26 January, 2009

Small fowl, big sound.

So now we're the proud caretakers of a black Marans chick, happily adopted from our neighbors. While the life of this highly tame, social little fellow (gender as yet unknown) has been short so far, the history of its breed stretches back to the 12th century.

From then and until the 14th century, the Marans area of western France was controlled by the English. For this reason the port town of Marans was frequently visited by English ships, whose sailors would bring ashore the fighting cocks they kept for entertainment during their time at sea. Once in Marans, the scrappy yet splendidly feathered fighting cocks would be bred with the local hens, who were, as I understand it, marsh-dwelling fowl. (The name Marans itself is derived from marais, or marsh). This parentage is one of the reasons why I am hoping for a female: apparently the males often have the pugnacious attitude of their forefathers... In the nineteenth century, the very old Chinese Langshan breed was introduced into the line, resulting in large, chocolate-colored eggs. This is another reason I am rooting for a feminine outcome. (The other reasons: I'm not a morning person, but even less so after a cock's crowing at dawn; and I'd never be able to twist that neck nor could I ask anyone else. I do realize that this last reason is a bit inconsistent given my eating habits; but I digress somewhat). By the turn of the twentieth century, the Marans characteristics had been developed and refined, and it was officially recognized as one of France's unique breeds.

In the chaos of the Second World War, the breed was almost wiped out. Indifference and lost records made for a creeping, fragmented return until the 1990s, when a small but committed group of breeders ensured a stronger Marans presence. While the breed is still considered rather rare, it is desirable, mostly for those amazing colored eggs.

In our case, we aren't even sure whether we'll have a "Silver Cuckoo" or a "Black Copper", since our neighbor has chickens of both colorations; there are nine Marans standard color varieties in all...

For now, this guy prattles his continuous, often penetrating (and sometimes surprisingly melodious) story usually in my left ear, as he--or she!-- roosts on my shoulder. He follows the kids around like a puppy, commenting all the while on everything. Our "other" puppy--of the bird-hunting Weimaraner breed--finds this chirpy new companion positively riveting. He just seems occasionally dismayed that he isn't allowed to at least taste the latest addition to the family. This remains an on-going challenge for him, as we have been keeping the voluble chick in our kitchen. The next project is to build a coop, once this chick has survived the dog's passionate interest and can handle the outdoor cold.

Coop-building volunteers, chicken advice and transition encouragement are all highly sought after and greatly appreciated.

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