Genetically speaking the spots we see in our North American Basques are not fully understood. Even the genetics behind the true standard mille fleur pattern, characterized by evenly distributed feathers each with a white tip followed by a black chevron, are not fully known despite the fact that the mille fleur color variety has been standardized and selected for over hundreds of years in some breeds!
The mottled gene ‘mo’ is most certainly the main cause of the white spots at the feather tips and this gene will be present in two doses in any Basque that clearly has spots. It is a recessive gene which means it can hide undetected in the parents and then, like magic, show up as spotted chicks when they feather out sometimes generations later. One way to detect whether the mottling gene is present even when it is trying to hide is to look for white tips on the wing feathers. In true standard mille fleur colour varieties other genes such as the pattern gene ‘Pg’ along with modifiers are also speculated to be present and it is impossible to say at this point whether those genes are present in our Basques.
There aren’t any pictures from Spain that we’ve been able to find that shows this colour pattern. And there is lots of speculation on how the spots came to be in the North American Basque Hen. Although we will likely never know for sure, one possibility is cross breeding with the Penedesenca which is from a similar region in Spain. The Penedesenca has wheaten, partridge and crele colour varieties and crossing of the partridge and wheaten have been proven to create offspring with a ‘mille fleur’ color pattern. The Penedesenca, with its unique carnation comb, is also often blamed for the many side sprigs we see popping up uninvited in our Basques!
The spotted Basques have appeared in North America pretty much since we began breeding EOs. Since the spots can hide undetected in our birds and spotted birds will breed true, they tend to perpetuate unless actively removed from a breeding program. Since the size, shape and color of the spots is still highly variable in the Basques and can be present on birds with either the Red or Red Cuckoo background they looked very colourful!
Basques with spots have become known as millies (after the mille fleur pattern seen in other breeds) but until the colour pattern in the Basque Hen becomes more standardized it is impossible to say whether mille fleur will truly be the correct term to use. A discussion will no doubt be happening soon among people who favour this lovely colour pattern to find an accurate descriptor that we can all use for these pretty birds. Mille Fleur? Speckled? Spangled? Mottled? Spotted? This author doesn’t know. She just knows that these birds are gorgeous, friendly, and lay big beautiful eggs. Whatever the official name ends up being, the spotted Basque is a big favorite!