A Cuckoo Marans hen
|Other names||Poule de Marans, Country Hen|
|Country of origin||France|
|Weight||Male: 8.5 lb. / 3.9 kg|
|Female: 7 lb. / 3.2 kg|
|Egg color||Dark brown|
Gallus gallus domesticus
The Marans is a breed of chicken originating in Western France. It was created with the local feral chickens around the Port of Marans descended from fighting game chickens carried from Indonesia and India. Those original Marandaise fowl were "improved" for the table through recombination with imported Croad Langshans. A favourite at poultry shows, it is a dual purpose fowl known both for its extremely dark eggs and fine meat qualities.
The Marans originated in Marans, France, and were imported into the United Kingdom in the 1930s.
During 1929, Lord Greenway was attracted by the particular fleshing qualities of the Marans he saw at the Paris exhibition. (The birds having a fine textured white flesh with gourmet flavour, and at the time fast growing) Unfortunately at that time there was an import restriction on livestock, but some eggs were smuggled into the county that same year in a luncheon basket as hard-boiled eggs.
J S Parkin, Lord Greenway’s Poultry Manager hatched stock from these eggs and found the brown egg factor – he was so impressed that as soon as the restrictions were lifted he imported 60 day-old chicks. These early birds had both Silver or Dark Cuckoo markings and feathered shanks. Black, Cuckoo, & White birds were derived from these birds. Lord Greenway first showed Marans at The Crystal Palace in 1934. They were subsequently shown at the World Poultry Congress in Rome & London.
In England there was difficulty differentiating between the Cuckoo Marans and other Continental Cuckoo breeds, especially the North Holland Blue unless the eggs could be seen, so after some years he concentrated his efforts on the selection of the Cuckoo variety exclusively. At that time both clean & feathered shanks were common and he decided to breed clean shanked birds. Due to the instability of the plumage of this variety, he subdivided it into two sub-varieties: Dark Cuckoo and Silver Cuckoo. These English Marans were developed with clean shanks, as breeders had difficulty differentiating them from other feathered shanked European breeds that laid cream/tinted eggs, some Barred Plymouth Rock & Light Sussex being used in their makeup. Interestingly whilst breeding out the shank feathers of Marans the British breeders bred them on to the clean shanked North Holland Blues.
Marans were accepted into the British Standard in 1935, the Standard having been drawn up by J S Parkin and W Powell-Green, Gold Cuckoos followed in 1944, together with the Blacks in 1952, unfortunately the Whites died out. Black Copper-necks were also imported from France in the 1930s but were never accepted into the British Standard. The popularity for the dark egg lead to indiscriminate breeding over the next 20 years to try and improve the identification of pullets and cockerels as day old. Good pure Marans can be difficult to sex when young, and the cockerels eat a lot.
Day old sexing meant the breeders didn't have to rear the cockerels so they could rear more pullets at reduced costs. This was done by using other breeds such as the Light Sussex - their offspring were then put to a pure Marans and the resulting Marans-looking young were sold as Marans. The cockerels were much lighter at day old so it was easier to cull them out. Successive years of breeding from these stocks produced a paler egg, poorer productivity and more white in the feathering (from the Light Sussex).
Pure Marans are now very difficult to find as a result, as it can be very difficult to distinguish between these birds and the mongrelised version which has become incorporated into some stocks.
Recent importations from France into the UK have resulted in both clean shanked and feathered shanked birds being available. The Poultry Club of Great Britain currently refuses to recognise the feathered birds, though they are accepted by The Marans Club of Great Britain. Internationally however. the Australian Poultry Standard recognises both feathered and clean legged and the Maran Club of America only recognises feather legged birds.
There are 9 recognized colours in the French Standard: Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, Black, Birchen, Black Copper, Wheaten, Black-tailed Buff, White and Columbian. Black Copper (black with copper feathers on the neck) and Cuckoo (barred feathers, giving a black and white speckled appearance) are the most common of these. Other colours not officially recognized (such as Blue Copper, Blue, and Splash) also exist.
The breed as it was when first brought to England was very variable in appearance. The only colours at this time were the white and brassy black. The breed became more of a standard breed than a country fowl due to the vigorous breeding standards of early British breeders, however this was only started fairly early in the 20th century, To the present day there is still much work to be done as "throw backs" are prevalent in the form of white and black birds being bred from other coloured strains. Sporadically appearing yellow colouration to the legs and beak rather than the preferred white is also a problem found in the breed.
They should have orange eyes. The shanks are usually slate or pink, the soles of the feet should always be white as Marans have white skin, not yellow. Though the original Marans could also feather legged birds, British breeders preferred the clean legged version, and thus feathered legged Marans are now mainly found in France. They are in the medium weight class, generally rather smaller than the more common Rhode Island Red. Marans in the United States are usually heavier.
Marans are generally quiet and docile; but they are quite active, taking well to free ranging in rough terrain and are also tough and disease-resistant.
Marans lay around 150 dark brown eggs each year. Marans are an historically dual-purpose bird, prized not only for their dark eggs but for their table qualities as well.
- 2nd Australian Poultry Standard, 2012, published by the Victorian Poultry Breeder Association (trading as Poultry Stud Breeders and Exhibitors Victoria)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Marans.|
- Raymond, Francine (2001). The Big Book of Garden Hens. Kitchen Garden Books, ISBN 0-9532857-3-1
2 The Marans Club of Great Britain http://www.themaransclub.co.uk
3 The Marans Club - Belgium http://users.telenet.be/mcb/
4 Marans Club de France http://www.marans.eu/
5. Marans of America Club http://maransofamericaclub.com