What are Euskal Oiloas or Basque Hens and Why would anyone want these Chickens?
Basque Hens are an awesome, friendly and incredibly rare Spanish Chicken.
Those on poultry forums know the excruciating 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!
I will share my experience with these beautiful Euskal Oiloa rare Heritage chickens. This breed is not in the Hendersons guide or the Stories book as it is relatively new to North America. I have tried to translate and give you some information on the breed. A lot of the links are still in Spanish, but the Google translator helps.
We were lucky enough to find the Euskal Oiloa in a list of Rare Breed Chickens newly available in Canada in 2008. We were new to chickens and ordered 6 to try along with some black Copper and Partridge Marans. From the start, the fat 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 an unusual colour unlike any other breed!
Image by Skeffling Lavender arm "Blondie" Hatched April 2008, pic taken Jan 2010. Still laying well in 2013 (enormous eggs!).
Which came first the Chicken or the Egg?
In our case it was the day old chick in the mail. We received an assorted group of 25 colourful chicks from Eric Rivard in Quebec. He retired from having a rare breed hatchery that fall, and had we known we would have ordered 50 of these beauties.
It turns out we got 6 Euskal Oiloas (or Basque Hens in English), 2 females and a male each in in Marraduna (brown Stripe) and Gorria (red). We kept the Marraduna colour as we could only manage so many breeds here.
Temperament - Friendly Birds. It must be genetic!
Last year, we mailed fertile Basque eggs to a few brave souls in Manitoba, Saskachewan and Ontario who decided to try these attractive chickens. Every one of those people loved the chicks and how friendly there are. 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.
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.
The basque hens are an outgoing friendly breed, that will approach you every time you go out 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 jewellery as they are curious chickens. They will pick snow or wood shavings off you clothing if they are around you any length of time. Around 6 weeks old (like the chicks in the picture) they will lean on your hand and completely gravitate towards you. Some Euska Oiloa will be more shy but watch the others and often you will have a little flock of these following you around. They are ones right under your feet while the other breeds stand back.
Good layers and not so Broody
The basque Hens and pullets we have lay a surprisingly large egg for the size of hen. The eggs grade at least as a Extra Large here in Canada. The size standard is 60-65 grams. The standard is for 180-220 eggs a year and the birds lay a big brown egg most days. We have had one hens (Blondie) go broody here but we coulnl let her sit due to the time of year. Hens will raise chicks just not that often. This pullet is in Manitoba, mothering her own brood of chicks and another young pullet is just setting at that same farm. She started to lay right on 4 months old.
The Euskal oiloa are intelligent and can be greedy with treats. These Basque Hens quickly learn 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.
Euskal Oiloa hen raising the chicks she hatched!
In 5 years we had one hen go broody, so 1 in 20, we have kept as adults. One gentleman in Manitoba we shipped fertile eggs to has had three hens go broody. One 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 6 months old and had been laying eggs for 2 month now. I have his permission to share this wonderful picture and though you might like it.
History of the Euskal Oiloa - Taken from http://bilbaoglocal.org/oilotegi/
The Basque Chicken breeds come from a relatively recent selection process on typical Basque farmyard chickens. In the 1970s these dwindling populations of local chickens were located, studied and preserved by Fernando Orozco and his team at the National Institute of Agrarian Research (INIA).
Birds were selected that exhibited different colors to get different varieties. The study and selection continued into the eighties. A plan was made for 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 are included as a protected race in the Ark of Taste of Slow Food Slow Food International.
Euskal Oiloa General Breed description
There are four varieties: Beltza, Gorria , Zilarra, Marraduna (above) or Black, Red, Silver and Brown Striped, and a fifth group, Leposoila. These are Naked Neck version of the Gorria.
They have genes "Columbian" black restrictive, resulting in very special effects in plumage color.
The color of the variety provided by the gene Marraduna Barred (B) is only found on the Cantabrian coast.
Leposoila have bright red gene effect "Na. "
Therefore the Euskal Oiloa were 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), and B or b (barred or unbarred).
Euskal Oilo show the morphological characteristics of the European Atlantic chicken type. Chickens are a light heavyweight, simple combed chicken, toes are yellow with redder legs. They have red earlobes. The tight plumage and round feathers mean this is a hardy vigorous breed and suitable for dual purpose-meat and eggs.
Roosters about 3.6 kg (8 pounds).
Capons up to 4 kg
Adult hen 2.5 kg (5.5ibs)
This site has great detailed info http://bilbaoglocal.org/oilotegi/estandar.htm
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 - From Eoalak Basque Breeders Association
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 rooster except the beak, which 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 broad and overlapping. Thighs and shanks, as in the rooster, but more feminine.
Image By Skeffling Lavender farm "Sonny Jim" at about 5 months old (hatched Aug 2011)
Gallinas, The Euskal Oiloas or Basque Hens - All colours Zilarra, Marraduna, Lepasoila, Gorria, Beltza
This is a delightful video of chickens being chickens. It is great to see all these extremely rare varieties in one place and being cared for so well!
Our foundation Marraduna Euskal Oiloa Rooster
The plumage of this variety is mainly characterized by the presence of mixed white stripes with the colors described in the Gorria. Our 3 year old Euskal oiloa rooster is a little light coloured and is a big heavy 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.
Image by Skeffling Lavender farm "Speckled Jim" hatched April 2008. Grandaddy of them all!
Marraduna Euskal Oiloa day-olds are generally big, fluffy and yellow. Sometimes with a fuzzy black line on the head. We find after about 2 weeks the cockerals combs will grow taller than the females, the wing feathers on both are grey and mottled and sexing is tricky before this. By 4 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.
Sexing started Basques 2008-10 - Two male on left and centre, female on right. All about 4-5 weeks old.
Males much greyer then
Sexing Young Euskal Oiloas in 2012
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!!
That 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.
Oh and if you are wondering...this is what they do! They are great pets!
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 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 on that! I am glad we have them and highly recommend them for any back yard flock.
Here is another article on other friendly rare heritage chicken breeds
Euskal Oiloa and Rare Heritage Breed Chicken Links - Check out these links. Many are references for this article!
- 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
- Eoalak-Breeders Association of the Basque Association of Chickens
Great information on the whole site, this page is overall breed standards.
- 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.
- The Friendliest Rare Heritage Chicken Breeds!
This lens is for anyone who wants their chickens to be pets. These creatures are not as dumb as you think and when you have a tiny day old chick seeking you out for attention, you realize pets are not just cats and dogs!
- BackYardChickens Forum / Euskal Oiloa ( Basque Thread)
Great thread with tons of pictures and more info on this great breed!
- Spanish Blog about Euskal Oiloa
Has the Spanish standard, translated by one of our forum members
- Ibarrola Bekoa Farm Website
A breeders site in Spain with lots of pictures
- 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
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Please post info, links, comments or questions you`d like to share on this enchanting poultry breed.