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Use: Brahma chickens are dual-purpose chickens known for their regal stature, enormous size, feathered legs and calm, easy-going disposition. Like other heritage chicken breeds, they mature more slowly than modern hybrid broilers, but they have delicious, firm flesh, and hens lay a respectable number of large-sized, brown eggs. They are also ideal pet chickens, described by the International Brahma Club as “children-friendly.” Brahmas come in both large-fowl and bantam sizes.
History: Although a lot of theories exist, the exact origin of the Brahma is uncertain. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy postulates that they were developed in America from large fowls imported from China via Shanghai with additions of Malay blood, hence the Brahma’s small pea comb, and to a lesser degree, Chittigong chickens from India. The Brahma breed originally was known by many names, particularly the Brahma Pootra, which was shortened to Brahma around 1850.
Cochins and Brahma chicken breeds fueled a craze that swept America and England around 1850 known as “Hen Fever,” an obsession for poultry, especially chickens. In 1852, poultryman George Burnham presented nine of his best Brahma chickens to Queen Victoria of England, an avid poultry breeder in her own right. According to the ALBC, this event caused Brahma chicken prices to jump from $12 to $15 per pair to $100 to $150 per pair overnight. (That equals $2,860 to $4,300 per pair by today’s standards, calculated using today’s Consumer Price Index).
Brahma chickens were considered America’s premier meat breed from the mid-1850s though the 1930s, after which point the industrialization of the American chicken made heritage breeds obsolete. It’s recovered enough to be considered an uncommon, but not endangered, breed. The Brahma chicken breed is currently listed in the ALBC’s Watch category.
Conformation: Historically, Brahma hens reached average weights of 10 to 12 pounds, and some roosters tipped the scale at an astounding 18 pounds. Today, the American Poultry Association Standard calls for 12-pound cocks and 9½-pound hens.
Brahmas have yellow skin and come in three colors: light, dark, and buff. The light and dark variations were accepted into the American Poultry Association Standard in 1874, and the buffs in 1924. They have feathered shanks and toes, pea combs, smooth-fitting plumage, blocky bodies, and broad, wide heads with “beetle brows” jutting out over their eyes.
Special Considerations/Notes: Brahma chickens are excellent free-range chickens but don’t tend to range as far afield as other foraging breeds. Because their leg feathering picks up mud and ice, they thrive best on dry, well-drained soils. They also bear confinement well and can’t fly over chicken-run fences easily. Their profuse, close feathering with a lot of down underneath, coupled with a small pea comb, makes them very cold hardy. They are superior winter layers of large-sized, medium-brown eggs, averaging three or four eggs per week. Hens are broody and good mothers, but because of their size, there is a trampling risk the first few days after birth. Brahma chickens are among the most docile chicken breeds, and they make great pets. It’s hard to beat the Brahma as an all-around hobby-farm bird.