History of the Marans
Although Marans were not a recognized breed of poultry until 1930, the development of this breed can be traced as far back as the 12th century.
Poultry breeding was hardly the subject of any special interest in the early days of France. The common stock fowl were very basic birds, and very little is known of their exact origin. Some claim that the foundation of these birds were Jungle Fowl, imported by Monks who were the first to inhabit the Aquentine (Marans) region of France.
Tacuinum Santitatis, 14th century depiction of poultry keeping and fowls of the time.
In 1152, the marriage of Henri II to Elenor of Aquitaine increased English imports to south-western France. At this time, cock fighting was a popular sport in England and sailors often brought cocks as entertainment on their many idle days at sea and ports. Naturally, some of these cocks were traded off for necessities as needs arose by the sailors. These imported birds displayed vibrant colors and an impressive stature in comparison to the common stock. These characteristics impressed many of the locals, and over time, these birds began to be introduced into the various flocks within the region.
Mid-19th century French painting, illustrating a rustic farm scene with a Black Copper hen
The introduction of the imported stock improved size, vigor, and color when compared to the previous birds. As a result, this evolving breed of yard birds immediately became popular and helped to feed France’s early expansion.
Artists' paintings through the centuries shows French fowl in various colors - including Black Copper and Wheaten. These were becoming known for another characteristic as well - laying a brown egg, which some believed made them richer in flavor.
During the 1800’s, it became more popular for poultry to be viewed as something of a fancy, rather than just a barnyard necessity. Developing breeds and abiding by a standard was becoming an interest throughout the world. Breeds of poultry were established, purchased, shared, and exhibited, even by the Royal and elite.
In the latter half of the 19th century, two men, Monsieur Geoffery Saint-Hillaire and Monsier de Foucault, took an interest in Langshans - a breed of chicken originating from Asia. They imported stock to their farm in France, during which time another breeder, Louis Roulle, acquired a different flock some years later. Louis' birds were eventually distributed into various common flocks, much like the game cocks some many years before. The quality of the offspring from from this new import once again - improved. The flesh of the bird was delicate, the shanks were moderately feathered, and the stature was impressive. However, the egg color of these birds also improved. The russet color of their eggs became very desirable, and the initial formation of the Marans as we know it was born.
Late 19th century painting showing the influence of Asiatic fowls on common stock
They were first shown in 1914 at the National Exhibition of La Rochelle under the name “Country Hen” Their graceful physique and dark russet eggs caught the attention of many poultry fanciers.
In 1921, in the small town of L’Ile D ‘Elle, located near Marans France, a lady by the name of Marthe Rousseau-Charpentier, with a small handful of other people took it upon themselves to make the Marans a breed. Calling them at first the “Poule Marandaise”, and began selecting for type, egg color and plumage.
It was 1928 when the first “Maransaise” - a handful of cuckoo’s - were shown in La Rochelle as a proposed breed other than simply a “Country Hen”. They caught the eye of Mr. Waroquiez, the editor of a periodical called “ The French Farmer”. He inquired Mrs. Rosseau-Charpentier about the origin of these beautiful birds and their large russet eggs. He was later inspired to write an article which he published July 1929 as “ The Race Marandaise”, Putting Marans in the spotlight to all his magazine subscribers. Within that same year the Aunis and Saintonge Poultry Farmers Society added a “Marans Country Hen” to their list of breeds, and the Marans were able to be shown in local Poultry Shows. Mr. Waroquiez then suggested the need for a breed club. He assembled a small handful of enthusiasts, and the French Marans Club was created in September 1929. That same year at the Grade Paris Exhibition, the Marans were a sensation. Catching the eye of English Lord Greenway. He purchased several varieties for his own flock. He at some point mentioned purchasing Black, White, Light, and Cuckoo. Some argue that the listing of a “Black Marans” may have actually been a Black Copper, as there were no listing of “Black” in the standard written the following year, and were not any of known existence until 1949. Others argue that Black was entirely possible, though maybe not as popular. After a few years of breeding, Lord Greenwood decided to concentrate his focus on Cuckoo’s alone. Due to the plumage instability of the latter, he subdivided it into three subspecies: Dark Cuckoo, Silver Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo.
By 1930 the Marans were exhibited in Leige, Paris, L’ille and Lyron. The backbones of the French Marans Club, Mr. Waroquez, Professor Sebileau, Mr. Sangalli and Mr. Mace, documented and visited 100 different Marans breeding farms - finalizing the proposed standard which was submitted to Aulnie Manor on April 2nd 1931. They were finally approved November 22nd, 1931 as a genuine breed at last.
The Second World War took a huge toll on breeding. Germans occupied the region of Marans and many farms were destroyed. As a whole, Marans were near extinction. It took nearly 20 years of dedicated breeding before the Marans made a full comeback. In effort to help recover the breed, A Poultry Cooperative Center was created in 1950 with the help of the Marans Club, the S.C.A.F, and regional poultry organizations. There they practiced trap nesting, individual pedigree records, study of genetics, and shared stock with members of the agriculture co-op. In 1953 the center owned 150 Silver Cuckoo’s and 150 White Marans. The many discoveries from this facility can still be found today, even though the Co-op itself did not last more than a handful of years.
Thanks to the co-operative and several dedicated breeders, after the 1950’s Marans spread rapidly around the Globe. Favored worldwide by royalty, chef’s, celebrities, homesteaders and backyard hobbyists alike, they seem to bring joy wherever they roam. They have a charm like no other. Perfectly nicknamed:
“The Ideal Rustic Farm Hen .