You may remember reading this blog this past spring as I excitedly debated which breeds would grace my mini-homestead. I considered the Dominique, Wyandotte, and Sussex because of their strong homesteading heritage. I entertained thoughts of creating my own strain of Easter Eggers. I lusted after the dusky shells of the Welsummer and Barnevelder. Finally, I ended up with a mixed group of Speckled Sussex, Welsummer, and Easter Egger, just trying to figure out this whole chicken-keeping thing.
Each of these breeds certainly has something to offer. I love the friendliness of the Speckled Sussex breed, and they are certainly my favorite of those which I currently keep. Their large size is endearing as well; these are curvy, filled-out chickens with meat on their bones, although I do not intend to eat it. However, Henny, my lone SS hen, has yet to lay an egg. Also, it is very difficult to find Speckled Sussex with their proper production characteristics of size and egg production still intact; most are very undersized and far removed from their productive fore-bearers. The speckling pattern is complex and generally very far from ideal. These are sweet and beautiful chickens, but they are simply not the dual-purpose, productive breed they once were. I will always keep some, I think, but I will not bet the farm on these birds. I continue to desire a dual-purpose breed which would feed me and mine if times were tough.
The Welsummer hen, the only female of her breed to hatch this spring, is a productive layer of large brown eggs and she has a nice, round shape. I enjoy her, but I did not enjoy the boys. Although my Welsummer cockerels had the bright-eyes and crafty designs indicative of intelligence, they were very cocky boys. They crowed early and often, started treading hens as almost as soon as they were fully feathered, and they always seemed to be sizing me up. I’d keep Welsummer hens, but I don’t want to deal with those roos.
The Easter Eggers are cute and pretty productive. While I could still enjoy the challenge of creating a somewhat standardized Easter Egger strain, I’ve simply lost interest in toying around with such a jumble of genetics. Also, I have decided that the beards of my Easter Eggers and Silver Ameraucanas are actually a liability. This spring, I noticed that girls with big beards had to turn their heads to see me standing beside them. Their beards actually block part of their range of vision. If I am going to put work into a breed which I may one day ask to rustle up half of their food in the woods, I want them to be able to see what’s coming at them. Cute as they are, I’m not pursuing the beards.
So, of course, I continue to poke around in my spare time and learn about new breeds and breeding projects. The Aloha Chickens project looks like a lot of fun. The Swedish Flower Hens they are based off of are just beautiful. The Icelandic landrace fowl are fascinating. But what has really turned my head is the Euskal Oiloa, the Basque Hens.
This breed is not a preserved specimen – Basque hens are dual-purpose, homesteading chickens who provide meat and big, shiny brown eggs to twenty-first century folk living in the countryside of Spain. Yet, they have a history just as fascinating as popular heritage breeds. Friendly, intelligent, productive, beautiful, and uncommon – sounds good to me, in man, beast, or fowl! Beyond that, I have a bit of a soft spot for Spain, since I traveled there as a teen (I studied abroad for a month – my 18th birthday was celebrated in Madrid!), and being that the Basque region is around the 43rd parallel north, a home here on the 38th should be favorable.
More on the E.O. later, or take a look at my Basque Hen page, linked from the image above or in the right-hand column!
Just for fun, here’s a couple pictures of my young-self in Spain. (Boy, I really should have made sure to get more pictures of myself when I was there – I didn’t know my older self would be so interested!) 🙂 The scanner is mad at me, so here are some pictures-of-pictures.