Raising Marans

A few words on how to raise the Marans

Raising Marans chickens is fun, but getting the dark brown eggs is the biggest challenge. There is plenty of helpful information on the internet and various books available to buy. Here is the best information that Bev uses for raising her Marans as well as some great resources too.


Importing Poultry Stock (Including Hatching Eggs)

We thought it of high importance to include this page on the website. There has been a lot of frustration with Marans breeders in the US due to the lack of good lines available, and lack of color varieties available to work with. Our stock in the US is not of the level of quality of European lines, and everybody would love to get import bloodlines to work with.


While Bev would also love to have more import lines to work with, she absolutely does not endorse any type of illegal import activities. None of her stock is derived from any illegally imported stock, and here is why: To LEGALLY import poultry stock (including hatching eggs), the originating flock must be tested over time to be free of diseases and certified by a veterinarian before they or their eggs can be exported to the US. The reason for this is the US does not wish to bring poultry pathogens or other diseases into the US that could infect our flocks or risk the spread of pathogens such as bird flu virus.


With the risk of bird flu, the USDA has severely clamped down on importation of any species that would increase the risk to the US of bringing this virus into the US. Presently, this results in very prohibitive costs to fulfill USDA requirements for legal poultry importation, running in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a single shipment of viable stock, and then only if the proper permitting would be issued and the stock or eggs would survive legal quarantine that is required upon arrival. There is very good reason for this, as bird flu and other poultry diseases could devastate domestic poultry flocks. Bev respects this, and does not endorse any illegal importation activity, nor does she work with other breeders who do. The USDA is serious about protecting our livestock.


There are agents on the watch on eBay, eggbid, and other sources where people may try to obtain live material for import into the US illegally. They are monitoring the hobbyist bulletin boards where members discuss such attempts. They are quietly interviewing people behind the scenes to determine parties involved in illegal activities. And when they find those people, they are assessing huge fines. If you are determined to have illegal stock, they have the authority to destroy your entire flock and flocks in your surrounding area, too. Congress passed the Animal Health Protection Act as part of the 2002 Farm Bill.


The Act consolidates more than 20 animal quarantine and related laws. In addition, it increases APHIS' authority to deter people from deliberately bringing into the United States prohibited animals, animal products, and even animal disease agents. The maximum fines for deliberate violations of APHIS’ import regulations have increased from $1,000 per violation to $50,000 per violation for individuals and up to $500,000 for companies.


Please be responsible and respect our laws. We realize everybody would like the best Marans stock in the world, and everybody would like to expand the genetic pool available in the US with import genes. If you are looking to cheat the system, and put your country at risk, please move on, and do not contact Bev.


Hatching Eggs

Incubation is a process where you must be knowledgeable in managing temperature, humidity, turning of the eggs, timing of incubation conditions, and be able to monitor them throughout the incubation period. Some breeders will tell you things they "know" about what happens to shipped eggs, or why a hatch is or isn't successful, but the truth is that often we'll never know. However, there are some theories that are worth considering.


The first theory is that the yolk can get "stuck" in position from the egg not being rotated enough, causing the embryo to be locked in position, too. The theory is that as the egg is rotated, the yolk rotates within the egg, and is then the milieu it's exposed to is sort of refreshed - i.e., by rotating the yolk and putting the embryo in different parts of the white, it's never exposed to one location where the metabolites can build up and cause a stale or toxic environment for the embryo. This is the theory behind rotating the eggs during storage before incubation (to keep the yolks from getting stuck into one position) and during incubation (to keep the temperature within the egg uniform and to keep the embryo from getting stuck in a toxic pool of its own waste products). When the embryo rotates away from a "dirty" spot, the dirty spot can then diffuse the waste products out into the egg white over time, so that when the embryo is rotated back to or near that spot, it's now relatively less toxic. The second theory is that micro-tears can result from shipping, particularly if the eggs have been pressurized aboard an aircraft, but also if they have experienced shear-forces from the box being roughly handled, or the eggs being packed inadequately for shocks. Micro-tears in the air membrane of the egg (that membrane that is so darned hard to get off if your hard boiled egg is too fresh, the membrane just inside the eggshell). Micro-tears could theoretically allow contamination, but the greater risk is that the air/water balance of the incubating egg is disturbed - i.e. that the egg loses moisture too quickly through the micro-tears when it's supposed to happen very slowly through the molecular pores in that membrane.


The third theory is that the jostling of eggs during shipment disorganizes the egg, sort of scrambles it. On a molecular level, the fertile egg is actually structurally organized, not just a random glob of white with a yolk plunked in the middle. There are distinct zones and molecular structures in place that guide embryonic development on a molecular level. The theory goes that a "scrambled" egg (not with the yolk broken, but just with too much shaking or shear force) has it's structure damaged or interrupted, such that the developing embryo loses its "blueprint" for development and at some point fails to progress. The disorganization may be by sheared structures in the egg, or by micro-bubbles or bubbles that have happened during handling. All is not lost! Most shipped eggs can hatch!


When you get your hatching eggs, you can reduce the effects of the above by treating them as follows:


1. Handle your eggs with clean hands. In particular, you don't want oils from your hands getting onto the eggs, potentially clogging the egg pores.


2. DISCARD ANY EGG THAT SHOWS ANY IMPERFECTION IN THE SHELL, EVEN HAIRLINE CRACKS. The last thing you want to do is contaminate all the OTHER eggs with a rotten egg that has blown up in your incubator, so only put perfect eggs in your incubator.


3. Allow your eggs to sit in a moderately cool, somewhat humid place for 24 hours before you begin to incubate them. Basements are great. Moderately cool means 65-75 degrees ideally or thereabouts - it's not really rocket science. Somewhat humid means not moist and wet, not dry as a furnace. The point is you don't want the eggs to dry too much before you begin to incubate them. You may store the eggs on their sides or with the blunt (less pointy) side UP. The blunt side contains the natural large air space in eggs, and this should NOT be on the bottom, or the embryo will develop wrong.


DO NOT THROW YOUR EGGS RIGHT INTO THE INCUBATOR WHEN YOU GET THEM. DO NOT WARM THEM UP FAST IF THEY ARE COLD WHEN YOU GET THEM.


Biological systems don't like to be shocked, they are much more forgiving of large changes if the changes are done GRADUALLY. Take your time, and don't be worrying about that "freshness" idea, that eggs need to be incubated ASAP. You will do more harm hurrying.


4. Rotate your eggs a couple times a day while they sit. This will encourage the yolks to stay mobile. If the eggs are on their sides, just turn them at least a quarter turn. If the eggs are upright in an egg carton, put a thick book under one end of the carton, and to "rotate" them later, put the book under the OTHER end of the carton. When you place your eggs into the incubator, mark each egg so you know whether it's been rotated or not (mark one side with an A and the other with a B, for example, so you know to put all the As up on one rotation, all the Bs the next, for example). Marking an egg with pencil or even sharpie (thin line) has never hurt any of my hatches. I even track the air sac with pencil tracings when I candle, to make sure my air sac is growing at the right rate.


Bev's Breeding Philosophy and Practices

If you think of chromosomes as parking lots, for sets of blueprints, then each chromosome has a number of distinct "parking spots" where a particular set of blueprints is assigned to park. A parking spot is known as a "locus" (location) on a chromosome, and the set of blueprints is called a "gene." Mostly, animals and people have chromosomes that come in pairs, so they get TWO of any gene (i.e., two identically shaped parking lots). The one exception to this is the sex chromosome pair, where in that pair of chromosomes, the two chromosomes have different shaped parking lots, and one of the parking lots has more spaces than the other. Now, there are different gene versions that can park in a given spot. Suppose you had a parking lot where in spot #32 Ford Mustangs were allowed to park. It could be a red Mustang or a blue one, but Ford Tauruses or Chevy trucks could not park there. Ford Mustangs are all the same MODEL, but come in different VERSIONS, just like genes. But a Ford Taurus, or Chevy truck is a DIFFERENT MODEL, altogether. When a gene comes in different versions, we call the versions "alleles." So, a gene may have several different alleles, but it is different from a separate gene. For example, the gene for eye color is a different GENE than the gene for earlobe shape. But the allele of blue eye color is the SAME GENE as the allele for brown eye color, but a different VERSION of that SAME GENE.


The "E" locus in poultry controls the "base color" of the bird (i.e., it is the parking spot assigned for the blueprints for basic overall feather color). For example, the most dominant version (allele) of an E-locus gene is called "E," (which, coincidentally is the same overall name as the parking spot, so the parking spot is called "E" and then the most dominant color allele of the gene that parks there is also called "E" - a lot of times they name the parking spot after the most "famous" allele that may park there) which is solid black base color, doesn't allow any color to "bleed" through. Then the next most dominant E-locus allele is called "ER," which gives rise to a mostly black bird with parts that are not black such as head and hackles, saddles and parts of the flight feathers and breast lacing on males, and head and hackles on females. There are several more alleles that belong to the "E" locus, as well. (Wheaten, white, etc.)


WHAT color shows on these parts is defined by a different gene, a secondary color gene (i.e., not the E-locus gene, but rather "S" locus gene, a different parking spot). So, in the case of a copper black bird versus a birchen bird, they are both ER allele at the E-locus (so display the same PATTERN of color distribution and basic overall color of black) but have different secondary color genes. In the case of the copper black, the color allele at the S location is gold ("s+" is the notation for the gold allele in poultry at that location, and "S" is the notation for silver - they are alleles that occupy the same "parking place" on the chromosome). Thus, a copper black bird is ER with s+s+(gold, in this case a coppery red version of gold), whereas a birchen is ER with SS(silver, which ideally is white).


Blue color is the result of a third gene. It is a modifying gene for black pigment, and is located at a parking spot called "Bl." The choices (alleles) that can go into this parking spot are basically black pigment (bl+ = black pigment allele) or a bleaching allele (Bl = blue allele, which really is the black pigment allele with a modifier that bleaches the black pigment). If you think of the blue allele (Bl) as a bleaching version, then you can visualize how if a bird gets one dose of blue allele (Bl,bl+), it turns out blue in color, and if a bird gets two doses of blue allele (Bl,Bl), it gets double-bleached all the way to splash. And the blue allele acts wherever there is black in the bird, so wherever the bird WOULD HAVE BEEN BLACK, it is now bleached either to blue, or all the way to splash, depending if it gets (one blue allele and one black pigment allele), or (two blue alleles).


If you imagine that each parent has two cards in a deck of cards for a given gene, and can give only one card to an offspring, but it can be either card, then if mom has cards A and B in her deck and dad has cards C and D in his deck, then their children each get two cards, one from mom, and one from dad, for a given gene. So this mom and dad could have kids with AC or AD or BC or BD. (Where items in pink are what the kids get from mom, and items in orange are what kids get from dad, gene-wise)


Take a second example. If mom had A and B and dad had A and B, then their kids could have AA, AB, BA, or BB. AB is the same as BA - it doesn't matter which gene came from mom and which from dad, if you get dealt an ace of spades from mom and a jack of hearts from dad, or if you get dealt a jack of hearts from mom and an ace of spades from dad, you still end up with the same cards.


If you have a blue bird, then the genes are (bl+,Bl) in that bird, because it takes one black and one blue allele to get a blue bird. It takes two black alleles (bl+,bl+) to make the bird black. It takes two blue alleles (Bl,Bl) to make the bird splash. So:


bl+,bl+ = black bird bl+,Bl = blue bird Bl, Bl = splash bird


So if you had a blue mother (bl+,Bl) and blue father (bl+,Bl), then the kids could be: (bl+, bl+), (bl+,Bl), (Bl, bl+), or (Bl, Bl). Since (bl+, Bl) and (Bl, bl+) are the same thing, then you would theoretically get from four kids one (bl+,bl+)=black kid, two (bl+,Bl)= blue kids, and one (Bl,Bl)= splash kid. So, 1/4 of the kids would be splash, 2/4 (or 1/2) of the kids would be blue, and 1/4 of the kids would be black.


So, breeding a blue bird to a blue bird, regardless of OTHER color types (gold, lacing, etc.), you will get 1/4 black, 1/2 blue, and 1/4 splash theoretically, wherever that bird WOULD HAVE BEEN BLACK, otherwise. So, breeding a copper blue rooster to a copper blue hen would theoretically result in 1/4 copper BLACKS, 1/2 copper BLUES, and 1/4 SPLASH coppers.


Breeding a solid blue bird to a solid blue bird likewise would theoretically result in 1/4 solid blacks, 1/2 solid blues, and 1/4 solid splashes. Keep in mind that these ratios apply to large numbers of samples. It is entirely possible that you could hatch 12 offspring from a blue x blue mating, and get different ratios, because it is a statistically small sample.


If you breed a black (bl+, bl+) bird to a blue (bl+,Bl) bird, you theoretically get: (bl+,bl+), (bl+,Bl), (bl+, bl+), and (bl+,Bl). Since (bl+,Bl) is the same hand dealt as (bl+,Bl), and since (bl+,bl+) is the same hand dealt as (bl+, bl+), then you would get two black kids and two blue kids for every four kids, in theory.


If you breed a black (bl+, bl+) to a splash (Bl,Bl), then you would get (bl+,Bl), (bl+, Bl), (bl+,Bl) and (bl+,Bl) kids. Since (bl+,Bl) is the same as (bl+,Bl), and the same as (bl+, Bl) and same as (bl+,Bl), then you would get four blue kids.


If you breed a black (bl+, bl+) bird to a black (bl+, bl+), you get all blacks.


If you breed a splash (Bl, Bl) bird to a splash (Bl, Bl) bird, you get all splashes.


If you are red/green colorblind, then you are insane by now, trying to read this. :)