We get a lot of blog hits from people searching for information about Cuckoo Marans chickens, an older breed that is newly popular. There isn’t a lot of information about Cuckoo Marans out there, so I though I would add a post about my experience with the breed.
Cuckoo Marans Momma Hen and Her Just Hatched Chicks: "Oh My Stars!"
I’m not going to write about how this is a heritage breed from France, their history in the United States, etc. I’m going to tell you my experience with the breed. If you just want the details in a nutshell: they are a good dual-purpose breed, average egg-layers (don’t go for them if you’re looking for serious production), dark eggs IF you get good genetics, good mothers, the roosters are good meat birds, and they’re pretty but don’t have spectacular plumage.
1. I wanted dark brown eggs. After reading about the different dark brown egg-laying breeds, the Cuckoo Marans seemed appealing, especially since I like dual-purpose birds.
2. I ordered 25 Cuckoo Marans, straight run, from Murray MacMurray hatchery, which is my favorite hatchery. They all survived and were healthy, BUT only a handful of the hens ended up laying the really dark eggs that MM advertises. Some were darkly speckled as opposed to entirely dark. (By they way, when you get the chicks, those with a larger whitish spot on the head tend to be the roosters. The hens tend to be darker).
I think this is because A) MacMurray’s got the breed, but they’re just pumping out the eggs, not raising them up and selecting for egg color and B) word on the street is, over the years, Cuckoo Marans were crossed with Barred Rocks to improve their egg production. So, the breed produced more eggs, but the eggs had an occasionally lighter color. Don’t get me wrong, the eggs are still darker than, say, a Buff Orpington, but I’ve had RIR’s lay darker eggs.
So…if you really want dark eggs right away, I recommend buying from a breeder, not one of the larger hatcheries.
3. Barred Rocks and Cuckoo Marans have similar coloring, but the barring and coloring is really different, if you pay attention. There was one hen of the 25 who had coloring more similar to a Barred Rock than a Cuckoo Marans, which reinforced my supposition that there were Barred Rock genetics present.
That hen’s name, by the way, is Chatty Kathy, because she used to make so much noise -cackling at me when I milked the goats. I think she was trying to say “I’m not a Marans. I’m not supposed to be here.” But, unlike Barred Rocks, she stopped laying her first moult and never started up again (I think that was two years ago). That’s an early retirement if I’ve ever seen one! She’s also mean to her fellow hens. She’s been on the list to cull, but Tree likes her, so she’s still part of the flock. For now.
4. So, back on the ranch, I selected the darkest eggs from the hens with the darkest coloring to hatch out. We had a good first hatching of chicks. Our Buff Orpington named Crazy raised them up (she was a broody machine, going broody again a few weeks after each clutched was raised…even in January). Sadly of that first clutch, more than half were roosters. More sadness, several of the female chicks drowned in the goat’s water bucket (we’ve since put it up on blocks when we have chicks), so we had a small number of hens that were raised up from that first batch. Many were already promised to friends, so we kept only two.
Those two hens had the dark feather coloring and dark eggs that I wanted, however, when I went to hatch out their eggs, many of the eggs were duds (they didn’t hatch). That has never happened. What that was all about I don’t know: did the rooster really not ever mount them? Or was there something structural or genetic at play?
I ended up being so enamored with a Marans/Araucana cross name Lulu (from a favored white Araucauna (Whitey) who was an incredible layer with a great personality), that I decided to stop breeding the Marans and just raise the offspring of Whitey and Lulu.
The Marans roosters were large and for the most part good roosters (in my book a good rooster doesn’t attack people, is not overly amorous with the hens, good fertilization rate, and takes care of his hens (finds them food, protects, etc.). The last purebred Marans rooster, however, ended up being mean with the girls, so I made the decision to keep a hybrid Marans/Araucauna cross and no longer raise pure Marans chickens. After all, there’s something to be said for hybrid vigor.
So, for all of you who find this blog looking for information about Cuckoo Marans, I hope this is useful to you!