A hen that seems to be all the rage at the moment is the Black Copper Marans chicken. It’s a beautiful bird that lays very special, dark, chocolate colored eggs.
Although it has not been around that long (1900 or so), it has a history that is fraught with ups and downs and near extinction.
The Marans breed has several varieties, but the one that has captured most attention here in the US recently is the Black Copper Marans.
The Marans breed is said to have appealed to the English because it was supposed to be James Bonds’ favorite egg!
In this complete breed guide we will discuss the history of Black Copper Marans before looking at their behavior and egg laying ability.
Black Copper Marans History and Background
The original Marans (poule de Marans) come from the area around La Rochelle in south western France. The local chickens were known as ‘swamp chickens’ because the countryside is low and marshy.
These original landrace birds were crossed with the local barnyard hens and game cocks from India and Indonesia that were brought in by the sailors. The gamecocks were traded by them for fresh food and water and so were often plentiful in supply.
These originals came to be known as Marandaise fowl.
In later years the Marans was further refined by the addition of Croad Langshan, Brahmas, Coucou de Malines, Coucou de Rennes and Gatinaise chickens to produce the ancestors of the Maran breed we know today.
The Marans became well known locally in France for the deep red color of its eggs; the plumage however was all over the place.
- In 1921 a Mrs. Rousseau started breeding with the intention of unifying the plumage and produced the cuckoo Marans – still popular today.
- 1930 saw the setting of the breed standard in France for this dual purpose bird. They were called Marans after the French port of the same name.
- By 1932 there were six recognized varieties of Marans – silver cuckoo, white/ black, black copper neck, ermine, golden cuckoo and red.
Skipping forward to post war France, the breed was in a shambles and was near to non-existent. The French Department of Agriculture rescued it from obscurity and began a breeding program. One of the goals of the program was to increase egg production, which it did. By 1952 Marans were producing around 200 eggs/year.
When the program ceased, the cause of the Marans was taken up by numerous amateur enthusiasts who did a great job of keeping and improving the breed.
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Appearance and Breed Standard
The body of the Black Copper Marans seen from the side forms a wide ‘V’ triangle. The body is strong, long and sturdy. They should be wide through the shoulders.
They have a remarkable plumage. The overall body feathers are deep black which may have a green iridescence in the sunlight.
The hackle feathers are a reddish/coppery tone. The rooster also has copper saddle feathers which cascade over his back. Whilst the hen is not quite so splendidly adorned, it’s still a beautiful bird. The Black Copper Marans are usually clean legged.
The males weigh in around 7-8lb with the hen around 6.5lb. There are bantam Marans but they are incredibly rare and hard to find.
The Black Copper Marans was recognized by the American Poultry Association in 2011 – a recent arrival! Whilst, the clean legged Marans were accepted to the Poultry Club of Great Britain in 1935.
In its home country of France there are nine recognized varieties of Marans.
The standards for the Marans varieties can vary greatly from country to country. It is classified as a ‘Continental’ breed and the type is large fowl.
In the UK, clean legged birds are the standard. In France and the US both clean legged and sparsely feathered legs are recognized.
The single comb, wattles, ear lobes and face are all red. The beak is strong with a slight hook to it, it should be horn colored. Eyes are orange colored. Shanks and feet should be slate or pink, soles of the feet are white as is the skin of the bird.
The Black Copper plumage must be red – no mahogany or yellow/straw tones.
The male should be black breasted red with minimal spotting on his chest. There should be a definite black triangle on the wings and he should have deep red shoulders. The copper colored feathers in the neck, hackles and back are described as ‘lancets’. The hen is black with red hackle markings; very slight red breast markings are acceptable.
Common faults found in this bird are: yellow shanks, white ear lobes, black eyes, ‘off’ coloring and ‘over’ feathering of the legs.
Temperament and Disposition
The Black Copper Marans are said to be quiet and gentle although the roosters can have a tendency to be confrontational with other roosters. This fits with the history of gamecock breeding and is to be expected to a certain degree, although there are fairly docile roosters to be had.
The hens are generally docile but this can vary from bird to bird, they aren’t known for being a ‘cuddly’ bird.
They are an active bird that enjoys foraging and free ranging, but will tolerate confinement fairly well. They are also quite winter hardy, so suitable for the Northern climates given adequate housing and shelter.
Egg Laying and Color
Black Copper Marans are renowned for their very dark brown/chocolate eggs. All Marans birds lay a dark brown egg, but the Black Copper is sought after for its’ egg color being especially ‘chocolate-y’.
The fewer eggs a Black Copper hen lays, the darker the color. If your hen is a good layer you will not get the darkest color on the eggs. The pigment overlay of the egg is a finite source, so once the ‘ink’ starts to get low, the color gets lighter. We talk about egg color more here.
Some eggs will also have the darker colored speckles – much as Welsummer eggs do.
Egg color can also be cyclical – at the beginning of the laying season you will get very dark eggs but by the end, the color will have lightened considerably.
On average a hen will give you around 3 eggs/week, which works out to around 150-200 eggs/year.
This means that the Maran is an average layer in quantity, but the quality of the egg is said to be unsurpassed.
The hens’ are said to good setters and mothers but not overly broody.
If you are interested in buying Black Copper Marans here is a good buyer’s tip for you:
Beware of buying hens based on the color of the egg in a photo. Eggs that are exposed to the air for a period of time tend to be darker. The red pigment oxidizes in the air and turns the pigment darker.
This trick has been used numerous times by unscrupulous folks who want to sell you an ‘average’ bird. Rely on the reputation of the breeder and any feedback you may find.
Is the Black Copper Marans Right for You?
If you are looking for an egg laying superstar – the Black Copper Marans will disappoint you. But if you are looking for a beautifully marked hen that lays very dark eggs, the Black Copper Marans is for you!
Please remember though, the hens that lay the darkest eggs also lay the fewest, the quicker the egg passes through the system the lighter the shell color.
The Marans society has come up with a color scale for the eggs labeled 1-9 with 9 being the darkest and supposedly the best – do they taste different? I really don’t know. The hen that lays less than a ‘4’ egg, is not considered to be a Marans.
If you are in the market for some of these rare gems, be prepared to part with some serious money.
Yes, you can get hatchery birds for under $10.00 each, but they pale in comparison to the more expensive and better quality birds.
A bird from a quality breeder can set you back anywhere from $30.00 – $ 60.00 per bird – a bit too expensive? Try some hatching eggs – around $75.00/dozen.
If you think that the price is a ‘rip-off’, just look at some photos of the difference between hatchery and breeder stock.
Sometimes it is a bit difficult to tell the difference with some breeds, but not so this one. The plumage should be splendidly colored, not washed out or muted. The birds should stand tall and proud and be muscular through the shoulders – the roosters seem to wear their colors very regally.
Marans are still considered rare in the US, especially the Black Copper Marans. They are much more common in their homeland of France.
These birds are expensive for good reason. The time and effort it takes to produce such a gorgeous bird that can breed true down the line is enormous.
A good quality bird is simply breathtaking with the contrasting black and copper plumage.
If you are serious about getting some of these rare beauties, it makes sense to buy the best you can, that way you can work to produce good quality chicks of your own.
Does the dark chocolate egg make it all worth it? That’s for you to decide.
Do you have some of these ‘high society’ birds in your flock? If so, let us know in the comments section below…