Often referred to as the “King of Poultry”, Brahma chickens are tall, stately birds appreciated for their size, strength, and vigor. The origins of the Brahma breed are surrounded by controversy. Some poultry historians say the bird came from the Chittagong’s of India, while others say it was developed by crossing Chinese Shanghai chickens with Chittagong’s. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy speculates that it was developed in America from large fowl imported from China with additions of Malay blood.
What we do know is that around 1850 the feather-footed Brahmas and Cochins fueled a chicken obsession known as “Hen Fever” in both America and England. To promote his stock, in 1852 Mr. George Burnham shipped nine of his finest Brahma chickens to Queen Victoria of England, an avid poultry breeder herself, as a gift. According to the ALBC, this event caused Brahma chicken prices to jump from around $12-15 per pair to $100-150 per pair overnight! Burnham’s quality stock became the foundation for the Dark Brahma variety developed in England and then later shipped to America.
The Brahma chicken was first presented under several names, one being “Brahma Pootra” after a river in India, so there was much confusion. The credit for shortening the name to simply Brahma goes to T.B. Miner, publisher of The Northern Farmer who in 1853 or ‘54 did so for the practical reason of saving space on the printed page.
For some 70 years, the Brahma was considered America’s leading meat breed, from the 1850’s through around 1930. With their broad body and deep breast, as a table fowl they were unequaled- a large Brahma could feed a moderate-sized family. An attractive trait for flock owners today! Sadly, industrialization made many heritage breeds obsolete. The breed recovered enough to no longer be considered endangered, but is still uncommon. It is currently listed as “Watch” on the ALBC’s Priority List.
Brahma chickens come in three color varieties – Light, Dark, and Buff. The Light and Dark Brahma were accepted in the first printing of the American Standard of Perfection in 1874. Although from the beginning the Buff variety was produced, it wasn’t until 1924 that they were accepted as standardized. The Light are most often seen, the Dark much less frequently.
We chose the Dark variety for our flock because of the many winged predators. The darker colored/patterned birds blend into the surroundings better, looking more like large rocks or old tree stumps! The male and female of each variety have noticeably different appearances, this is apparent even more so in the Dark: the rooster is black from breast to toes, with a silvery white head tapering to black striped saddle feathers and a lustrous black tail; while the hen’s body feathers are triple-lined with silvery penciled markings, black on steel gray to white. Both have a silvery white head. Truly beautiful!
From the beginning Brahma chickens have been recognized for their impressive appearance, large size, and practical qualities. Abundant plumage with dense down underneath and small pea comb makes them exceptionally cold hardy, ideal for northern climates. Feathering down the outside of their long, yellow legs and feet produces a lovely floppy appearance. The head is small for such a large bird, the face smooth with large, prominent eyes, short strong beak, and broad brow which overshadows their eyes a bit giving them a serious look.
The majestic Brahma is a respectable layer (about 1 egg every other day) of medium-to-large eggs in various shades of brown. Pullet eggs were a medium size form the get-go! Considered a superior winter-layer, the hens are also reliable brood mothers and tend to go broody in early summer, devotedly sitting on their nests. In fact, one of our young hens hatched a clutch of eggs in her first year! Some say they produce the majority of their eggs from October to May. Their size makes them capable of incubating other hens’ eggs, too, but also means there can be trampling risk the first couple days after hatch.
Being a heavy breed, they do require more coop space than most. Although Brahmas are great free-range chickens, they don’t range as far afield as other breeds. They are also content in a grassy run. Being that they don’t fly, fencing only needs to be a couple feet high, if large predators are not an issue.
Because their leg feathering picks up mud and ice they do best on dry, well-drained soil. Check on this often in wet seasons since if left unattended it can result in toe loss.
They are very quiet, gentle, trusting, easy to handle, enjoy human company, make great children-friendly pets, are tolerant of other breeds, and even the cocks have a reputation of being non-aggressive.
Over all, it’s hard to beat the Brahma as a sustainable, dual-purpose heritage chicken perfect for any homestead!
Brahma Chicken Traits-at-a-Glance
Class: Standard: Asiatic / Feather Legged
Size: Standard Male: 12 Ibs. (Although the Darks are about 1 lb. lighter)/ Standard Female: 9.5 Ibs.
Comb, Wattles & Earlobes: They have a pea comb and medium sized, well rounded wattles, with large and long earlobes. All of these are red.
Color: Breeders are currently developing different color varieties that have yet to be accepted including blue, partridge, and red. They have a yellow beak and reddish brown eyes, as well as yellow shanks and toes.
Dark: The dark fits the description of silver penciled plumage. Male: The shank and outer toe feathers are black. Female: The shank feathers are penciled with a gray color.
Light: The light description given is very similar to Columbian plumage. Male: The shank feathers and outer toe feathers are white and black. Female: The shank feathers are white and the outer toe feathers are white and black.
Buff: The buff fits the description for buff Columbian coloring. Male: The shank feathers and outer toe feathers are buff and black. Female: The shank feathers are buff and the outer toe feathers are buff and black.
Place of Origin: United States
Conservation Status: Watch
Special Qualities: One of the heaviest breeds and a good winter layer.