Marans chickens – the dark egg layer
The Marans is a breed famed for the deep mahogany colour of it’s eggs. (picture below shows from left to right our Rhode Island eggs; Marans eggs and Leghorn eggs – nothing has been done to alter the colours of this picture)
The very dark coloured egg layers tend not to be quite as prolific as for example good Rhode Island Reds – but we like to think they are taking more care over each one and certainly the quality of the egg is superb; they taste gorgeous and have great structure. Our girls are well capable of laying over 200 eggs a year – the exact numbers will depend on conditions – weather – feeding etc.
Up here some years are so dark, wet and miserable we are amazed any of our birds lay at all!!! Bear in mind with all our figures they are probably lower than these birds would lay further south as we have a much shorter daylength and horrible weather!
To improve the winter [low light] laying ability is something that needs work on all pure breeds, but can take years.
The popularity for the dark egg lead to indiscriminate breeding over the past 20 -30 years to try and improve the identification of hens and cockerels at day old. Breeders have been adding other breeds to make the boys lighter coloured at an early stage.
Good pure Marans can be devilishly difficult to sex when young, the difference in colour often develops late – and the boys 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 sold as Marans. [and the boys were much lighter at day old so easier to cull them out]. Successive years breeding from these stocks produces a paler egg; poorer productivity and more white in the feathering (from the Light Sussex).
Good pure Marans are now very difficult to find as a result, as it can be very hard to distinguish between these birds and they have become incorporated into many people’s stocks, frequently unwittingly.
The parents of our original birds came from some of the older purist breeders, and our birds have proved themselves to be extremely good layers for their breed, with good hatchability and egg colour and quality.
To ensure that breeding stocks are the best utility pure Marans we can produce takes a great deal of effort and skills. Its not possible to find any of the large utility producers of the last century, the strains have gone.
It seems that few breeders in the modern age want to do any work, they read a book or magazine that says all Marans lay dark eggs and they expect to be able to buy that, off the shelf.
Those times are long gone. If you want a really decent strain, you need to breed it yourself. You might get a decent egg colour, particularly from eggs illegally imported from France, but the numbers can be so poor. The balance between good egg numbers, and a quality colour, takes much more effort than most modern breeders are interested in.
Marans were originally a regional fowl in France, but when first imported into the UK, one bird did not look much like another. The standardisation of this breed took place largely in this country, particularly by those doyens of the agricultural breeding and improvement – the Victorians.
Some strains have birds that will go broody in the summer. Breeders like us are not encouraging this as we are selelcting for productivity not natural incubation. If a hen is broody she is not laying eggs!
They should be a big bird with a reasonable carcase weight, but its rather slow growing. This means its a great flavour, but suitable for the long slow French cassoulet recipes rather than the quick cook sweet and sours.
We find they are relatively quiet birds – not doing as much damage to the ground they range on as some of the laying breeds. They are a useful breed to have as part of a mixture – maybe with Rhode Island and one of the Leghorns – then you can give your family the same range of egg colours as shown at the top of the page.
If you have a local market for eggs having mixed boxes of eggs allows you to charge more for them. You will need to as these pure breeds will always be less economic than the commercial layers. They eat more and lay less.
I am very concerned about something I heard a few years ago about some breeders introducing Plymouth Barred Rock into the genetics of their Marans flock to improve the barring on the feathers – this will undoubtedly impair the egg colour; number and quality. Unfortunately it will be very difficult to distinguish the birds – so I recommend folk buying Marans to make sure they see the eggs the birds are producing or buy hatching eggs so you know they are a good colour to put into the next generation.
If you have Marans hens laying disappointing coloured eggs but want to breed from them – go to a breeder who can sell you a cockerel hatched from a really dark egg.
We put the darkest eggs separate as they hatch and make a note of the wing tag numbers we put on the birds. If these grow up to be cockerels they become breeding birds as its the males who pass the egg quality of their mothers to their daughters. Keeping a track of their identity prevents them being culled out as surplus.
Some thoughts about the future of breeding Utility Marans
In the future all breeders selecting for egg numbers and colour would do well to keep in touch with each other. So many good lines have been lost, there are so many novices who have done no homework breeding indiscriminately.
There needs to be a number of strains nationally
- one where selection is mostly for the deepest egg colour
- and another for a good consistent egg colour but make sure the numbers stay high as the really really dark layers don’t produce as many each year and the injection of a cockerel from a higher producing hen would be useful.
By the same token if the very dark strains can be used to provide males to keep the colour of the more productive hens from slipping.
Although there are now hybrids laying darker eggs they are weak and usually disappointing in health, vigour, egg colour and longevity, the egg quality and even colour can vary alot. Be careful though – some look remarkably like Marans but are lighter weight. Always check your breeders pens and reputation before being disappointed.
Other breeds we stock: