By Tasha Greer
If you’re looking for a chicken breed with a certain Je ne sais quoi, French Marans are a must! From their fabulously feathered legs to their alluring eggs these bountiful, buxom birds are truly très magnifique.
Typically kept for their dark russet to brown eggs, these chickens are also useful as table toppers. Roosters routinely weigh in over 8 pounds and older hens even remain tender with age.
One word of caution, like limited edition French wine, this rare breed can be difficult to find. Due to a shortage in superior breeding stock, many Marans for sale now lack the fancy feathered legs or red brown eggs that have historically defined these rustic farm-style chickens.
Marans are named after a maritime town on the West coast of France.  There, feral colonies of chickens that arrived in the area from unknown origins, roamed the land. Starting in the 12th century, English boats began stopping by that French port region carrying champion fighting roosters.
Locals used those champions to cross breed with their “swamp hens”. Those crossings earned the Maransdaise free-range chickens some early repute for their fine meat quality and pretty, red brown egg production.
In the late 1800’s, Mr. Louis Rouillé, an amateur breeder, became enamored with the white-legged, well-fleshed Langshans and their beautiful eggs. He flooded the region with Langshans and other Asiatic class breeding stock which crossed with the local Maransdaise chickens.
In 1914, the first Marans brown egg layer made its poultry show debut under the category of “country chicken”. In the 1920’s a famous French poultry breeder, Madam Marthe Rousseau-Charpentier, began breeding the country chickens for the darkest eggs possible with a secondary focus on consistent plumage.
In 1929, her standardization efforts led to the formal recognition of the Marans chickens as a breed in France. The breed enjoyed several years of popularity and further improvement for egg production and appearance uniformity.
Unfortunately, in World War II, the Germans occupied France and the breed was nearly decimated. The breeding stock that remained after the war was closer to the early Marandaise chickens that existed before the breed conformed to poultry standards.
Also, during that time, industrial chickens were on the rise making free-ranging farm breeds with unique egg color and slower meat production less popular. Thankfully, a few determined breeders kept the pre-WWII Marans from falling into genetic obscurity.
Meanwhile, other breeders attempted to remake this free-range favorite Marans more marketable by crossing the breed with heavier Russian chickens. Due to all those unknown feral origins and champion rooster and Asiatic breed crossings, those productivity-driven crosses usually led to light tinted eggs and chickens better suited to confinement.
Marans Breed Characteristics
Today, that very storied and colorful breed history makes it difficult to find Marans that check all the boxes of the original French standards. However, many specialized breeders are presently working on perfecting their stock.
In terms of general appearance, Marans should be medium height giving an overall impression of robustness. Body conformation should be rectangular, boat-shaped, elongated and wide, with a short, full tail at no more than a 45° angle to the body. Wings should be short and close to the body. They are often referred to as rustic in appearance.
Marans have single combs that vary in size, red earlobes, and bay to orange-red irises. Their legs are slightly feathered. The outer toes are often feathered. In some color varieties toe-feathering is optional.
Additionally, to truly qualify as French Marans, hens should have good production of large to extra-large, dark chocolate brown eggs. They will generally lay about 200 eggs per year.
Full-Size and Bantams
Presently in the U.S. only full-size Marans have been accepted into the standards. In France and other countries including the U.K. and Australia, bantam Marans are also available.
Full-size Marans are a dual-purpose breed with both fine meat and excellent egg qualities. They weigh in as follows.
- Pullets: 5.5 lbs.
- Hens: 6.5 lbs.
- Cockerels: 7 lbs.
- Cocks: 8 lbs.
Bantam Marans are not accepted into the breed standard in the U.S. and are very hard to find. They tend to lay limited quantities of cream to light brown eggs. They are also noted for being less docile than the full-size Marans. Bantam Marans weights vary by breeder.
Marans Color Varieties
Accepted Marans color varieties vary by country. In their home country of France the following varieties have been accepted: Black Copper, Blue Copper, Silver Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, White, Wheaten, Columbian, Black-tailed Buff, and Birchen. Additionally, other colors including multiple variations of splash are also being considered for the standards. 
In the U.S. only Black, Black Copper, Wheaten, and White Marans have been accepted into the American Poultry Association (APA) standards of breed perfection.  Additionally, the Silver Cuckoo which is not accepted into the standards is the easiest to find.
Black Copper Marans
Black Copper Marans are the most sought-after color variety. These copper-necked, black-bodied beauties are renowned for having the darkest egg color of all the Marans varieties.
Buyers beware! Due to the high demand and low availability, this variety attracts novice breeders who don’t know how to manage the breed’s complex genetic history. The result is that many chicks sold as Black Copper Marans don’t grow up to lay those coveted chocolate eggs.
White Marans were created in the 1960’s for use as commercial meat chickens.  They should have pure white, bright feathers. In roosters, minor straw color variation around the neck is acceptable. They are purported to have excellent taste and fine textured meat quality.
Today, White Marans mostly have light tinted eggs. They are also prone to show dusky colored legs that are considered a defect.
Black Marans are difficult to find because they don’t always breed true to type. Faults in feather color are common. Eggs also trend lighter than is ideal for Marans. Overall feathers should be shiny and black. Dusky colored legs are common and not considered a defect for this variety.
Wheaten Marans hens and roosters don’t resemble each other.  Roosters have golden-red to brown-red heads, lancets and hackles. They have red wing and black wing bars. Their upper breast is black leading to a blackish undercarriage.
Hen heads and hackles are golden-red to brown with some black spots permissible. Their back, rump and wing covers are wheaten. Tail feathers are black edged with brown. Their breasts and abdomen are cream with a whitish undercarriage. This color variety is known to produce relatively light eggs.
The silver cuckoo has not been accepted into the APA standards. However, this variety is becoming popular. Breeding true to type is easier with this variety. Also, with an appearance like the Plymouth Barred Rocks and eggs on the dark side, the Silver Cuckoo is a hit with chicken keepers.
The sticking point on standardizing this variety is a question over leg feathering. Allowing clean legs makes it easier to breed for dark eggs. However, French Marans purists believe feathered shanks are a key feature of this breed.
Other Color Options
In places like France, the U.K. and Australia other color varieties are available. As more chicken keepers become enamored with Marans in the U.S. more colors will likely become available here too.
Marans hens are universally reported to be docile and friendly. They’re adaptable to free range settings and confinement. Marans roosters aren’t as uniform in temperament.
With a such an eclectic genetic heritage, there is a high possibility that Marans roosters may become territorial and aggressive. However, there are Marans roosters that stay sweet. When choosing this breed, know that there’s always a risk you’ll need to cull roosters for bad behavior.
Caring for Marans
Marans are adaptable to most kinds of chicken keeping including mobile coops, free-range settings, and confinement in a protected coop and run. There are just a few special things to keep in mind.
With a shortage in high-quality Marans breeding stock, expect some day-old chicks to grow up to fall short on egg color or pretty plumage. For example, Black Copper Marans bred for dark egg production sometimes lack the rich copper neck feathering shown.
Reputable breeders selling market price hatchlings will disclose the most likely breed defects to expect when buying from them. Expect breeders with stock that conforms to all breed standards, including dark egg color, to charge a premium price.
With rare breeds, indiscriminate breeding and selling can derail the efforts of dedicated, experienced breeders working to refine Marans to their pre-WWII level. If you want to breed these dark-egged darlings, join a breed club and talk with experienced Marans breeders before you start.
French Marans early history as “swamp chickens” makes them well-suited to humidity and moisture. In extremely cold climates, Marans combs are subject to frostbite. Their feathered legs and toes can ice over and make them less cold-tolerant. In hot climates, their aptitude for gaining weight can make them overheat.
For best results uses this breed in moderately cold and warm areas or offer additional weather protection for extreme conditions.
Despite their stalky stature, this breed can still fly when fully grown giving them an escape mechanism for ground predators. They are naturally predator aware often noticing threats earlier than other breeds in a mixed flock. Their heavy weight also makes them less likely to be predated by birds of prey.
Overall, Marans are terrific as free rangers in semi-protected situations like on pasture protected by electric fencing. Like all domesticated chickens, they will need protection secure night time protection.
These heavy birds will aim high on the roost bar if allowed. To avoid leg injuries, use stair step roosts with wide flat bars or 24–36-inch roost bars.
A ratio of 1 rooster to 8 ladies is ideal for Marans. Also, keep watch for bad rooster behaviors, especially when introducing new flock members or showing off your Marans to homestead guests.
When allowed to free range, Marans will make great use of grassy lawns or pastures. They are so good at foraging greens, their egg yolks can become exceptionally dark on a free-range diet. They tend to be leaner when pasture-raised which can improve egg production.
For faster-fattening, limit forage and increase high protein treats. For a happy medium, offer chicken feed and treats in the morning and free range a few hours before dusk.
Mostly Marans aren’t broody. But some many be more prone to motherhood than others. Check with your breeder for details.
Marans may have shorter productive lifespans than other old breeds. My hens stopped laying after 3 years of age. Also, only one of my hens has made it over 6 years of age.
Pros and Cons of Raising Marans
If you need a little help figuring out whether Marans are right for you, let me offer a quick recap of the pros and cons.
- Novel and exciting, rare breed
- Good egg production of dark brown eggs (usually)
- Great for dual purpose use
- Adaptable to free-range or confinement
- Lots of deviation from breed standard, especially on egg color
- Hard to find
- Wild genetics makes for unpredictable roosters and complex breeding
Overall, Marans are a magnificently rustic, adaptable farm bird with interesting features. They aren’t ideal for novice breeders.
There are a few more fun facts to know about Marans.
Did you know that Marans Hens are Bond Girls?
A certain fictional, literary superspy know as Bond… James Bond has a particular penchant for brown eggs. In From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming, there’s specific mention of “very fresh, speckled brown egg from French Marans hens owned by some friend of May in the country.” 
Although Marans may not be starring as Bond Girls in the next movie megahit, they will make great leading ladies in your flock!
What is the Marans Egg Color Chart?
One other helpful fact to know about Marans is that Chickenmag  has an egg color chart designed specifically for Marans. The light tinted eggs start at a rating of 1 and top out at 9 which is chocolate colored.
Marans Breeders often refer to this chart, or others like it, to help buyers set realistic expectations for the range of egg colors to expect. If your breeder doesn’t disclose the color range, just ask!
For special tips on what to expect from dark colored egg layers, check out our post on Welsummers. In the Care section, you’ll learn how dark brown egg pigmentation is applied and what you need to do to collect the prettiest eggs possible.
Try these Très Magnifique Marans
Keeping rare and storied chicken breeds is the perfect way to add some Je ne sais quoi and joie de vivre to your homestead. Keeping Marans that lay chocolate eggs and have fancy feathered legs will certainly do just that. Also, supporting breeders focused on improving their genetics to conform with all aspects of the French breed standards will help restore this rare and rustic breed to its pre-WWII glory.
Bon chance and merci for reading about Marans!
Are you thinking about getting chickens or do you already have a flock? Learn more in this blog post Raising Chickens: Beginner’s Guide (+ Pro Tips!)
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