Some years ago we used to breed, hatch and rear wonderful utility Marans chickens. We no longer have our breeding flocks, only raising and selling Black Rock Pullets these days.
The Marans is a breed famed for the deep mahogany colour of it’s eggs. (picture below shows from left to right eggs from our old Rhode Island; Marans and Leghorn – 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 liked to think they were taking more care over each one.
Our girls were well capable of laying over 200 eggs a year – the exact numbers will depend on conditions – weather – feeding etc. Maintaining good numbers was a juggling act of breeding for colour and for numbers each season.
Up here some years are so dark, wet and miserable we are amazed any of our birds lay at all, particularly in the autumn!!! 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.
To improve the winter [low light] laying ability is something that needs work on all pure breeds, but like all selection improvements these can take years and dedication.
The popularity for the dark egg has lead to rather indiscriminate breeding over the past few years – production of numbers rather than quality. Buying eggs from auction sites means there is little idea of the quality of the parents.
In the past decades there was selection to try and improve the identification of hens and cockerels at day old. Breeder added 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 but only a few are saleable!! This means that the best birds can be very expensive to buy. Be prepared to pay well for good breeding.
Day old sexing of these poorer quality birds means there is not the cost of rearing the cockerels so pullets are cheaper, and the profits higher.
This was done by using other breeds such as the Light Sussex – their offspring were then put to a pure Marans and the resulting youngstock that looked like Marans sold as such. [and the boys were much paler feathered 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).
Another common selection has been to “improve” the barring in feathers – by using the precision barred Plymouth Rock – which are, in this country, predominantly exhibition birds, poor layers of relatively small pale eggs.
Really excellent quality pure Utility Marans are now very difficult to find as a result, as it can be very hard to distinguish between these altered 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 proved themselves to be extremely good layers for their breed, with good hatchability and egg colour and quality. It was very sad to see them go but life changes and we have to adapt to them. All we can hope is that others will pick up the mantle and work as hard to create quality birds in the future.
As Breeders of the National Flock it is vital to ensure that breeding stocks are the best utility pure Marans possible and takes a great deal of effort and skills. It’s 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, lost in the mists of the middle of the 1900’s. If you want a really decent proper uility strain, you may need to breed it yourself. You might get a decent egg colour, particularly from eggs which have bloodlines from those illegally imported from France in more recent times, but the laying numbers can be so poor. The balance between good egg numbers, and a quality colour, takes a great deal of effort, several bloodlines to select from, bigger flocks to choose prime stock from – this is more 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 !
Marans should be a big bird with a reasonable carcase weight, but it’s 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 found they were 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.
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.
When we were breeding we put the darkest eggs separate as they hatch and make a note of the wing tag numbers we put on the chicks. 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 keepers who have done no homework breeding indiscriminately.
Ideally there needs to be a number of strains for strong breeding
- 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
This allows for the really really dark layers who 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.
web links for Marans
– if you have a relevant link you would like me to add please let me know – link at marans.co.uk – all I ask is for a reciprocal link to this site to be in place, thanks