The Black Copper Marans
The Black Copper Marans chicken is a breed of poultry developed in western France during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born of land and sea, their first public appearance was in the national poultry exhibition in La Rochelle, France in 1914. Simply labeled, “country chicken,” it would be another 15 years before the breed “Marans” would be settled on. However, like all good “country chickens,” enthusiasts had already improved the breed for size, focusing next on the beautiful “red” egg color, and finally standardizing the plumage. By 1929 the French Marans Club was created and in 1931 a standard was accepted. The rest, as they say, is “histoire.”
The origin of the Marans really began in the 12th century, when sailors would take game fowl with them on their journeys as a way of passing their otherwise isolated days. During this time, and as the result of a marriage (of course), the southwest of France was under English rule. Sailors from England would stop in the port of La Rochelle, just a few miles from Marans, and occasionally trade their chickens to the locals. These game fowl would become part of the farm, mixing with the “country chickens” of the day. This occurrence was incredibly important in the development of the breed, adding to the often overlooked meat qualities of the Marans.
Although the Marans was already laying “colored” eggs, it was the next step in its evolution that took the color deeper. As the Asian breeds of chicken made their way across the world, France was no exception. It was the introduction of the Langshan, famous for its “plum” colored eggs, that really moved the Marans forward. This wonderful new import was embraced by a Mr. Louis Rouille around the turn of the 20th century. He crossed his local fowl with the Langshan and the foundation of the Marans was set: top-shelf meat qualities, vigor and the lovely “oeuf extra-roux,” an “extra-red egg.”
Over the next 20 years, the breed would be perfected and standardized, but these three legs of the stool were the foundation for the Marans success: vigor, table qualities, and egg color. Enthusiasts like Marthe ROUSSEAU-CHARPENTIER would further refine the “Poule Marandaise,” and by the 1930’s the breed club would be formed.
Like so many birds that were coming into their own during this time, WWII had a major impact on the development of the Marans. While that effect in America was tied more to the industrialization of the poultry market, in France is was simpler. The area around Marans was occupied by German forces during the war. As a result, many of the farms in the area were destroyed and the livestock killed or consumed. As one historical account notes, the commercialization of the breed “was made impossible.”
For the next 40-50 years, the Marans would struggle. The early varieties; Cuckoo, White and Black Copper, would continue in one form or another as other variations came onto the scene… While some focused on improving the production in terms of the number of eggs, others would realize that this had a negative effect on the depth of color. Still, others would focus on depth of color of the egg, at the cost of the overall type. It would appear that the Marans greatest strength would also be its greatest weakness. Over time, the Black Copper Marans would gain the reputation for laying the darkest eggs, a reputation that stands today.
In the late 1990’s, the Marans Club of France would eventually be reinvigorated. Breeders in France and Belgium took up the charge, with a renewed commitment to the furtherance of the breed and its standard.
The Marans Today
Today, the Marans remains a wonderful example of French poultry. However, like many popular animal breeds, the quality available has been challenged by its prolific demand. Fueled by it’s “chocolate eggs” (Americans have to be different), Black Copper Marans are known in almost every corner of the poultry world. Unfortunately, many of the specimens out there pale in comparison to the true “Marans.” In fact, the official Marans egg scale ranks the depth of “red” from 1-9. Any bird laying an egg that falls in categories 1-3 cannot be considered a Marans.
While many have tried to “game” the system, Marans egg color is about genetics. It is not the result of feeding or terroir (soil, climate, etc). If your hens don’t lay dark eggs, and the rooster is not from dark egg lines, you won’t hatch chicks that lay dark eggs. Finding the right lines is everything when it comes to egg color. True Marans eggs are a sight to behold, both is size and color. Because the color is a “coating,” it is at its most intense at the beginning of the laying cycle.
Table Qualities, Beyond Red Eggs
Finally, it should always be remembered that Marans are more than colored-egg layers. They are magnificent table birds when selected for this purpose. In a tasting of 20 historic French fowl performed by five renowned chefs, including Pierre Troigros, the Marans bested 18 competitors taking second place. At Sunbird Farms, we have seen this quality and are anxious to bring it more to the forefront. As one French champion of heritage poultry put it: “Whether wine or poultry, if there is no passion, there is no quality.” We are passionate about reviving the historic traits of the Black Copper Marans, a dual-purpose breed of superior qualities.
Large Fowl Black Copper Marans
- Rooster: 3.5-4kg.
- Hen: 2.5-3kg.
- Eggs: Extra-red, Large to Extra-Large (65g); min color 4 on the Marans scale
- Comb: Straight, red, medium size and rather corse
- Skin color: White
- Origin: France
(Fowl Features are short posts about the rare and interesting breeds of chicken. Sunbird Farms has been raising Marans for many years and hope to continue and improve that effort. We hope you enjoy these posts. Thanks to the the Marans Club of France where we sourced much of this information- SF)