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Cuckoo marans

Cuckoo marans on pastureCuckoo marans are one of the new chicken breeds we're trying out in 2011.  We decided to test the variety since Harvey Ussery uses cuckoo marans as his mother hens and we want to find a very broody/maternal variety.  Other folks keep cuckoo marans for their extremely dark brown ("chocolate") eggs, because the chickens are a relatively rare breed, or because their owners like eating James Bond's favorite type of egg.

Cuckoo marans chickens originated in the mid 1800s in the French town of Marans.  As a result, it's technically incorrect to refer to "a cuckoo maran hen" --- instead, the name "marans" should always have an "s" at the end.  The English imported marans and selected for non-feathered legs, so you can tell whether your marans are of English stock (like ours) or of French stock by looking for leg feathers.  (Most American birds are English-type marans.)  Either way, marans share the European trait of white (well, pink, really) skin, which makes for a different-looking carcass than that of traditional American meat breeds.

Marans, FranceMarans were probably originally bred to be good farmyard birds and are now considered a dual purpose breed due to their moderate heaviness.  According to some sources, a marans type chicken dates back to the thirteenth century, which presumably means marans were selected for utility as well as looks.  Cuckoo marans originated in marshland and they're supposed to be able to handle damp and wet better than some other varieties.

Modern cuckoo marans lay anywhere from 160 to 210 eggs per year, which is not so hot if you're raising the chickens just for their eggs.  (We hope their maternal abilities will make lower egg-laying worthwhile.)  Although marans are famous for laying "chocolate eggs", many individuals lay ordinary brown eggs instead --- if shell color is important to you, be sure to look for a dark-laying strain.

Identification: Cuckoo marans vs. barred rocks
Barred rock hensCuckoo marans look a lot like the more common barred rock, but the two breeds aren't that tough to distinguish.  In barred rocks, look for:

  • Barred feathers, meaning straight white lines running across the chicken rather than a speckled effect.
  • Cuckoo marans cockerelYellow legs

In contrast, cuckoo marans have:

  • More speckling than barring (although the rooster may look nearly barred.)
  • Light pink legs

Sexing cuckoo marans
You can get an idea of the sex of a cuckoo marans nearly from the day it hatches.  At the fluff stage, males tend to be light silver colored while females are almost black.  The males also usually have a a larger yellow spot on their heads than the females (but this isn't as easy to distinguish as it is with dominiques.)

Sexing cuckoo marans chicks

Sexing cuckoo maransOnce your chicks feather out, sexing becomes simpler.  Female cuckoo marans are much darker than males, with the white spots on the feathers being smaller and further apart.  Of course, once your chickens reach three months old, you should be able to distinguish males from females of any breed by body size, comb size, etc.

Cuckoo marans pulletsWe raised our cuckoo marans in the ragweed forest, which means they were easily able to hide just by walking a few feet back into the weeds.  Perhaps that's why they turned out so skittish and shy, although the trait may be genetic since some internet sources report similar behavior.  (On the other hand, other folks say that their cuckoo marans are calm and tame.)

It's also tough to get a Thrifty Chicken Breedssolid handle on our cuckoo marans' foraging ability.  We processed our cockerels at 12 weeks (at which time they weighed 2.06 pounds) and found that their feed to meat conversion rate was around 5.2.  The number suggests that the marans foraged better than our dark cornish last year but worse than our black australorps.  To be fair to our marans, though, they didn't have perfect pasture conditions since I kept them in one large pasture during their entire youth rather than rotating, so they might have had limited access to good food.

I've read from several sources that cuckoo marans exhibit extreme broodiness, which can be good or bad, depending on whether you want to raise your own chicks.  Our pullets aren't old enough to show off their broodiness yet, so we'll have to wait until next year to tell you whether the reports are true.

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Be sure to give an update on broodieness scores for all your breeds this spring and summer. I'm trying to decide on a dual purpose broody chicken breed. Thanks!
Comment by Dave V Thursday afternoon, March 1st, 2012
I will definitely keep you updated (and I hope you'll do the same with your potentially broody breeds.) So far, nobody has been interested in sitting on the nest, but it's a bit early from a hen's point of view.
Comment by anna early Monday morning, March 5th, 2012
Any broody hens yet this spring?
Comment by Dave V in the wee hours of Sunday night, May 21st, 2012
Dave --- The hens we had that went broody were all Australorps (and none of them stuck with it.) But our Cuckoo Marans are younger --- maybe they will go broody next spring after they've had some laying under their belts?
Comment by anna at lunch time on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
I have only one Cuckoo Marans,Bea. She is just over a year old and her chicks are 5 weeks old today. I really didn't want her to go broody and tried to break her but she was too determined so I gave in. She has been a great mother and successfully hatched every egg I put under her. I hope yours have the same tendencies as my Bea.
Comment by Sarah Friday evening, June 29th, 2012
Sarah --- Sounds like we need to swap birds! No broody Cuckoo Marans here yet....
Comment by anna Sunday evening, July 1st, 2012
Our cuckoo never went broody so we gave away her fertilized eggs to a friend's broody Orpington who hatched 5 out of 6 eggs. Our little Silkies will annoyingly brood over a rock if it's under them. You might consider a Silkie to hatch any fertilized eggs and she'll mother ducks if that's what hatches. We gave away our large cuckoo because she started brutalizing our two little Silkies while our Leghorn remains sweet and polite with the little ones.
Comment by Sylvester017 Monday evening, September 17th, 2012

Sylvester017 --- I've been very disappointed in our marans' (complete lack of) broodiness too. On the other hand, the hybrid australorp x marans broilers seem to grow faster than either parent, so that's a plus!

We may have to try silkies. I've heard from several folks who've had the same great luck with them as mother hens that you have.

Comment by anna mid-morning Tuesday, September 18th, 2012
I have 2 Cuckoo marans and they are very skittish and are the only 2 of my flock that don't squat for me. We love their eggs (large) one is a nice medium dark brown and the other is tan with dark brown speckles. They matured a lot later than my other chickens too, 5 1/2 to 6 months old before they started laying.
Comment by Sharon at lunch time on Thursday, February 13th, 2014

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