Basque Hens are a dual-purpose breed. Hens lay about 180-220 large or extra large brown eggs per year, and roosters can weigh up to 9 pounds. Some hens will brood, but most do not. They have yellow beaks and shanks, an unusual upright stance, red earlobes, and a medium-sized single comb. The most common variety in North America is the Marraduna, a barred reddish-brown in the males with a more golden coloration in the females. Because the breed is so new to North America, it is not yet recognized by the APA. However, it can be shown as “Mediterranean Class, Any Other Variety.” The North American breed standard is under development and can be found here. The most distinctive thing about the Euskal Oiloa seems to be their temperament. Owners frequently exclaim how friendly and intelligent these chickens are; some even come when called by individual names! Basque Hens are also curious and make for excellent foragers. If you are in North America, please visit the Euskal Oiloa Chicken Forum. A Spanish organization, EOALAK is an excellent resource for Basque Hen information.
Development of the Basque HenIn the northeastern corner of Spain, there lies a region occupied by the euskal herritarrak, the Basques, or the natives of Basque country. An ethnic group which occupies the northern area of Spain and southwestern area of France, the Basque people live in the lower, western foothills of the Pyrenees and may have been there for up to thirty thousand years. Fascinatingly, the Basque language is not Latin-based; it is not even Indo-European in origin. The origin of the Basque language, and indeed of the Basque people, continues to be the subject of debate. Today, the Basque region of Spain remains somewhat apart. An area of this region is an autonomous community with some level of self-governance.
Under Franco’s dictatorship of 1939–1975, the cultures and languages of minority groups within Spain were repressed, but the Basque people fought to maintain their cultural identity. It was in the same year as the fall of the Franco dictatorship, 1975, that Dr. Fernando Orozco of the Animal Department Genetic of the National Institute of Investigaciones Agrarias (INIA) began collecting eggs from small villages in Gipuzkoa near the center of the northern border of the Basque region of Spain as an effort to preserve the historical fowl and protect the genetic resources of Spain against the incursion of foreign hybrids which were gaining popularity.The birds were mixed, without clear distinctions between the color variations; however, reddish-brown and a barred version of the same were the most numerous. There was enough homogeneity found among the country chickens of the Basque for them to be termed a race or breed: the Euskal Oiloa – literally, the Basque hen. (Euskal oiloak are Basque hens; euskal herritarrak are the Basque people as termed in their language, Basque or Euskara.) Eggs were collected from the Gipuzkoa province in 1975 and 1976. Over the next three years, the colors and types were bred up from the general population, segregated, and named. The common reddish-brown color became the lepogorri or gorria. The barred version of this coloring was named marraduna. At this time, they also teased out a black or beltza as well as a Colombian or zilarra type. The Spanish breed standard was drafted by Dr. José Antonio Mendizábal. The project continued, and in time, weaknesses became evident due to lack of genetic variety. In 1983, there was another collection of eggs from Basque farms including the lepogorri, marraduna, and zilarra varieties from Alava and Bizkaiam, two provinces on the western border of Gipuzkoa. The project was taken up by an employee of the Department of Agriculture of the Basque Government at the Agrarian School of Fraisoro in Gipuzkoa. This began the “Program of Selection and Improvement of the Race Euskal Oiloa.” For the first three years of this new program, they worked to make the four existing varieties of euskal oiloa more uniform and created the lepasoila, or naked-necked, variety. In the fourth year, they focused on specific aspects of production for males and females, quoted below at the bottom of this page. In 2001, the Basque government formally regulated the Basque hen in order to preserve and improve the breed. Today, the euskal oiloa or Basque hen remains a productive, dual-purpose bird characterized by yellow shanks and beak, red earlobes, and a medium-sized single comb in the five varieties above. Hens lay up to 220 large brown eggs per year, and roosters can weigh up to 9 pounds. Now becoming popular in Canada and the United States, not yet an APA recognized breed, the Basque hen is noted for its friendly chicken-personality and ranging abilities.
Resources: Euskal Oiloa Chicken Forum, Euskal Oiloa Basque Thread on Backyard Chickens Forum, Basque Hens on Feathersite, Euskal Oiloa on SlowFoods, Breed Page on Backyard Chickens, Basque Hens of North America, Skyline Poultry (Contact to order EO hatching eggs), Amblecroft’s Basques; translated description of each type, Basque Hens at Sunbird Farms, Scratch Cradle posts: Hatching This Week: Basque Hens, posts tagged “Euskal Oiloa”
Pictures of each type on EOALAK (Basque breed organization with information as well) and Feathersite, fantastic pictures of a Marraduna flock on Euskal Roots; Pictures on La Granja Online threads: Lepasoila, Marraduna, more Marraduna, still more Marraduna, Zilarra, more Zilarra, Beltza hen, Beltzas
Short videos on YouTube: Flock of EOs showing different colors, Video with some EO Basques including Lepasoila , Marraduna rooster, Gorria roosters, Beltza chicks, Marraduna chicks, more Marraduna chicks, Marraduna pullet
Selection Criteria from the “Program of Selection and Improvement of the Race Euskal Oiloa.”
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).–The criteria of selection applied to the [the females of] masculine lines were the alive weight and the angle of breast at 90 days of age, and the number and average weight of eggs in weeks 32 and 33 of life. […] The males were selected by weight at 37, 50 and 90 days, parentage, and minimum levels of consanguinity[i.e. inbreeding] in the crossovers. The selection coefficients are of the 2, 1% in the case of the roosters and 10, 5% in the hens.–With respect to the females of feminine lines, the selection index was applied on the number, average weight, coloration of shell and Haugh units of eggs laid during weeks 33 and 33, and selecting those above a minimum alive weight. The males of the feminine lines were selected based upon parentage, low levels of consanguinity, and alive weights at different ages. The applied coefficients of selection were 2.0% in roosters and 2.51% in hens.–As far as reproductive and productive characters, a perfect differentiation between masculine and feminine lines was reached as well as a more than remarkable increase from the founding generations. [An] ample genetic base was established as to not to be limited by an excess of consanguinity.–From Euskal Oiloa on WordPress, http://euskaloiloa.wordpress.com/retrospectiva/
All images are freely licensed from Wikimedia Commons or property of Scratch Cradle
Eoalak. Estándar Euskal Oiloa. Retrieved from http://www.eoalak.com/es/content/est%C3%A1ndar-euskal-oiloa
Euskal Oiloa on WordPress. (2008). Retrospectiva. Euskal Oiloa. Retrieved from http://euskaloiloa.wordpress.com/retrospectiva/
Gomez, Mariano. Euskal Oiloa Beltza, Gorria, Marraduna, y Zillara. The Native Races of the Basque Country Ethnological Catalog. Retrieved from http://www.nekanet.net/razas/espa%C3%B1ol.htm
Lygeum. (2006). Euskal Oiloa. Barracuda. Retrieved from http://www.lygeum.es/?p=216
Skeffling. (2011). What are Euskal Oiloas or Basque Hens and Why Would Anyone Want These Chickens? Squidoo. Retrieved from http://www.squidoo.com/euskal-oiloas-or-basque-hens-my-favourite-chicken-breed