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Black Copper Marans Chicken: French Hens with a Humble Beginning

Key Takeaway

  • Friendly
  • Docile
  • Dark chocolate brown eggs
  • Good for beginners
  • True Marans are expensive

Background and History of the Black Copper Marans Breed

The French Marans is a chicken breed with ancient and humble beginnings. They have a long history , and their ancestors were landrace swamp chickens of no particular breed that roamed free in the marshlands of the Marais Poitevin, a marshland area of western France.

This marsh stretches across three French departments – the Vendée, the Charente-Maritime, and the Deux-Sèvres.

Back in the 12th Century, British ships returning from long voyages to distant lands would stop off in the French port of La Rochelle before returning to England. 

It was common for chickens to be carried on board these ships in order to provide fresh eggs, meat, and entertainment in the form of cock fighting. More chickens of various breeds would have been taken aboard at ports along the journey, especially roosters for fighting.

On reaching La Rochelle, the sailors would often swap these chickens for other commodities, and this practice went on for around two centuries while the English Kings were on the throne.

These imported chickens naturally began breeding with the marsh hens, resulting in a wide variety of different-looking birds. They became larger, with many different plumage colors and the eggs they laid were often brown.

In 1876 Langshans were imported into France from China by Monsieur de Foucalt and Monsieur Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. 

The Langshans were black chickens, appreciated for their size, white skin color, and large, dark brown eggs.

Amateur chicken enthusiast, Monsieur Louis Rouille, was a big fan of the Langshan. He lived in Fouras, a town located 21 miles south of La Rochelle. His Langshans were crossed with the local marshland birds, forming a new “country hen.” These were exhibited at the National Exhibition of 1914 in La Rochelle.

The first “Marandaise Chickens” were developed from these country hens in around 1920 by Madame Marthe Rousseau-Charpentier from L’Ile d’Elle in the Vendée, just two miles from the town of Marans in the Charente Maritime region, from where the breed would eventually take their name.

It was due to the efforts of Madam Rousseau-Charpentier, who was the first to start seriously selecting the best specimens to breed from in order to give some standardization to the birds. She paid particular attention to their ability to lay dark brown eggs.

In 1928 she exhibited her birds at La Rochelle along with their large deep brown eggs. The editor-in-chief of “L’Aviculteur Francais” magazine, Paul Waroquiez, happened to be at the exhibition and was greatly interested in the eggs these hens produce. He went on to write several articles about the Marandaise breed.

By 1929 the official name “Marans” was adopted, and a breed standard was written by the “Society of Poultry Farmers of Aunis and Saintonage,” allowing them to be shown as a specific breed in local poultry exhibitions.

The “Marans Club Francais” was created in September 1929, and more color varieties were also developed, including the original Black, plus White, Ermine, and Cuckoo. By 1930 the name Black was dropped in favor of the term Black Copper, as the hens were not all black but had a deep copper feathering around their necks.

The breed was popular at some of the major French exhibitions in 1930, and from these, a national standard was decided. On November 22nd, 1931, it was approved by the general assembly and registered in France’s general catalog of chicken breeds.

The second world war decimated the breed as German forces occupied the region, and after the war, numbers were slow to pick up. Various attempts to rejuvenate the breed using other types of hen were very detrimental to the color of their eggs, and this was eventually abandoned.

Luckily, some amateur breeders in France had maintained the Black Copper variety, which had always laid the darkest brown eggs. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s that selected breeders in France and Belgium worked to improve the breed and, along with the Marans club de France, successfully increased their numbers once more. Today they have achieved a strong comeback in France and are a favored breed of the French. 

In rural France, it is still very common practice for many households to keep a few chickens.

The Black Copper Marans were accepted into the American Poultry Association in April 2011 as a chicken of the Continental Class. Although they are a heritage breed in France, they are not known as one in the US.

The recognized varieties in the US are Black Copper, White, Ermine, Cuckoo-golden, Cuckoo-silver, and Red. However, many more exist, including Birchen, Black-Tailed Buff, Black, Columbian, and Wheaten.

Temperament and Behavior of Black Copper Marans

Remembering the ancestry of the Black Copper Maran, it is necessary to accept that they have fighting bloodlines in their distant past. This trait can sometimes be seen in the roosters, as they may be hostile towards each other, and squabbles will often break out between juvenile male birds. 

The hens are docile and calm but don’t generally make lap chickens. My own black copper girls love to follow me around and will run to me when called in the hope of receiving a tasty treat. One in particular, “Mrs. Chicken,” seems to have something of an affinity for our cat, and the pair will often be found sitting in the shade together on a hot summer’s day. 

They are friendly and easy to care for, making them suitable for beginners and older children, but if you want a chicken you can pet and cuddle, they may not be right for you.

Although Marans chickens can tolerate a degree of confinement, they are far better kept free-range as they are great foragers and actively seek out food.

They make good mothers but very rarely go broody, especially in their first two years of life. 

I have also noticed that they are very selective about only being with other Marans. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather stick together” this is especially true for these hens. 

If you want chickens that are active free rangers, capable of providing a lot of their own food, then the Marans are a good choice. They are excellent foragers and will scratch around happily in search of tasty morsels. This does not mean they won’t also need supplemental food that provides the correct balance of nutrients essential for their age and purpose.

The breed is typically quiet except for a small amount of celebration when a hen lays an egg. Roosters crow, so if you don’t want everyone in the neighborhood to be disturbed at 5 am, don’t have a rooster, period.

Black Copper Marans Breed Specifics and Traits

The standards for the Marans breed can vary greatly from country to country. 

Type – The Black Copper Maran is a large dual-purpose fowl used for egg and meat production, although they are mostly favored for their dark brown eggs.

Shape – From the side, they are V-shaped and have a long and sturdy body with wide shoulders and full chests.  

Face and Comb – The comb is single and red with a red face and wattles, black or dark brown earlobes, and reddish bay or orange eyes. 

Plumage – The main body feather of the hen is a rich black with an iridescent green sheen in the sunlight. The hackles are a deep copper red and should be of only one tone in hens with no paler gold coloration. 

The hackles are also deep copper in roosters, with slightly more golden tones than in the hen. The tail feathers are long, black, and arching with a highly iridescent green sheen. 

Legs and Feet – The American and French Black Copper Marans often have some sparse feathering to the legs and feet, but English types are clean-legged. Leg color is slate gray, with the soles of the feet being white or pinkish white as their skin color is always white.

Weight – Roosters weigh between 7-8 lbs, while hens are around 6.5 lbs. Cockerels are 7 lbs, and Pullets are 5 ½ lbs. Bantam Marans also exist, but they are very rare. Roosters are 32 ounces, Hens 28 ounces, Cockerels 28 ounces, and pullets 24 ounces. 

Common faults – Black eyes, white earlobes, golden tones in hens’ hackles, yellow legs, or overly feathery feet or legs. 

Lifespan – If kept in a healthy environment with adequate shelter, good quality feed, and fresh, clean water, your Black Copper Marans can live a relatively long life of around eight years. My four-year-old hens are still laying extremely well and, during the warmer months, produce five to six eggs a week each. 

Chicks – Black Copper Maran chicks are dark gray and black with a pale gray to white underside and wing tips.

Health and Disease

The Maran breed is not noted for any particular disease. They are generally healthy birds that are able to withstand both a good degree of heat and cold if provided with adequate shelter, food, and water.

The main problem with roosters in winter is frostbite, which affects their large combes when temperatures fall too far below freezing. It is therefore advisable to provide them with a warm place to shelter and to cover their comb in vaseline as a form of protection. 

Note that all chicken breeds require a healthy diet and access to clean, fresh water as well as housing that is kept free of blood-sucking insects such as lice and mites. 

Worms can also become a problem for chickens, especially if they are free-range, so a worming regime should be followed. Get advice from your local veterinarian about this. 

Black Copper Maran Eggs

The Black Copper Marans is best known for its large, deep brown or reddish brown eggs. The ideal color is chocolate. However, it is necessary to note that egg color can change through the egg-laying season and that the birds who lay the darkest eggs will produce the least.

This is because the brown color is caused by a pigment that is overlaid onto the egg during shell production. Think of it rather like a pen that colors the egg brown. Over time the ink supply starts to run out, and the color of the eggs laid will become paler. Speckles may also become more common as the season goes on. 

The Marans society has a color scale chart you can use to compare the egg color. It goes from 1 to 9, with an egg that is nine on the scale being the darkest. A true Maran should not lay an egg that is lighter than a four on the scale. 

The average number of eggs a Maran hen lays is between 150 to 200 a year. They are fair-weather layers and will stop producing over the winter months. 

Typically a young hen will start laying eggs from the age of five to eight months. This will depend a lot on the season. 

Getting Your Own Black Copper Marans Chickens

Still seen as a relatively new breed in the US, good quality Black Copper Marans can be hard to come by, and sadly, there are many unreputable folks around that will try and sell you a Black Copper Marans “look-alike” that is not going to produce the lovely brown eggs.

Although hatcheries do sell chicks and chickens they call Black Copper Marans, they are unlikely to be of show quality, and their eggs won’t have the dark brown color of a true Maran. The best way of finding high-quality birds with chocolate brown eggs is to visit poultry shows and talk directly to any breeders you find there.

If you’d just like some attractive black and copper hens and regal-looking roosters, then hatchery chicks will be fine. We like to use cackle hatchery, but there will likely be other hatcheries close to you if you look them up.

Cackle hatchery sends chicks all over the mainland US, and chicks from them start at $7.20 per each for females if you buy 25 or more. The minimum order is three chicks at the cost of $12.80 each for females or $6.50 for those that are unsexed.


Marans and especially Black Copper Marans, although common and popular in their homeland of France, are far less well known in the US. This means they are expensive, and some unscrupulous people will try to cash in on this.

High-quality birds are rare, and many knockoffs are sadly sold as being the real deal. For this reason, be careful where you buy your stock, and don’t be fooled into thinking you are buying the genuine thing by seeing some eggs, as these can also be artificially colored brown. 

The stunning plumage of a true Black Copper Marans is best seen in sunlight when the iridescence of their feathers can be truly appreciated. The roosters are a magnificent sight to behold and are, in my opinion, the epitome of what a rooster should look like, just as if they have come straight from a children’s storybook.

Overall I am very fond of my own girls and their very different personalities. 

Discover more about a wide range of other chicken breeds and how to care for them by reading our other articles. 

Questions and Answers

Q: Are French Black Copper Marans good layers?

A: They are average layers giving a good number of eggs during the warmer months of the year. The eggs themselves are generally large.

Q: What color eggs do French Black Copper Marans Lay?

A: The French Black Copper Marans egg is a rich brown color. The most desirable color is chocolate brown, which is not sustained throughout the hens laying cycle.

Q: How many eggs do French Black Copper Marans Lay?

A: Normally, you can expect to get 150 to 200 eggs per year from a hen in the first few years of her life.

Q: What are French Black Copper Marans?

A: The Marans breed was created in the area around La Rochelle and the town of Marans in western France. Prized for their richly colored dark brown eggs, they can be used as dual-purpose birds due to their large body size. 

Q: Which Marans lay the darkest eggs?

A: The Black Copper Marans is known to lay the darkest brown eggs of all types of Maran chicken.

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