Archive for April, 2011

Marans and the Giant Egg

I have a small flock of Cuckoo Marans chickens that I have been working with for the past four or five years now. I like this breed of chicken, not only for their gorgeous dark chocolate brown, almost round eggs, but for their calm temperament as well. The flock as a whole is a peaceful, slow moving group, and nothing really seems to bother them as they go about their days. To their credit, the 3 roosters in this pen have never given me a bit of trouble, and do not fight among themselves. Though I will still never fully trust a rooster of any kind (if you’re curious about why, read my book!)

Just as we were about to set the clocks ahead this year for daylight savings time, and there was an increase in the daylight hours, I went into the Marans pen one morning to collect eggs. I found two of the normal dark brown eggs in the box, but then there was something very strange in there with them. It was a huge egg with a very light colored, thin shell, like something a Sussex would lay. When I picked it up I was really surprised at just how large this egg really was. I have been raising chickens for a long time and have seen a lot of large and/or misshapen eggs, but this was about the biggest I had seen on this farm.

A friend of mine has a very sensitive balance that can weigh within a 100th of a gram, so I borrowed it and went about the task of recording this freakishly large egg with a scientific approach. I first weighed the other two found in the nest with it- they weighed in at 59.29 grams and 62.84 grams. The next day, I found another large egg in the Marans pen, it was much more normal looking than the giant egg, but it weighed in at 90.03 grams and had a double yoke when I cracked it open (there’s no picture of that one because it ended up as breakfast.)  The giant egg weighed in at 152.20 grams – over twice the size of a normal large egg! I also measured it to be 3 and 1/2 inches in length and 7 inches around, exactly. Ouch!

Next, I tried to candle the egg. I could not see the normal air sack at the top end of the egg, there just appeared to be a watery liquid in it. I could not see the yoke/yokes, which I thought was odd. To my surprise, when I cracked it open I found a perfectly formed whole other egg inside! The shell of this inner egg was dark brown and just as thick as they normally are.

In all the years of my chicken keeping, I have never seen this before, so of course I immediately started to research it. I found that what causes this oddity is when an egg gets backs up in the oviduct for some reason and then goes through the last few stages of production twice. Rare, but not unheard of. I just had to feel empathy for the poor hen who finally had to lay it!

More About Marans

This breed originated in western France in the town of Marans, and the word itself is both singular and plural – you have one Marans or many Marans. They do well in damp areas, having been developed in a marshy portion of France. Marans are a large, heavy breed that grows and matures slowly, with the roosters reaching up to 9 lbs, and the hens around 7 lbs. I raise the Silver Cuckoo color variety, and my stock has the feathered shanks like the original French birds (for some reason this characteristic has been bred out of the British lines.) The French recognize 9 color varieties:

1. Silver Cuckoo

2. Golden Cuckoo

3. White

4. Black Copper

5. Black

6. Wheaten

7. Black-tailed Fawn

8. Ermine or Columbian

9. Birchen

The Cuckoo variety is very similar in appearance to the Barred Rock, except the barring is not as distinct, giving it less of the striped appearance. The cuckoo pattern has all feathers marked across with black and white bands. This pattern is the result of the action of the sex linked barred (B) gene which is dominant.  When the males are homozygous for the Barred gene (BB), their color is lighter than that of the hemizygous (B-) females because the Barred gene produces the white bars.   In Cuckoo Marans, males are lighter in color than females–it is said to be possible to color sex them even as chicks with pretty good accuracy. If I stand back from the brooder and narrow my eyes a bit, I can pick out some of the young roos right away, but for the most part this is a breed that you really have to wait until they 5-8 weeks old to really sight sex. Even then, I did have a roo a few years who did not get his saddle or tell-tale neck feathers until he was about 4 months old.