farms after tasting ours.”
What also makes a difference is that some producers pump their chicken meat full of water (brine) and additives. Viking Fågel sells chicken and nothing but chicken.
If you want to do a “taste test” to figure out if Viking Fågel is for you, Björn recommends you cook the whole chicken in the oven, or fry a piece. If you put chicken in a stew, the taste is flavored by many other things and might undermine the “real” flavor of the chicken.
The Best Way to Cook a Chicken? The Way You Like It!
“Cook it as you like it. Stick to what you know the first time you try our chicken so you can taste the difference.” Those were Björn’s words (though spoken in Swedish). He also told us he’s been bad with adding recipes to their site but he likes the traditional Swedish way of cooking a chicken in the oven: “Stuff it with apples and prunes to add acidity and sweetness to the meat, then use salt and pepper to flavor it.”
This is how I, personally, grew up eating chicken. You need to “ösa” the chicken when cooking it too—pour some oil, water, salt, and pepper over it while it’s cooking to ensure it won’t get dry. Then use the liquid (“skyn”) from the roasting pan to make a sauce with cream or milk when the chicken is done. Serve with potatoes.
Does Fresh Chicken Taste Better Than Frozen Chicken?
At Swedishness we sell a lot of frozen food, which means it can be stored for longer and there’s less waste. Fresh chicken only stays fresh for two weeks, so many supermarkets have to get rid of whatever they cannot sell. And we don’t like food waste.
So, out of curiosity, we asked Björn if frozen chicken tastes different from fresh chicken. “There’s no difference in flavor. When you defrost it and the meat is raw, you’ll detect a difference in consistency, but once cooked, it can’t be detected. Most people who buy raw meat from us at the farm freeze it once they get home as they can’t eat it all in one go.”
As someone growing up in Skåne myself (descending from farmers, of course), I have memories of buying half a pig and spending a weekend preparing the meat…and freezing it. The old way of doing things was to use everything—you didn’t let meat go to waste. Only, back in the day you couldn’t freeze things (unless you happened to live in Sweden in winter), so unless you had a constant supply of live animals, you did things like dry, smoke, or salt the meat. Which often wasn’t a healthy way of preserving it. Freezing it is.
In Closing—A Happy Chicken Is a Tasty Chicken
There’s a difference between a chicken and a chicken. And now you know why—the better a chicken is treated and fed, the better it tastes. A happy chicken is a tasty chicken.
Key Facts: Why Viking Fågel Is Different
What makes Viking Fågel so different includes the following key points:
- They grow their own feed and straw on the farm—the feed blend they use contains no additives (and absolutely no antibiotics)
-Some of the straw they grow is used as fuel for a heating system for the farm
- The bird poop becomes the manure for the farm
- The birds move about freely
- They have less chickens per m2 than what is required by Swedish law—which is still much stricter than EU law (EU law: 42kg/m2, Swedish law: 36kg/m2, Viking Fågel: 18kg/m2)
- All stables have natural daylight coming from windows
- They have some new stables that have higher ceilings, giving the birds more air
- They also have a new watering system that allows the chickens to drink water more naturally, as opposed to drinking from water dispensers with sipper tubes/spouts or similar (in real life, chickens drink from puddles so the new system mimics that)
- The slaughter happens on the farm, meaning the birds don’t get stressed during transport, fuel consumption is reduced
- There are no machines used to handle the birds—it’s done manually to reduce stress
- They use Hobbard chickens which grow slowly—they are only slaughtered around week seven to eight, not week five like traditional chickens
At Viking Fågel they also love what they do on the farm. That alone might not change anything, but passion tends to fuel care, which fuels good end results.