What are Euskal Oiloas (or Basque Hens) and Why Would Anyone Want These Chickens?
Awesome, Friendly and Incredibly Rare Spanish Chickens
Those on poultry forums know the question: "If you had to pick one breed what would it be?"
After 40 breeds in 4 years, and I can confidently say it would be these wonderful Basque hens (though Silver Grey Dorkings and Lavender D'Uccles are in the top 5!).
In this article l will share my experience with these beautiful and rare Euskal Oiloa chickens. This breed is not in the Henderson's guide or the Stories book, as it is relatively new to North America. Most of the information on these chickens is in Spanish, and I haven taken it upon myself to translate it for the English-language reader. Some of the links provided are still in Spanish, but the Google translator tool helps.
We were lucky enough to find the Euskal Oiloa in a list of rare breed chickens newly available in Canada in 2008. Being new to chickens, we ordered six to try, along with some Black Copper and Partridge Marans.
From the start, the fat and fluffy, yellow and red chicks were friendly and hopped onto the side of the brooder for attention. The Marans are long gone, but these pets remain. Euskal Oiloas are a great addition to any backyard flock and are an unusual colour unlike any other breed!
Our Experience With Basque Hens
We ordered an assorted group of 25 colourful chicks from Eric Rivard in Quebec, and received them in the mail. He shut down his rare breed hatchery that fall to retire, and, had we known about this in advance, we would have ordered 50 of these beauties.
In total, we received six Euskal Oiloas (or Basque Hens in English).
Last year, we mailed fertile Basque eggs to a few brave souls who decided to try these attractive chickens in Manitoba, Saskachewan and Ontario. Every one of them loved the chicks and how friendly there were. We knew our Euskal Oiloa were friendly, but when they were independently friendly out of the egg thousands of miles away, we knew there was something special about this breed. Below are some of the traits we noticed:
The Euskal Oiloa have no fear of humans. We haven't had any aggressive birds, but they can act as though they are your equal and deserve attention. They will tame up without any treats at all. In a flock of mixed breeds, they tend to be assertive and higher in the pecking order.
Basque hens are an outgoing and friendly breed that will approach you every time you go near them. Both males and females will sit on your knee as long as you will have them there. They will peck at your fingers, toes and your jewelry, being curious chickens. They will also pick snow or wood shavings off you clothing. At around six weeks old (like the chicks in the picture), they will lean on your hand and completely gravitate towards you. Some Euska Oiloa are more shy, most are not and will follow you around. Basque hens are those who will stand right at your feet while the other breeds stand back.
They Lay "Extra Large" Eggs and Are Not Broody
The Basque Hens and pullets we have lay a surprisingly large egg for the size of the hen. The eggs grade at least as a Extra Large here in Canada. The size standard is 60-65 grams. That standard is for 180-220 eggs a year and most days, the birds lay a big brown egg. We have had one hen (Blondie) go broody here, but we couldn't let her sit due to the time of year. Hens will raise chicks, just not very often. This pullet is in Manitoba, mothering her own brood of chicks, and another young pullet is setting at that same farm. She started to lay at four months old.
The Euskal Oiloa are intelligent and can be greedy with treats. These Basque hens quickly come to know the rustle of a bread bag or the look of a bowl with scraps. They are not the greediest breed, but they certainly love baked goods and pancakes. They do not eat any more feed than any of our other breeds, despite the great egg production.
The Basque hen is a great free ranging and foraging breed. They can move quickly and the roosters make polite and attentive guards. They do equally well in a smaller coop, though they will walk up and down the run where they can see you.
In five years of owning Basque hens we have had one go broody. One gentleman in Manitoba who we shipped fertile eggs to has had three hens go broody. One even raised a clutch of Black Penedesenca chicks in deep winter!
This hen is just raising her own young now. Spring is here and another young pullet is sitting on eggs. The youngest pullet is six months old and had been laying eggs for two months.
History of the Euskal Oiloa
Basque chicken breeds come from a relatively recent selection process of typical Basque farmyard chickens. In the 1970s, the populations of Basque chickens were declining. Fernando Orozco and his team at the National Institute of Agrarian Research (INIA) researched and preserved the breed.
The birds were selected and exhibited in different colors and different varieties. The study and repopulation continued into the 80s. A plan was made for the selection and improvement of the breed in the Agricultural Research Unit under the Department of Agriculture of the Basque government. In the early nineties, the breeding program ended with the introduction of four main varieties and a fifth naked neck version of the Gorria. In May 2000, an Euskal Oiloa breed standard was drafted. Since 2008, these chickens have been included as a protected race in the Ark of Taste of Slow Food and Slow Food International.
There are four varieties of Basque hen:
- Marraduna (above)
- Brown Striped
The fifth variation is called Leposoila, naked neck version of the Gorria.
Basque hens genes are "Columbian" black restrictive, resulting in a very special plumage color.
The color of the variety produced by the gene Marraduna Barred (B) is only found on the Cantabrian coast.
Leposoila have a bright red gene effect called "Na. "
Therefore, the Euskal Oiloa are defined morphologically by the genes:
- R and P (single comb)
- W (yellow skin)
- Id (inhibitor of melanin deposition in the leg)
- Po (four toes)
- Na or na (feathered or naked neck)
- E or e (black or wheaten)
- Co or co (columbian restriction of black, or no columbian)
- S or s (silver or gold)
- Bl or bl (black or splash)
- C or c (coloured or autosomal recessive white)
- B or b (barred or unbarred)
Euskal Oilo show the morphological characteristics of the European Atlantic chicken. The chickens are a light heavyweight, simple-combed chicken. Their toes are yellow with reddish legs. They have red earlobes, a tight plumage and round feathers. This indicates a hardy vigorous breed which is suitable for the dual of purpose-meat and eggs.
- Roosters: about 3.6 kg (8 pounds).
- Capons: up to 4 kg
- Adult hen: 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds)
For more information, check out Bilbaoglocal.
Most Common Defects in Euskal Oiloa
- White on the earlobe
- White feathers in wings and tail-most serious in the Black variety
- Single Comb that falls over
- Black on the top of the beak is considered a minor defect in all but the black variety. It is a minor fault and notable in Marraduna and Silver varieties.
- Crooked toes are possible and although affect show ring performance, they say it does not affect reproduction, but we do not breed these.
- Toes not yellow-serious defect.
- Here in Canada, we have noticed Penedesenca type tendencies. Clavell combs with side springs and blue legs can appear in offspring from our small gene pool. I understand these two breeds often range together in Spain.
Euskal Oiloa Breed Type
Morphology of the Rooster
- Head: Long and broad.
- Face: Smooth and bright red.
- Comb: Simple, medium size, straight and firm. Presents five to seven well-defined teeth. Bright red.
- Wattles: Long, thin and smooth, with rounded lower edge. Bright red.
- Earlobes: Medium size, lying close to the face, smooth and lanceolate. Bright red.
- Beak: Strong, vigorous and well curved. In varieties Gorria, Zilarra Lepasoila the upper jaw is dark brown with corn yellow on the bottom and may have dark brown spots but only in the proximal part. In the Marraduna is entirely yellow, without spots, and the Beltza is black.
- Eye:Large and oval, with light brown iris.
- Neck: Moderately long, well sprung heavy cloak, floating on his back.
- Back: Broad and fall slightly toward the tail; saddle feathers abundant, medium length.
- Chest: Broad, deep and well rounded.
- Abdomen: Fairly developed.
- Tail: Medium in size. Rectrices broad and overlapping, angled 45 degrees above horizontal. Sickles of medium length, well arched.
- Wings: Large, well-folded and tight to the body.
- Thighs: Strong and robust.
- Feet: Rather long, thick, heavy, yellowish, with four toes
Similar to the rooster except the beak is less curved. The wattles are shorter and rounder. The earlobes are smaller, but retaining the lanceolate shape. The chest is wide, but smaller than the rooster. The tail is rather small and slightly raised (35 Â°), with rectrices that are broad and overlapping. Their thighs and shanks are similar ton the rooster, but more feminine.
The plumage of this variety is mainly characterized by the presence of mixed white stripes with the colors described in the Gorria. Our three year old Euskal oiloa rooster is a little light coloured and is a big, heavy and wide bird. Under colour is ivory. The Marraduna fade in the sun almost to white, and some of his white feathers are from sun fade, and the new more barred ones are coming in. He does have white feathers in the tail which we will be selecting against.
Marraduna Euskal Oiloa day-olds are generally big, fluffy and yellow. Sometimes with a fuzzy black line on the head. We find that after about two weeks the cockerels combs will grow taller than the females, the wing feathers on both are grey and mottled and sexing is tricky before this. By four weeks, when the body feathers come in, the males will generally be lighter and more grey with a small amount of red and the pullet chicks more honey coloured with less white (see below picture). We have a few red/grey cuckoo type that we are leaving in the gene pool for now.
I wanted to leave the old pictures in, but there is much more brown on the cockerals nowadays, so the differences between are more subtle, except for the comb.
The pullet is quite pale and ended up the same colour as her great great great grandmother Blondie in the introduction image, which is close to the Llodiana colour.
Why Would Anyone Want Them?
If you are looking for a good dual purpose breed that is friendly, pretty and productive, these Euskal Oiloa may be the birds for you. I am not sure if they were selected for friendliness when these birds were being studied and standardized, but it is certainly possible. They are the friendliest breed we have ever had, and everyone who has them agrees. I am glad we have them and highly recommend them for any back yard flock.
Links and References
- Euskal Oiloa-Basque Hens in North America Website & Forum
A group of Euskal Oiloa Lovers have come together to collect and preserve information on this productive friendly chicken breed in Canada. Since 2008, Canadians have had the chance to own this extremely rare and unusual heritage chicken breed. With a
- Euskal Oiloa Chicken Forum
A friendly place to find out more and share what you know about this awesome rare poultry breed
- They are listed under Basque Hens on Feathersite.
This is where I first saw a picture of Euskal Oiloa and decided on them!
- Wikipedia entry on Euskal Oiloa
- Chicks of the Rare Marraduna Euskal Oiloak Chicken Breed
Baby chicks are cute anytime, but where there are just a handful of Euskal Oiloak chicks in North America, they are even more precious. If you have been reading about the elusive heritage chicken breed, the Basque Hen on the poultry forums and want t
- Scratch Cradle Blog - Euskal Oiloa - Basque Hens
An excellent and accurate blog post about the history of the Basque region, the Euskal Oiloa chickens, their development and standards with references and great translations.
- Alberta Chicken etc Large thread On Euskal Oiloas
Canadian forum thread with resources, links and discussion of Euskal Oiloas by owners of them and those seeking them.
- Spanish Blog about Euskal Oiloa
Has the Spanish standard, translated by one of our forum members
- Raza aviar - Euskal Oiloa Beltza, Gorria, Marraduna y Zilarra
Spanish site with specific breed information and a short history of it's the development.
- Barracuda - Euskal-Oiloa Spanish Blog
Wonderful pictures of the Marraduna and another brief history
© 2011 skefflingecho