Although Marans were not formally recognized even in their native France until the early 20th century, the breed traces its roots back to the 13th century. This Cuckoo Marans, a traditional variety, is from Feathersite. The official history notes the marshy areas around the port city of Marans gave rise to a locally adapted breed. Those birds were crossed with games brought into port on ships. Brahmas and Langshans were added to them in the 19th century as those breeds acquired popularity. The first record of them at a show was in 1914, followed by organization of the Marans Club of France in 1929. The club established a Standard in 1931. Marans have been known for their dark brown eggs throughout the years.
A major point of discussion for Marans is whether their legs should be lightly feathered or clean. French Marans had lightly feathered legs, but after the birds crossed the English Channel in the 1930s and were first shown in England in 1934, breeders selected clean-legged birds. A separate clean-legged variety developed, but was not recognized. The Marans Club of Great Britain was organized in 1950.
This difference sparked contention over the years, and three separate Marans clubs were founded and disbanded by the early 21st century. In 2007, when Dick Dickerson of Tennessee and Bev Davis of Florida got involved, there wasn’t any functioning Marans club. They knew they’d have to start one in order to get the breed accepted into the Standard. They formed the Marans Chicken Club, http://www.maransusa.org/. They decided to pursue the French, feather-legged standard. The Marans Club of America, founded after personal differences, http://www.maransofamericaclub.com/, also honors the French standard.
“With every breed club, politics can get involved and lead to hard feelings,” said APA judge and Standards Revision committee member Pat Malone of Texas. “I’m glad I have a really good relationship with the people in both clubs. We’ve met and they are free to contact me at any time. I count them all my friends.”
“Feathered legs can be bred into a flock by breeding a feathered-legged cock to a clean-legged hen, then breeding the pullets back to father.
Most of the world recognizes French type with feathers,” Mr. Dickerson said. “The first six months it took some explaining to people, but all have switched over now universally.”
Mr. Dickerson’s experience as a member of the APA Board was an advantage. He understood the requirements a breed must meet to be accepted: The written account of the breed’s history and proposed standard, affidavits from at least five breeders who have raised the breed for at least five years, 50 percent or more of offspring breeding close to type and birds being exhibited in APA shows for two consecutive years. At each of those shows, at least two of each cocks, hens, pullets and cockerels must be shown. The final qualifying meet must show at least 50 birds from five exhibitors in all classes of cocks, hens, cockerels and pullets. Full details are published in the APA Standard of Perfection.
Both Mrs. Davis and Mr. Dickerson were already raising Marans. Dickerson had seven of the twelve varieties recognized in France: Black Copper, Wheaten, Black, White, Blue, Blue Copper, Blue Wheaten, Birchen, Black-Tailed Buff, Cuckoo, Columbian (called Ermine in France) and Salmon. Fanciers also raise other color varieties, such as Blue Silver Salmon and Blue, Splash and Golden Cuckoo. Currently, Mr. Dickerson has all twelve.
Mr. Dickerson’s family has raised Marans since his grandfather and uncles brought birds back from France after World War II. He has visited the area, but didn’t notice the countryside to be particularly marshy. The climate is mild enough that the Town Hall is noted for its lush gardens of exotic plants.
Mr. Dickerson arranged an 18-course banquet and invited other poultry fanciers to honor Mrs. Davis when she visited him in Tennessee. They inspected his birds, followed by High Tea, in respect of Mrs. Davis’ English heritage, and set to work organizing a club. APA President Dave Anderson invited Mr. Dickerson to give a presentation to the APA at its Ventura show. With a constitution and bylaws modeled on other successful clubs, the organizers set up a web site and chat room and announced their project over the Internet in February 2008. The club has directors for five regions, a president and vice presidents. They confer regularly on conference calls.
Soon they had 900 enthusiasts signed on to the chat room. The club now has about 150 members and more than 1,000 in the chat room. They moved forward to the first qualifying meet, in Belvidere, Illinois in September 2009. Mr. Dickerson was among the 14 exhibitors who entered 82 birds. APA President Anderson judged the birds, accompanied by the Standard Revision committee. Although the meet was a success in satisfying the requirement, the birds were less than perfect.
“Some of them were pretty strange looking,” said Mr. Dickerson. “It was a trial run.”
Mr. Malone attended the meet as a member of the Standard Revision Committee. He was dismayed at the birds he saw there. “They were terrible,” he said. Many of the females had brown eyes instead of reddish bay. Males’ tails stood up at 70-75 degrees, instead of the required 45 degrees. They were too small, below the required 8 lbs. for cocks and 6 ½ lbs. for hens. Worst of all was that the females lacked the copper color on the hackles.
“It was such frustration in the beginning, trying to get a correct bird,” said Jeanette Smith, vice president of the Marans Club of America. She struggled with incorrect eye color, comb sprigs and white feathers in the Black Coppers.
Mr. Anderson described the birds as “right on the borderline of being accepted,” noting that in order for their acceptance to be done correctly, the birds exhibited needed to “reflect the quality necessary to warrant their inclusion in the Standard.” He reported that “The committee and I felt that if the next generation were equal to or better than the young birds shown at Belvidere, there would be no problem accepting them. I was impressed with the young birds shown at Belvidere and with the enthusiasm and sincerity of the exhibitors.”
Breeders took the advice back to their breeding pens and set to work. By the final Special Meet in Newnan, Georgia in February 2011, the birds had improved markedly. Breeders from 24 states showed 176 birds of 11 varieties.
“This time, the quality was deep,” said Mr. Malone. “It didn’t take a Solomon to figure it out. These birds are as they should be.”
One hen stood out as the Best of Breed standard-bearer. Mr. Malone was impressed with her in Newnan, and delighted to find that he judged her as superior again in March at the Pine Bluff, Arkansas show. She has been shown in three other shows, winning every time.
Owner Peggy Taylor of Texas doesn’t take credit for the hen. She acquired her and a dozen or so flock-mates from another Texas breeder. All those birds had the full, round bodies Mrs. Taylor had envisioned for her birds.
“Pat told me, ‘That hen’s got to die to get beat,’” said Mrs. Taylor. “I’d rather she’d get beat than raise her toes.”
Marans’ eggs are graded on a color chart from 1, a white egg, through 9, nearly black. Marans must lay eggs that qualify as 4 or higher. This hen’s eggs rate 7. Mrs. Taylor is breeding her, hoping her quality will prevail in the offspring. She’s got three roosters she likes, although none of them is exactly right. She finds incorrect combs and tail angles, narrow breasts and dark hackles. Her hens that lay darker eggs lack the exhibition qualities.
“How to we keep our show quality and go forward with dark egg color?” she said. “Getting all the pieces of the puzzle to fit with these birds is no cake walk.”
The Marans experience is an example of the importance of showing and attending shows. Seeing birds and getting advice from judges helped guide breeders. Breeders develop the sensitive eye needed to decide which birds go into the breeding pen when they see the birds and discuss their good and bad points with judges and other breeders. Photos and the Internet help, but they are no substitute for seeing birds in person.
“You learn a lot in the first 15 minutes of looking around at your first show,” said Ms. Smith. “For the first time, you see what other people have proclaimed to be the best of their flock. Everybody discusses and learns from each other.”
Mr. Dickerson intends to get all 12 color varieties approved in the future. Next on the list is Wheaten. He hopes that 50 or more good Wheatens will be available for a Special Meet as early as the Crossroads Poultry Show in October.
“Somebody has to do the homework and make the decisions,” said Mr. Malone. “That’s what the Standards Committee is all about.”