The majestic Brahma is an old breed with its roots far back in time; as with many heritage breeds, the exact genetic makeup of this bird is unknown.
Historians have reconstructed the likely origins of this noble bird from clues left in the poultry books and journals of the 1800s.
Famed for its size and known as King of ‘Chickens’, it’s a docile, calm breed that is a both a meat, and egg laying, bird.
In today’s article we will discuss everything you need to know about this gentle giant including it’s: size, disposition, egg laying capabilities, breed history and much more.
Brahmas Background and History
We first hear of this bird being called a ‘Shanghai’ in the mid–1800s. This is the breed that fueled the US and UK ‘Hen Fever’ of the 1850s.
The ‘Shanghai’ is a cross between a Malay and Cochin bird. Since these birds were brought to the US by sailors who had been to the Chinese city of Shanghai, the name stuck for a while.
At some point the Shanghai was crossed with the Grey Chittagong – which hails from India, specifically an area near the Brahmaputra River in what is now Bangladesh.
The crossing between the two breeds may have occurred here in the US, despite the exotic names! Development of the Brahma occurred primarily in the US from imported birds and the breed was refined over a relatively short period of time – around fifty years or so.
At this time, most experts agree that the birds’ came initially from China with some Indian fowl influence.
In 1852 a breeder by the name of George Burnham, exported nine ‘gray Shanghaes’ to Queen Victoria in England as a gift, which by all accounts she adored. Mr. Burnham must have been a smart businessman; he saw the price of his birds rise from $12–15/pair to $100–150/pair as a result of this gift!
The Dark Brahma was developed in the UK from stock of Light Brahma imported from the US.
The Brahma was the best chicken for table fare up until the advent of the newer production breeds in the 1930s.
The Brahma could not put on muscle and size as quickly as the newer birds and slowly fell from favor. The most recent listing of the Brahma in the Livestock Conservancy directory puts it in the ‘recovering’ status thanks to its’ new found popularity with backyard chicken keepers and homesteaders.
Brahma Breed Standard
The Buff Brahma was admitted in 1924.
The Brahma is a large bird – almost as large as the Jersey Giant – a Brahma will stand around 30 inches tall. It has a long, deep and wide body. It stands tall giving it a narrow ‘V’ when viewed from the side.
The Brahma has a pea comb and a ‘beetle brow’ where the forehead slightly overhangs the eyes. The beak is short and strong.
Plumage is dense and tight with a thick covering of down under the feathers.
The rooster should weigh in around 10lb with the hen around 8lb. In the 1850s’ the bird was much heavier – 18lb and 13lb respectively have been recorded.
There is a bantam variety of the Brahma with five recognized colorations – Light, Dark, Buff, Black and White although the black and white are seldom found. Bantam roosters will weigh 38oz and hens 34oz. The bantam varieties are hard to find with few breeders listed.
It is considered an Asiatic breed for classification.
Appearance and Feather Patterns
There are three recognized feather patterns: Light, Dark and Buff.
The designs are very distinct and there is no confusing one for the other. The contrasting of the patterns in each variety is quite intricate and stunning.
A contrast in black and white, the Light Brahma is primarily white with a grayish undertone. The hackle feathers have black striping with a little striping in the saddle area. The tail is black with the covert feathers laced with white.
The male Dark Brahma should have silver hackles and a saddle striped with black. The shoulder area should be solid silver, the tail, breast and body solid black.
The hens’ hackles should be black with slight grey penciling, laced with white. The body, breast, back and wings are a medium grey with black penciling.
To obtain the absolute best coloring, the birds require ‘double mating’.
The Buff pattern is essentially the same as the Light with Buff taking the place of the White. The warm coloration of the Buff has made it a favorite with many folks.
There have been other color varieties around, White, Blue Exchequer, Gold Partridge but none have remained popular enough to be put forward for admission to the APA or excite great interest in the general chicken keeping world.
We have already said that the Brahma is a large bird – it can be very intimidating to a child or person afraid of birds, but the Brahma is a gentle, non–aggressive bird.
It is a friendly, docile and calm bird, they are said to be very easy to handle. They do not fly well so are fairly easily contained.
Although they tolerate confinement well, they do very well as foragers. They are very suitable for cold climates with all that thick feathering. The preference of soil/environment is a well–drained soil that is generally dry and a moist, cool climate. Wet, swampy or muddy areas should be avoided since it might lead to foot problems.
They make great mothers and tend to set on the nest well, they are not overly broody but this can depend on the line of birds you buy from.
They are usually fairly high in the pecking order since most hens seem to be intimidated by their size! They aren’t known as flock bullies either and can generally get along with most other chickens.
Table Fare and Eggs
The Brahma was initially bred as table fare. In the 1800s’ the bird was in fact much larger and one bird could easily feed a large family cheaply. Between 1850 and 1930 the Brahma was the table chicken unrivalled by any other.
Even nowadays the size of the bird is enough to feed a family of four, but if you prefer to keep your hens for eggs the Brahma performs well enough.
A hen will produce 3–4 eggs per week – and here’s the really good news; they prefer to lay from October to May, just when your other girls are thinking about shutting down for winter!
The eggs are medium to large size, brown in color. The downside is that the hens can take six to seven months before they start laying.
Common Health Issues
As with all feather–footed fowl, the feathering can be problematic in winter.
The feet can become wet and muddy which can lead to frostbite in freezing temperatures. When the feet do get wet or muddy, the toes can develop small mud balls which can severely damage the toe if not dealt with.
You therefore need to pay special attention to their feet if they are allowed out in the winter snow and ice.
Also, since their feathering is so dense and tight, keep a sharp eye out for lice and mites. Inspect their legs frequently for scaly leg mite too – it’s difficult to spot in feathered foot breeds.
Occasionally a foot quill will catch on something and break off. They can bleed quite profusely, but the application of pressure followed by corn starch or styptic powder will usually take care of the problem.
Other than these minor issues the Brahma is a robust individual with good overall health generally.
Is the Brahma Right for You?
If you love large, friendly hens, the Brahma may be for you! This is a very calm hen, which would make a great asset to a family flock.
Small children may be a bit overwhelmed by them at first due to the size, but soon grow to love them. Their calm demeanor makes them perfect for a 4H project or even the show ring where they generally do quite well.
Some special considerations for the Brahma in the coop would be sturdy roosts, slightly larger nest boxes to accommodate the hens and slightly wider doorways – this is a large bird remember!
Since the Brahma is such a large bird, it takes longer than the average chicken to mature. Some folks say they can take up to two years to fully mature. The chicks are usually very strong and hatch quickly – they feather in rapidly too.
They are relatively inexpensive to buy from hatcheries – unsexed chicks are under three dollars. Sexed chicks are slightly more expensive but still well under four dollars per bird.
If you go to a dedicated breeder, the stock quality will be higher and the chicks will cost you more.
The Brahma was known as the King of ‘Chickens’ until equaled or surpassed in size by the Jersey Giant.
If you think you might like to have Brahmas among your flock, do a mental check list of things that will be a bit different from your regular, standard chickens.
You may need to modify the coop and its’ ‘furniture’ to accommodate these large birds. There is also the cost of feed, as they will eat a bit more than the common chicken, so feed bills need to be estimated.
Also, feathered feet require some attention in the wetter, colder months. But I have to say that my feather–footed hens don’t go in the snow or mud – their choice. I don’t think they like wet feet!
If you decide to get some of these lovely birds you will not be disappointed. I have never heard of a Brahma with ‘attitude’ – they are friendly and docile.
Of course, the roosters might suffer a little from testosterone overload in the spring, but what rooster doesn’t?
If you have the space and opportunity to home some of these fine hens I encourage you to embrace them, I don’t think you will be disappointed, they are a good addition to any flock.
Do you already have Brahmas in your flock? Let us know about them in the comments section below…