Marans chickens are probably most famous for laying dark brown, chocolate colored eggs. The breed originated in France and are a good dual purpose bird, valued both for their meat and quality of eggs.
They are a large bird, somewhat smaller than an average Rhode Island Red. Color variations include white, wheaten, golden, silver cuckoo and black. Hens are very good layers and can lay from 150-200 eggs per year.
The English standard calls for unfeathered legs, while the French standard requires feathered legs. The French standard calls for a broad prominent chest, a full abdomen, legs of medium height, a long neck quite strong until near the head, robust thighs, strong tail, and a longer long back which gives mass.
Black Marans roosters should have a black breast to comply with the original French birds. This however has recently been expanded to include red breasted roosters as well.
They are excellent when allowed to be free ranging as they tend to be good foragers. They thrive in wet, damp climates. Marans are also a quiet, docile breed and interact well with people.
One of the rarest variations of the breed is the Black Copper. Their eggs are among the darkest of the species, and are highly prized by French chefs. The lack of genetic diversity available for United States breeders makes breeding the French standard of this variety nearly impossible. The French standard calls for lightly feathered legs, and most of the breeding stock left in this country years ago was of the English variety with smooth, unfeathered legs.
Regardless of the other characteristics of the breed, there is little doubt the "chocolate" appearance of the egg is what fascinates people the most about these birds. The egg actually gets it's color moments before it's laid. A deep chocolate brown pigment is deposited over the egg from mucus glands within the last 10 centimeters of the hen's oviduct before the egg is laid. Immediately after laying, the pigment quickly dries and the shell retains its unique dark chocolate color.
If you're thinking about starting a backyard flock, Marans chickens would be an excellent choice. They make good free racing birds and also take confinement well. A good choice for new breeders and growers would be to invest in Marans hatching eggs from a reputable breeder.