French Marans Club Australia


                    The origins

What did this landrace hen, which originated in the swampy farm country near Marans & La Rochelle, look like
before being crossed with non-local fowl? We will probably never know. However oral history recalls that monks from a number of surrounding monasteries were great consumers of eggs, and to sustain them, on their return voyages from missionary work abroad, brought back live birds on board ship from other parts of Europe as well as Africa and Asia.
These farmyard fowl had very little selection, and this ‘swamp’ hen didn't really receive any particular care.
The one thing that sets them apart from all other chickens is the dark chocolate coloured egg.

One often wonders how the Marans can lay such a dark egg. The Marans egg is given its colour right before
. A layer of pigment is deposited over the finished egg. This pigment comes from mucous glands located
within the very last 10 centimetres of the oviduct. As the egg passes through,
these glands secrete the pigment
and tint the shell. Immediately after laying, the layer of mucous
dries quickly and the shell keeps its colour.
The colour on a Marans egg may be smooth, stippled,
or even spotted, depending on how the layer of pigment
is deposited as the egg moves through the
oviduct. It is very different from that of ordinary brown eggs
where the tan pigment is built into
the shell calcium, or the blue egg of the Araucana, that is tinted throughout
the thickness of the
shell. In those eggs the colour cannot be removed, whereas the colour on a Marans egg can
scrubbed off with water.

                                                    The first Out- Crosses

     In the 12th century, with her marriage to Henri of Plantagenet, Duke of Anjou, who became Henri II of
England, Eleanor of Aquitaine brought to England a dowry consisting of parts of South-west
France : Poitou,
Paintonge, Aunis, Perigord and Limousin.

This English domination lasted two centuries. English ships often stopped over at La Rochelle (near Marans) and

unloaded gamecocks, which had survived being rations or the cockfight, at that time highly prized by sailors to

cheer up their sea isolation. In return, poultry, which furnished fresh food and eggs, were taken on board the ships.

These gamecocks were naturally crossed with local landrace hens. The products born of these crossings had a more
stocky figure and laid darker coloured eggs. The fighting cocks, of many varied colours, are the origin of various
present Marans varieties, and are responsible for the proud bearing, heavy figure, and of the sometimes quarrelsome
character of the cocks.  They would have more game characteristics if it were not for the original hens.
Other French
breeds that
played a part in the development of the Marans include the feather legged Cocou de Malines including
pea combed ‘turkey head’, the clean legged Cocou de Rennes, & the Gatinaise. A 1936 study by French veterinarian Honore Gautronneau stated that
the Faverolle has also been used. 

 Gatinaise                                                                     Old English Game 

Cocou de Malines (Turkey head)                           Cocou de Rennes

                                             Introduction of the Asian breeds

 The second half of the 19th century was a decisive time for the evolution of the French Marans breed often linked to the introduction of the Brahma and Langhans. 

Mr Geoffrey Saint Hilaire and Mr Foucault imported some Croad Langshans. Mr Louis Rouille, famous amateur 

breeder, was fascinated by an Asian breed that didn't possess yellow feet, whose fleshing qualities were good,

and which laid highly coloured eggs. Louis Rouille farmed a lot of Langhans hens in Fouras, situated about 12½

miles south of La Rochelle. These birds spread in the area and it was by this way that the second crossing processes

of the Marans took place.

From that moment on, the main characteristic of the breed was set: big red egg.

It was not the same however for the totally heterogeneous plumage colours dating back from the ancestral

origins of very numerous game varieties.

        Brahma                                                             Croad Langshan

                                                      The first exhibition of Marans 

                                                                       Silver Cuckoo

In 1914, at the national exhibition in La Rochelle, there took place the first presentation of this poultry under the name of "a country hen". In 1921, Mrs Rouse from Ille d'Elbe seriously selected the future Marans for the size and the colour of its egg.  In order to make its plumage a little bit uniform, in 1928, Mrs Rousseau showed in La Rochelle a pen of homogenous Cuckoo variety hens and their big extra reddish-brown eggs. Fortunately for the future of Marans, the editor of the "Aviculteur Français" ("French poultry farmer"), Mr Paul Waroquiez, visited this exhibition and was very interested in the unknown producers of such nice eggs. He published, in this respect, some articles in this magazine notably on July 1st 1929 on the "Maransdaise" breed origin. In 1929, in order to protect the breed qualities, a "Marans" section was created within the Aunis Saintonge Poultry
Farmer Society, and the Marans hen was accepted at the local poultry exhibitions. Mr Waroquiez suggested the creation of a club: The Marans Club Français. Presided over by Mr Bouyer, it was created in September 1929. At this time no colour varieties were specified, leaving the initiative in the hands of the breeders.  In 1930, the Marans was presented at the exhibition in Liege, Paris, Lyon and Lille. During this same year, the standard commission made up of Professor Sebileau, Mr Waroquiez, Mr Sangalli and Mr Mace, visited about a hundred farms that raised Marans fowl. From these observations a standard, which called for a feathered shanked bird, was produced. A committee gathered at the Aulnoie Manor studied this at the end of 1930. The Standard was defined by the commission of April 2nd 1931, & was published in various poultry farming magazines. The Général Assembly ratified it on November 22nd 1931 and it was noted down in the SCAF catalogue. From that moment on, the Marans breed spread over almost all of France and especially in the Nord Pas de Calais department, which sent eggs in England, and in the Seine, & Oise regions.  The second Standard was published in 1932, setting out six varieties,

                                                                       White, which were often defective in both plumage & egg colour, & shank feathering.

                                                                       Colombian, little selection had been done & at this time it resembled the similar Bourboug fowl


                                                                       Bourbourg cock & hen. 

                                                                       Silver Cuckoo, these and the Golden Cuckoo were the most refined of all the Marans.

                                                                       Golden Cuckoo.

                                                                       Red,these birds had few supporters and were ,in the main, a very mixed lot.

                                                                       Brown-Red, although they had the darkest egg colour, the plumage colour was ill-defined.

Currently the White, Colombian, Silver Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, Wheaten, Brown Red, Black-tailed Buff and Black varieties are recognised.


                                                                        The current Standard

The current Standard was set in 1991in the light of a better understanding of chicken genetics. Much of the work was carried out by Jean-Caude Martin & Gerard Coquerele (of the I.N.R.A) and Christian Herment & Albert Roguet of the Marans Club de France. As a result of this increased knowledge the Red variety ceased to exist, becoming the Wheaten and Black-tailed Buff varieties.

The Marans Club in conjunction with the Standards committee also considered the admission of Birchen, Blue Red, Golden Salmon , and Silver salmon varieties. These varieties were presented at Chatellerault in 1998 , but due to insufficient numbers, no determination was made.

These varieties were again presented at Nancy in 2001and again none were accepted. The Birchen birds presented were deemed  to have too much straw colouring.

The Birchen as again presented at Aurillac in October 2004, and again deemed unacceptable.

A review of Birchen, Blue Red, Golden Salmon, and Silver salmon varieties was carried out at Niort in January 2005 and the Birchen was admitted into the Standard. There were insufficient numbers of the other varieties presented.

The Blue-Red, the Blue variant of the Brown-Red was accepted in Paris on the 5th of February 2011.



                                     The decline of the Marans in France

From 1934, the Marans were in decline.

During the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Marans area and, due to restrictions on movements,

farming was almost reduced to nothing: marketing was impossible.

In 1946, just after the war, the situation of the Marans in its birthplace was the same as it had been in 1929.

In 1950, a cooperative poultry-farming centre for the Marans breed was created in Lagord, in order to try to remedy

the situation. (Faubourg of La Rochelle) with the Marans club, the SCAF and the regional poultry farming


This centre was then moved to Dompierre sur Mer (commune of Belle Croix) near La Rochelle.

It functioned under the direction of the Department of Agricultural Services.

It practised selection by a hatched-nest system, birth records by individual pedigree, & the systematic study of

genetic factors. It furnished eggs for settings, and chicks to the agricultural cooperative members.

In the first year of selection, the egg laying average was 168 eggs per hen.In 1952, it nearly reached 200 eggs.

In 1953, the centre possessed 150 Silver-cuckoo Marans and 150 White Marans hens.

In 1954, the project was to have between 500 & 1000 birds but this target never come into being. The centre, 

which was at the time managed by a person who found more advantages in farming commercial chickens than in

Marans, had collapsed. 

                               Chronicles of the French Marans Club 1960 – 1970...

In spite of the setbacks met in the 1950’s and the 1960’s, the research and the selection of the Marans were continued 

thanks to the MCF president, Mr Bachelier. So he took on Mr Priouzeau, in Marans, whose selection and setting 

activities went on the two following decades.

With an impeccable constitution, a good conformation and laying more than 200 eggs a year, the Silver-Cuckoo

Marans had already started to lose the darker eggs that were characteristic of its ancestors.

                                                … a decline aspect

This period foreshadowed the Silver-Cuckoo Marans decline.

The productivity was going to destroy the unquestionable qualities of the Marans on one hand
, because there

is a certain negative relationship between the produced egg quality by a given 

age flock and the shell colour, (as Bernard Sauveur from the NIRA said), and on the other hand, because the 

natural possibility of the Marans to lay very big eggs represents a certain handicap for an excellent hatching.

It was also at this time that in France a lot of industrialists widely used the Marans hens to produce

foundation birds for sex linked crossbreeds, tending to make people forget this bird as a pure bred hen.

Around 1970 a supply of Russian hens, having a phenotype close to the Black Copper-neck Marans contributed to an improvement in size in this variety but unfortunately it was at the expense of the egg and shank colour.

These birds were, in the main, culled.

Fortunately, some breeders carried on with the Marans, especially of the Brown-Red (Black Copper-necks),

which already had the reputation of laying darker eggs. 

The fancy that was born for the Brown-Red Marans went on but the vagueness of the Standard, notably in 

the description of the plumage, represented quite a handicap.                               
Some farmers even specialised in the production of exhibition subjects, developing both separate cockerel and

pullet breeding lines.
Others accepted the extreme heterogeneousness of the types and plumage as a fatality. They solely

dedicated themselves to the extra reddish-brown egg production, and thus ignored all the improvements of 

the type characteristics of the Marans.

We have to wait until the 1990's before the breed, supported by a hundred or so of select farmers spread all

over France and Belgium, was guided by the work of a renewed practice of the MCF. In 2000, the MCF was made up

of more than 400 members and delivered more than 12,000 official rings to its farmers.

                                                         Marans in Australia

Marans were included in the 1st Edition of the Australian Standard in 1998. There was, and still is, considerable 

conjecture as to whether any existed at that time. As the Australian Standard is a word for word copy of the

British Standard it can be assumed the early birds were of the English clean-shanked types: the feathered

shanks of the French type being a disqualification. It is presumed that the Standards Committee would not

have included Marans unless they knew they existed, but unfortunately requests about the history & known

birds have received no response. Dr Don Robertson of Gidegannup, WA advised he had re-created a Cuckoo

Marans type, with the egg genetics based on Welsummers, but he was unable to obtain the deep Marans

egg colour. He had these birds until about 10 years ago (1995). He stated he could remember, as a lad, reading

articles on sexing day old Cuckoo Marans in the WA Poultry Tribune in the late 1940's or early 1950's. 

The last record of a Marans being exhibited was in Perth in the late 1950's. Others also carried out searches for 

Marans or remnants of the breed in other States whilst some carried out searches for the dark egg genetics.

A breeder in Victoria, Anne Frankel obtained some English type Marans around 2001. Anne advised her line came 

from the deceased estate of an elderly man.

He had had the flock for an unknown time, and nothing more is know of their origin. 

Anne had a number of breeds but kept the Marans apart and values them. She said, “They were all pretty 

similar & I found in my years of breeding that they were mostly straight cuckoo or gold or silver cuckoo.

Some had rather lemon legs, others white mottled with black as is acceptable in a cuckoo bird, but they stayed 

pretty true to type”. This leg colour is a sign of birds that could date back to the 1930's or that there had been crossing with other breeds.

Judy Witney, of the Victorian New & Rare Breeds Society worked with some of the Frankel line birds for some time

but was unable to achieve the depth of egg pigmentation she wanted, eggs ranging from white to a Welsummer

type brown.  Stock from Judy was dispersed to breeders in WA, Victoria, Queensland & Tasmania, but all appear to

have died out. Anne also sold birds to WA, Tasmania & other Victorian breeders but they seem to have suffered

a similar fate. A breeder from the Gold Coast hinterland stated on a US Marans forum that he /she had French type

feather shanked Gold & Silver Salmon (Duckwing) Marans: unfortunately they did not give their name or email

address and failed to respond to a Personal Message, so this must be considered to be very dubious.

In 1999, Kory Chapman had a feature article in the Australasian Poultry magazine on the re-creation of Marans.

He advised he had sold 60 breeding trios in 2000, but all seem to have disappeared. They had eggs a little lighter in

colour than the Welsummers that were included in their original make-up. 

A second search, based on egg colour identified (in Victoria) a Cuckoo dark egg-laying remnant of Marans that had 

been in the same family for over 40 years, and in the hands of their original supplier, from the late Mrs Turner 

of Eskdale in the Mitta Valley Victoria, for a least 15 years prior. This takes us back to the 1940's, so it can be

safely assumed they were here pre the Second World War. This is borne out in that the earliest birds known were

a mixture of clean & feathered shanks, white & yellow legs, and single and ‘turkey headed’ pea combed birds.

Some of these turkey headed birds, from Coucou de Malines blood, still exist. The egg colour is not as dark as

the French Black Copper-neck or Wheaten, but on a par with Double Laced Barnevelders & Welsummers. 

Further breeding with these birds established they were actually a commercial line of brown egg laying Barred


A breeder advised he had seen an exhibit of dark red-brown eggs at an Agricultural show that were several 

shades darker & redder than either of his Double Laced Barnevelders or Welsummers. On talking to the exhibitor 

he found the eggs were from backyard commercial Isa Brown type bird. This lead to a project aimed at selecting for

the dark red egg genes from fowl of this type but to date has not been successful. A Wheaten strain with eggs in

the 4 to 6 range was found from a roadside stall and was identified to be a feather shanked Marans. This

identification being made, from photographs, by Christian Herment, Secretary of the Marans Club of France, and

Dirk de Jong, Secretary of the Dutch French Breeds Club and MCF delegate for the Low Countries. 

A documentation search of records of poultry imports, especially Marans, was also carried out for the period 1930  to

1952: from the time Marans were standardised to the implementation of the total import ban on poultry.  

AQIS  (the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service)  advised they were not involved in animal quarantine until 1956, and prior to that it was a State

responsibility. All State Departments of Agriculture/Primary Industries were contacted; South Australia, Queensland & Victoria stated they had

no provisions in place to monitor poultry imports until the import ban in 1952. South Australia and Victoria advised that poultry often

arrived accompanying migrants & returning Australian tourists, in crates as deck cargo. On inspection they were

either admitted without documentation or destroyed. Victorian authorities suggested the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia might

hold records, but this proved not to be the case. Queensland suggested records might be held by the National Archives of

Australia, who advised they had no records for any poultry imports, of any description, for the period in question.

The first show organised by the Club was held at Yass, NSW on Sunday 20th June 2010 attracting 26 entries.    

                                                                           The Future 

Numerous breeders have subscribed to the import syndicate which if successfully taken to fruition  ill introduce French type feather shanked Brown-Red and its blue & splash variants (Black Copper-necks, Blue Copper-necks & Splash Copper-necks). 

French Wheaten Marans were advertised for sale in Western Australia in 2008. Clean-shanked Cuckoo 

Marans bantams were offered at a Queensland auction in 2009: these originated from a breeder in Casino, 

NSW who stated they were originally purchased in Victoria. No further information was given, and egg colour 

was found to be white. It is felt these birds would most probably be ‘creations’ as bantam Marans were not 

mentioned until 1953, in the UK, a year after the importation ban. A NSW breeder has also created a line of 

pseudo Marans bantams, but egg colour has not been satisfactory to date.Others are working on a range of colours.

The Australian Standard follows, word for word, the British Standard and disqualifies French feather

shanked birds. It is felt that breeders who have spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to import Marans will be 

somewhat upset to find they are not recognised, and would be disqualified from exhibition. A submission has 

been made in this respect to the Australian Standards review Committee for the second Edition. However although recognition of receipt has been received we will have to wait for the Second Edition for their decision.



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