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The Great Marans Bubble
Thursday, December 25, 2008
History is replete with examples of financial bubbles, those unique moments when excitement trumps logic and prices overshoot the intrinsic worth of a thing.  The first recorded bubble involved tulip mania in the 1630s when the price of tulip bulbs in Holland exploded in value.  Eventually a single bulb was sold for twenty times as much as a skilled worker earned in a year.  And then in 1637 the bubble popped, leaving tulip bulb speculators bankrupt  --but with the potential for a really pretty spring garden.
Greed and excitement inflate speculative bubbles.  Economists explain the logic of bubbles  --to the extent logic has any role-- by advancing the Greater Fool Theory.  The Greater Fool Theory holds that a participant in a bubble buys an overpriced asset with the aim of quickly selling it to the Greater Fool, who in turn will want to sell it to yet another and even Greater Fool.  This chain of foolishness proceeds until there are no fools remaining, at which point the bubble rapidly deflates and prices return to normal. 
Thankfully, there has always been a generous supply of fools to keep bubbles merrily inflating.  From railroad stock in the 1800s, Florida land in the 1920s, and dotcoms at the beginning of this century, our country has spawned more than its share of speculative bubbles.  All of these, of course, pale in comparison to the Great Marans Bubble of '08. 
Marans are beautiful birds, and they do lay what are undoubtedly the most beautiful chicken eggs in the world.  At Greenfire Farms, we've raised marans for a number of years.  But it was only this year when the 'madness of crowds' gripped the marans market and catapulted prices to breath-taking heights.  Recently a trio of baby marans merely five weeks old sold for more than $300.  Then, a small clutch of marans eggs on eBay sold for almost $40 per egg.  It would be wealthy person indeed who could eat a marans egg omelette for breakfast.
When will the prices return to Earth?  Who knows?  Marans are still relatively rare, and there appears to be a surplus of people looking for them.  But, chickens lay many eggs, and it will not be too long before supply meets demand and prices gravitate toward a zone of reasonableness.  In the meantime, there are many 'marans millionaires' out there breeding birds as fast as they can, in any way possible.  As a result, a lot of marans are coming on the market are inferior.  In some cases, they hardly look like marans at all.  They have the wrong feather colors, poor body conformation, and their eggs are insufficiently dark.  When every bird can sell for $100 or more, there is a strong incentive not to cull the undesirable traits.  This is a tragedy, because it utlimately devalues not only the individual bird, but the entire breed.
Thankfully, there are a few breeders like Bev Davis of Florida who are motivated by elevating the breed rather than elevating their net worths.  They are continuing to breed fine birds with an eye toward detail and the patience required to bring out superior traits.  In the years to come, fanciers who enjoy these breeds will owe a debt of gratitude to Bev and the other breeders who were motivated by long-term goals and not short-term gain.  And at that point, marans eggs will once again be seen as the basis for a great omelette rather than a great investment.