located just north of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada
My first day old chicks arrived August 11, 2009. Exactly 4 months later, on December 11, 2009, we got our first egg and a new obsession was born.
I knew from watching Martha Stewart that a very colourful egg basket was possible straight from the chicken so I set out to educate myself and to find birds that would lay blue, green, and dark brown eggs.
Spelled incorrectly almost as often as my last name, Ameraucanas were developed in the United States in the 1970's. Ameraucanas are blue egg layers with a pea comb, and muffs and a beard. They were created by crossing the blue egg laying, rumpless, and tufted Araucanas from Chile with other breeds that had the characteristics the founders of the Ameraucana breed wished to promote such as ear-lobe and shank color, overall size, and type. The first Ameraucanas were bantams and came in 8 colour varieties; White, Wheaten, Black, Blue, Blue Wheaten, Brown red, Buff and Silver. The same colour varieties have also now been approved for large-fowl Ameraucana by the APA (American Poultry Association). It is large-fowl that I work with. Although I started with Blue, I am now focusing on Black and the project variety, Lavender (aka. self-blue).
I am very proud to be part of the group of five breeders working with the Ameraucana Breeders Club to get the lavender (self-blue) variety approved by the APA.
"Easter-Egger" is the name given to blue egg laying chickens that don't meet the Ameraucana or Araucana breed/variety description. They may have "pure" parents but if they are not one of the officially recognized colour varieties or if they lack breed qualities such as the muffs and beard, or if they have green legs, then they are no longer considered Ameraucanas - even if they lay blue eggs. There are many unsuspecting poultry enthusiasts unaware of this fact so unfortunately many birds are bought and sold as Ameraucanas that don't meet the breed standard.
Ameraucanas are considered a dual purpose bird, for the production of meat and eggs, weighing from 5 and half to 6 and a half pounds at maturity.
For more information about Ameraucanas, please visit the Ameraucana Breeders Club web site.
Always with an 's' on the end, they have their beginnings in the swampy rural area near Marans, on the Atlantic coast of France. This Mediterranean breed got its start when English sailors from the 12th, 13th, and 14th Centuries introduced their surviving gamecocks to the local hens of the area including the feather legged, "turkey headed", pea combed, Cocou de Malines and clean legged Cocou de Rennes. Later on, during the second half of the 19th Century, Langshans and Brahmas, large feather legged Asiatic breeds, were also introduced into the mix and the Marans started to take shape as a breed.
Marans today are large (cock 3.5 to 4 Kg, hen 2.6 to 3.2 Kg), prized for their dark brown eggs and succulent meat, feather-legged, a single comb, and white or slate (not yellow) legs, although the Standard in England calls for a clean legged bird.
The breed was founded for their large, dark reddish-brown eggs, the darkest brown-red eggs of any breed of chicken. The dark colour of the egg, passed on to the females by the cock, is painted on as a finish. This pigment is supplied by mucous glands located in the final 10 centimetres of the oviduct. The longer the egg remains in the hen, the more pigment that is applied and the darker the colour, therefore, Marans are not known for their egg production numbers. The final colour may be smooth, stippled, or spotted depending on how the colour is deposited as the egg moves through the oviduct. This process does not occur with ordinary brown eggs where the brown colour is built into the shell calcium, or the blue egg of the Araucana or Ameraucana, that is tinted throughout the thickness of the shell. The Marans dark brown colour can be washed off.
Marans egg colour fades throughout their laying cycle so what can start out dark can end up light and those light eggs might be hiding some dark eggs down the road if they were laid at the end of their laying cycle.
The breed was first recognized in France in 1929. Early colour varieties included Silver and Gold Cuckoos, and White and Black Copper-neck. Marans started to decline in the mid to late 1930s but enjoyed a substantial comeback in the 1950s. However, that comeback was not without problems. Egg production was given priority over egg colour and the introduction of some Russian hens to provide size also came at the expense of egg, and shank colour. The vagueness of the Standard, particularly as it applied to plumage of the black copper-necked Marans also represented a substantial handicap in the production of birds for exhibition.
Marans were first recognized by the APA in 2011, adhereing to the standards laid out in France. The first variety to be accepted in North America were the Black Coppers ("Brown-red" in France) variety. Wheaten Marans gained acceptance in North America the same year at Crossroads in Indiana in October. The "Blue-red" (Blue Copper) Marans variety was recognized in France in February of 2011. White Marans were accepted into the standard in North America in 2013.
Black Copper Marans are not straightforward birds to work with from a breeder’s perspective. The male birds are prone to comb issues (floppy, sprigs, carnation) and the females are often over-melanized which means the copper is completely hidden. The feathered shanks are also a pernicious issue. The Standard calls for lightly feathered legs - feathers that run down the outside edge of the shank and outside toe. There are to be no feathers on the middle toe as is the case with Langshans or Cochins. Egg colour is often an issue in some of the other Marans colour varieties.
If it doesn't lay a 4 or darker egg on the Marans egg colour card, it isn't a Marans. For more information about Marans and to see/order the Marans egg shade card visit the Marans Chicken Club.
"Olive Eggers" are created by crossing a blue egg laying chicken such as an Easter Egger or an Ameraucana with a dark brown egg laying chicken such as a Marans.
Silkies have been around for almost as long as chickens themselves although the Silkies we have today probably don't share much in common with those ancestors except for their silkied feathers. Silkied feathers are hookless with extended and deformed barbes. The Silkies we have today most likely originate in the Orient. They have feathered legs and feet, 5 toes (polydactyly), (most common breeds of poultry have 4 toes), and blue/black skin and meat (fybromelanosis.) Silkies can be either bearded or unbearded and are "crested" with a large poof of feathers growing upright from the top of their head. Many crested chickens also have vaulted skulls which is a protuberance of their brain upon which the crest grows. Silkies in North America have a walnut comb. The walnut comb and beard are also associated with smaller or even non-existant wattles. The size and shape of the crest and comb are believed to be related. (Smaller comb = larger crest.) Crests in North America are often so abundant that the Silkie's vision is obstructed. Obstruction of vision is not allowed in European Silkies. Silkies were admitted to the North American Standard in 1874.
Silkies are very trusting and make excellent pets. Because of their obstructed vision (although the crests can be trimmed if in non-exhibition birds) and trusting nature, they are probably not the best for free-ranging. They are known for their broodiness (living incubators) and they make excellent mothers. They are found in dozens of colours. There are both bantam and large fowl varieties in Europe, however, only the bantam variety is recognized in North America. (Every country has its own standard for the various breeds of poultry.) Silkies lay small slightly tinted eggs.
I work with bearded Silkies; white, black, blue/splash, and self-blue (lavender).
For more information about Silkies, visit the ASBC (American Silkie Bantam Club).
I have more than a dozen separate areas specifically designed for keeping and breeding chickens. The ladies free-range during the day, weather permitting, with one or two attentive roos keeping watch.
I encourage you to join us in The Great Lakes Poultry Association. We are a group of poultry enthusiasts from all around the Great Lakes area. All are welcome! We place special emphasis on supporting and mentoring youth - interested in any breed. And look for us on facebook as well.
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Barbara Dodington 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
|revised May 9, 2017 by Barbara Dodington|